By-Words for Marriage

Dennis and Vicki Covington have had an unconventional and chaotic marriage. Here’s what they say are the most important ingredients for a successful marriage.


If you ask for the truth, you must be able to “take it.” The question, “Are you attracted to her?” shouldn’t be a trap. If a couple can share this information, it can serve to deflate the desire. Part of the enticement of an affair is secrecy. Sharing the truth can be bonding rather than destructive.


Every marriage has its own architecture, and it will change over time. You may have to tear down a wall to add something new. It is reasonable to assume that as you grow, you’ll need more space. A dandelion will break concrete to keep growing.


Snooping is irresistible. Assume that you’re going to do it, and so is he. But remember that your invasion is as wrong and deceitful as whatever “evidence” you find.


Laugh. Invent names and code words for old wounds. If your spouse brings up a mistake of yours from the past, remind him that he’s playing “museum.” If you are jealous of somebody, give her a nickname when you refer to her. Give names to episodes in your lives.

Learn to trust other couples. Talk candidly when you’re with them about whatever is bugging your marriage. Assume that every marriage is, in some way, conflicted, and learn to laugh not just with each other but with mutual single friends and couples about what you’ve been through or are going through.


The Golden Rule never grows old, nor does the concept of always giving someone “benefit of the doubt.” The ultimate act of love is to let somebody “save face.”


Nowhere in life is this concept more tested than in marriage. You have to forgive over and over then over again if you want to stay together. When you’re married, you are a witness to somebody else’s life. You see it all. You have the inside story. Be tender with confrontation.

There is some inevitable degree of parenting in marriage. You are his mother; he is your father–not all the time, God forbid, but when you are guilty you become a child. A good parent forgives. Remember, “Forgiveness is the scent the violet leaves on the heel that crushed it.”


To be married is to be caught in a contradiction between biology and ideas, between the certain weakness of the flesh and the weak certainty of the spirit. Passion is another word for suffering, and to be married is to suffer the dashing of hope. Though we may call marriage a sacred covenant, it is also an imperfect human contract.


Believe in marriage. Believe that despite the unpaid bills, the screaming kids, the frustrating in-laws, despite whatever happens, studies confirm that married people have more frequent and better sex than do singles, that we somehow find a way to throw the clothes in a pile and do thrilling things to each other in the dark.

©1999 Dennis & Vicki Covington
By Dennis & Vicki Covington, authors of Cleaving: The Story of a Marriage. Published by North Point Press, a division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.