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A Couple of Points to Consider About Love and Marriage

Did you catch that ABC-TV show last Sunday night on relationships? It was hosted by John Gray, author of “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.”

It’s nice to see network TV explore marital issues somewhere besides the soap operas. Especially when men are not always the bad guys.

I could add a note of my own to Gray’s research: I’ve found it helps to keep things in perspective. At my house, for example, I know I’m No. 3 among adult males in my wife’s life.

No. 1 is Bob Barker, host of the TV game show “The Price Is Right.” Though my wife and I have been married two months shy of 20 years, Bob Barker was with her first, via the tube. If she has a day off from work, friends know better than to call during the Barker show. Workdays, we tape it for night or weekend viewing.

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No. 2 is her father, which is natural. Don’t think I’m complaining at my No. 3 position. I’ve got a comfortable lead on Arnold Schwarzenegger and TV’s Hercules, who round out her Top 5.

It also helps when couples can be comfortable with some “givens” in the relationship. For example, my wife knows that four weekends a year I go into the TV golf zone: for the Master’s, the U.S. Open, the British Open and the PGA. We never talk about it, but for 19 years she’s left me to myself during those key hours. She’s also kept the children at bay those weekends, until the final group has completed the 18th hole.

The “givens” on my end are to follow some standards of household life my wife considers important. Her environmental zeal was the hardest on me in our early years. It’s just one lousy can, I’d say as she had me dig it out of the trash. Now I’m almost as critical as she is when I see someone tossing a newspaper away that should be recycled.

Not that I don’t slip up on occasion trying to abide by these rules of the home. Like this week, with the shredded cheese.

I honestly did not see the resealable zip-lock side as I turned the plastic bag of cheese on end and cut it open with a pair of kitchen scissors. I spotted my error just a split-second late. My mind began to spin with thoughts of how I could rebound from this disaster. But too late: She caught me.

Maybe not at your house, but at ours ruining the resealable end on a plastic bag is a no-parole offense. Meaning it goes down in a permanent ledger of things I’ve done wrong.

But timing is everything in relationships. Good ol’ Bob Barker to the rescue. That night happened to be the premiere of the 26th year of “The Price Is Right.” My wife was in such a blissful mood knowing Barker was back for another quarter-century, the shredded cheese offense wound up as just a misdemeanor.

Later I thought: How frustrating to compete with someone as perfect as Bob Barker. On the other hand, how can you not admire someone who cares what happens to a bag of cheese?

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John Gray’s theories are worth exploring. Maybe women do have different outlooks on life and love than men. The other day, at a family outing at the surf’s edge in Seal Beach, I ventured aloud how many problems would be solved if ocean water didn’t contain salt.

My wife’s quick response: “But no lobster.”

I figure you’ve got to be from Venus to look at the world that way.

Class Vows? Professor Jan Fritsen points out that we teach sex education in grade school, but nothing at that level about relationship education.

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That’s what she teaches at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo. It’s part of the applied psychology curriculum. She started off a few years ago with one course, but there was such a demand she’s now up to three classes per semester.

Though Fritsen teaches about all kinds of relationships, she does get a lot of married couples seeking home improvement.

“Often they come together, sometimes one takes a semester and then the other takes it the next semester to see what [his or her] partner has been talking about,” Fritsen said.

The key, she says, is not just communication, but significant dialogue.

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“Too often we have excess baggage from other relationships that gets in the way of the marital relationship,” she said. “So you have to talk about these issues, not just engage in shallow conversation.”

She teaches eight elements of success, and I couldn’t do them all justice in this space. But the first one is the importance of being held, and the last one is the importance of you being the one who does the holding.

Sounds like it’s worth a try, doesn’t it?

Finding Diamonds: He was an orphan. So was she. So when Dave and Libby Madenburg of Laguna Hills decided to marry, they both wanted lots of love in their life. That’s what they’ve shared for 60 years. They recently celebrated their diamond anniversary.

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Among the loving touches in their marriage: For 60 years he has written her poetry. They have three children, seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren--and Dave, now 90, is still penning romantic phrases to his beloved.

“We were married in the Depression; you just don’t know how rough it was,” Libby Madenburg, 82, told me. “I was making $4 a week and glad to get it.”

When I asked her to single out one thing that has made their marriage work, she replied: “We’ve never gone to bed angry. Whatever it takes, we kiss and make up by bedtime.”

Wrap-Up: My poetry is so bad my wife might burst out laughing if I surprised her with a few verses. But I was touched by a poem Dave Madenburg wrote his wife 22 years ago on her 60th birthday. He told her in part:

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“Our love grew stronger through the years,

“Seasoned by our smiles and tears,

“Like the flavor of a vintage wine,

“Our love has stood the test of time.”

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The complete poem is framed in their living room, where Libby Madenburg can see it every day.

Jerry Hicks’ column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Readers may reach Hicks by calling The Times Orange County Edition at (714) 966-7823 or by fax to (714) 966-7711, or e-mail to jerry.hicks@latimes.com


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