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“When looking for wisdom on big questions, I turn to either the Bible or Red Green.
— Ken Gallinger, Ethically Speaking columnist, Toronto Star
"[H]ilarious, satirical and smart. . . .Some of the advicesuch as [Smith's] tips on surviving marriageis wiser and more honest than anything you'll read in a real so-called self-help book."
— The Globe and Mail
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— Toronto Life
"For those suffering from Possum Lodge withdrawalfear not, because Red's back and he's written the ultimate do-it-yourself and self-help manual all rolled into one."
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HOW TO SURVIVE THE SEVEN STAGES OF MARRIAGE: Denial, Guilt, Anger, Depression, The Upward Turn, Reconstruction, Acceptance
For a variety of reasons, human beings find it desirable to stay married to the same person for a long, long, long, long time. Sometimes it’s love, sometimes it’s convenience, sometimes it’s just so the other person can’t testify against them. Whatever the reason, staying married is not easy to do. In fact, for many people it’s a source of grief. If that’s how it is for you, try using the Seven Stages of Grief as guideposts on your journey towards marital bliss. Or at least as a way of controlling your homicidal urges.
This initial stage usually manifests itself shortly after the wedding. There are many symptoms, but the common thread is that you’re continuing the same behaviour you enjoyed prior to getting married—hanging out with your single friends, coming home late without phoning, trying to meet women on the Internet, etc. These habits are inappropriate now that you are a husband. You must get through the denial stage quickly, or it could outlast the marriage.
After the first year of marriage, you will start hearing a small voice in the back of your head, making you feel guilty about your unacceptable levels of grooming, your inappropriate responses in social situations and your insensitivity towards your spouse. This small voice will be very familiar to you because it is your wife’s. When it becomes your own voice doing the behaviour modification, you will have successfully passed through the guilt stage and will be ready to meet the next challenge.
The day will come (usually right after an argument you lost) when you start to feel a sense of resentment towards the institution of marriage. You’ll be focused on the loss of personal freedom and the need for permission in every aspect of your existence. This resentment will turn to anger as you contemplate how your life could have been if you had never married. Instead of a home, you could own a Corvette. Instead of having a stressful corporate position, you could be a surfer. Instead of being a respected and responsible member of your community, you could be a boy toy in Monte Carlo. At the anger stage, it is helpful to talk with close friends (especially female ones) who can update you on your realistic options. It may be hard for you to hear, but if you are mature enough to accept their advice, you will be on track to returning to a happy marriage. Yes, I suppose the sight of you as a Corvette-driving surfer boy toy in Monte Carlo would be an entertaining one for the locals, but you’re much better off in an environment where someone has already vowed to take responsibility for you.
After the anger dissipates, the next stage is a deep sadness from the realization that married life isn’t as great as you expected and it’s only going to get worse. This is the period when sleeping with your wife becomes exactly that. Conversations between you become short and fact-based. “It’s garbage night.” “Yeah, yeah.” It’s a period that’s often marked by significant weight gain and an increase in the number of empty bottles in the recycling bin. Some couples have a brief trial separation, which may be as simple as one of them getting a job. But the key to getting through this stage is to realize that being depressed about the relationship you’re in is actually more unpleasant than the relationship itself. When you see depression for what it is—nature’s way of taking a bad situation and making it worse—you’re ready to move on to the next stage.
5. The Upward Turn
The good side of depression is that it sinks you below reality, which means that as you come back to reality you’re actually moving up. Now you have some upward momentum, and if you can find a way to sustain it, you’re on your way to your version of a happy marriage. This is a very important stage, and you must be prepared to do everything in your power to maintain that upward movement. I recommend asking a police artist to do what they call “age progressions” on your photographs of old girlfriends. Seeing what they look like now will remove your sense of lost opportunities. Next, you need to spend time with some really miserable husbands and encourage them to tell you all of their horror stories. It’ll be worth picking up the bar bill, because by the time they’re finished, you’ll feel like the luckiest man alive.
This is your best opportunity to rebuild your marriage. You now have a much better sense of the structural weaknesses and the materials you’re working with. You may not ever know what exactly your wife wants, but you have at least ten years of evidence of what she doesn’t want. So start by not giving her any of that stuff. Start dressing better, lose a few pounds, put the seat down. She’ll notice you stepping up your game and she’ll step up hers. Even if you’re not sure you still love your wife, pretend that you do, and pretty soon you will.
This is the final stage of marriage. This is the goal, the point where you acknowledge that, all in all, you got a very fair return on your investment and really have nothing major to complain about. As in almost all of the other stages, the best way to accomplish this goal is to put aside your biases and seek an accurate evaluation of yourself. I know it’s impossible to stop you from being judgmental; instead, I’m asking to apply that attitude to you. For starters, go to the wax museum and get your picture taken standing beside the statue of Brad Pitt. Then show the picture around and see if anybody has difficulty picking out which one is you. Next, go on Google and find a list of the five hundred richest men in the world. Is your name on it? Stop ten strangers on the street and ask them if they know who you are. Okay, so now you have some sense of where you fit in the rich, famous or good-looking category. Next, draw a vertical line down the middle of a piece of paper. On one side, write the nice things your wife has done for you over the years. On the other side, write down the nice things you’ve done for her. If you run out of room on her side, there’s probably available space on yours. These exercises will not only bring you to the level of acceptance needed to keep your marriage together, they will introduce the shared ingredient that’s going to make the remaining years of marriage the best yet—gratitude.