We visited Beth and Ken Berman in their home in Potomac, Maryland. They’ve been married for 28 years, and are recent empty nesters.
The way these two spoke – even about the heaviest of subjects – had a lightness to it that had me stifling giggles.
Their dynamic is filled to the brim with love and admiration, but it is quite clear that they’ve worked at it. They attribute the success of their marriage to many things, including respect, humor, and compromise. They spoke about surrounding yourself with nourishing friendships, parenting from a unified front, and much more. Here are five things Ken and Beth have learned that help make their marriage work:
1) You can go to bed mad.
The whole thing about, “Ok you shouldn’t go to bed mad,” that’s boloney. You can go to bed mad – that’s just impossible…other than, maybe Jesus, I don’t know anybody – and I’m Jewish, I don’t know anything about that! But what we do, however, no matter how bad it is, we thank each other for something. In other words, “Thank you for bringing the car in when you knew I was really busy,” or, “Thank you for taking the call when such and such,” or, “thank you for going out of your way to make a dinner that’s really special,” or whatever it is…so you don’t have to finish in terms of not going to bed angry, but ya gotta thank the person for somethin’.
That way you end on a positive note…and some nights it’s hard, like “thank you for not being a bigger jerk” [laughs] but there’s so much that you do for each other in the course of raising a family and being a couple, so then you go to do that thing that was so mundane the day before – or you resent it – but you’ve been thanked for it and it’s appreciated.
2) It’s not a courtroom.
At my law school graduation, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court happened to be a keynote speaker – William Renquist – and he had a great line – ’cause I do a lot of trial work – and he said, “Those of you in the audience that are gonna be trial attorneys, remember you don’t have to win every argument at home. It’s not a courtroom.” So I always thought about that ‘cause all my life I wanna win every argument but you don’t have to win those at home … You don’t have to beat the other person into the ground.
It all goes back to heart, and being generous, and not taking it all so seriously, ya know … learning how not to react … we used to fight like cats and dogs, but after a while we discovered it wasn’t about winning, it was about being. We had the throw-the-pasta kind of thing early in our days – it was very fiery early on, but we really learned that it was more important to be together than to win or be better.
3) It’s 60/40, not 50/50.
Beth explains, “60/40 is kind of our formula where if each person gives 60%, you’re gonna be okay in a relationship, but if it’s like a WIIFM thing – or like what’s in it for me – it’s not gonna happen.”
Ken adds, “You never try to go 50/50 – you try to give more than you can.”
4) There’s a time and place.
Every Sunday – we don’t do it as much anymore – you do an “I need”… it’s better to do it when there’s a period of calm – when you’re not in the middle of a fight. Number one, you’re not accusing the person – you’re saying “I need you to—” and you do it in a calm and nice way over a glass of wine when your guard isn’t up.
5) Make new meaning of tradition.
We used to do Friday night Shabbat dinners…and the tradition is the man thanks the wife – and it’s called the “Woman of Valor” prayer, Eshet Chayil … I felt really uncomfortable just being thanked in front of the whole family every week, so I started thanking him, and then we started thanking the kids, and now the kids thank each other. So we’re all spread out now – Ben’s in New York, Eli’s in Florida – we’ve got four phones going, and we’re thanking each other and we’re doing the prayers and whatever, so I think it instilled in the kids this sense of how powerful it is to show appreciation.
What tools do you use to make your relationship work? What tips and tricks of the trade have you learned that have made your love stronger?
Share your story in the comments below!
Brooke is a founding author of How Love Lasts.