The Secret

I am one of those people who cringe at Public Displays of Affection. It’s one of the few things I actually have in common with Beloved Husband. So I’ll be careful not to commit too egregious a PDA in the rest of this post….

We joke that were we to submit our profiles to eHarmony or any of the internet matchmaking sites, their algorithms would surely have us avoiding each other like the plague. And yet here we are fresh off a celebration of our 40th wedding anniversary.

I’ve never been comfortable in a group of women if the conversation turns to what jerks our husbands are. Yes, he does some of the things I’ve heard other wives complain about: i.e., standing slack-jawed in front of the open refrigerator waiting for the ketchup bottle to ignite as a means of detection but, really, if after forty years together that is the worst thing I can come up with, then I’m a pretty lucky girl.

We were at a party recently where once again we found ourselves the oldest couple there. How quickly we’ve gone from being “the kids” in a gathering to being the hopelessly out-of-touch, untattooed oldsters, but that’s a subject for another blog post.

One of the other couples there was in the throes of new-found love. Both divorced and in their early fifties, they had hooked up via “Christian Mingle” and were in that stage of enchantment with one another where they could just barely refrain from commiting “the act” right there and then. At some point, and most assuredly they didn’t find out from me, the subject of the upcoming 40th anniversary arose. As did the inevitable response:

“Forty years?!? Wow. What’s your secret?”

I have no idea. Is there a secret? I don’t think so. Isn’t each marriage as individual as the people in it?  What works for us would not work for them….or you. 

But actually the secret of our marriage’s success was revealed to me without a lot of fanfare just the other day.

We were having lunch together as we do most days. I made the sandwiches while Beloved Husband doled out the chips. We sat together talking when suddenly I noticed that he was eating the shards from the bottom of the bag. And I was not.


Please appreciate how difficult he made it for me to get this photo!!

I grabbed my phone to take a picture and a small tussle ensued. “You’re not going to put that in your blog, are you?” Laughing, I told him he better believe I was!!

Forget the shiny baubles, fancy dinners, and lavish trips. The small daily acts of consideration, kindness, and love are what add up to a happy marriage. How do you measure this on eHarmony? I don’t know. But if anybody I loved was getting married, I’d make them test their potential spouse with the almost empty bag of chips. It could save them a lot of trouble. 

And thanks for reading,




About Silver in the Barn

Life in a 1915 farmhouse in Central Virginia. And the odd thought or two.
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62 Responses to The Secret

  1. Diane Ahlberg says:

    Happy 40th! Time goes by so quickly when you’re happy and sharing it with someone you love.
    Obviously this is from someone that is no longer one of the kids.


    • But inside we know we are still rock stars, right? We are just cleverly disguised. And I know you’ve seen your 40th come and go too and it is such an important milestone. I still can’t quite grasp it, really.


  2. markbialczak says:

    Barbara, I truly love your definition of “little acts of kindness.” Congratulations on keeping out of the potato chip remains for 40 years! Indeed, you two have it going on. Take that, computer matchers.


  3. Jeanie T says:

    You are so right, Barb. Those small, unselfish acts of kindness mean so much. I’m sure you would have done the same for him. That’s an important ingredient in the recipe for enduring relationships. Here’s to another 40 years!


  4. Dearest Barbara,

    I enjoyed this post ever so much!

    I wholeheartedly agree with your conclusions! The little kindnesses are the ones we should look out for, rather than focussing solely on the things that bother us.

    Though I must confess, sometimes I feel as though I could write a book about all the insignificant little trifles my husband James does to ruffle my feathers.

    Just last night when he was smoking his pipe by the fire in the den and I was cleaning up in the kitchen, he heard the crash of a dropped dish. When he stormed in and demanded to know what had happened, he was horrified to see that it was his favourite tea cup that had broken. The one with the charming little cat on it, wearing the top hat and a monocle?

    In any case, he flew into a rage at this and set about breaking every one of the dishes, which, despite being entirely my fault for setting him off with my carelessness, did strike me as somewhat of an overreaction. Especially when he told me that the cost of a new set would be deducted from my allowance!

    But Barbara, just a moment later he did the sweetest thing! He handed me a brand new broom of the highest quality with a bow on it! He knew it was the one I had been wanting and he went out and got it, all on his own! In addition to being a handsome man, my James can be quite the sweetheart!

    Are we still on for morning tea Sunday?

    Yours, ever,

    Elizabeth Ash


    • It’s all about the little things, Elizabeth, so enjoy that lovely new broom. James is a prince, isn’t he? I think he handled the destruction of the tea cup appropriately as it was the one with the top hatted cat. With monocle.


      • Dearest Barbara,

        Despite the fact the rain has postponed our arrangement to have Sunday morning tea together (combined with the fact James smashed every last dish in the house in a rage), I’m happy to report that your reply has lifted my spirits and my tears have since dried! It is ever so nice to hear back from you!

        My dear husband confided in me that he is envious of all the comments you receive! I think it’s because, unlike him, you don’t strike me as the kind to fly into tempestuous rages!

        All the best to you, your husband, your adorable terrier, and your presumably unsmashed dishes!

        – Beth


      • Thank you, Beth. I look forward to another tea date after you replenish your supply of dishes. Tell James I feel very fortunate to have so many comments as it is wonderful not to feel you are writing into a vacuum. Flying into rages is not my style but there is a long list of other unattractive character traits that I work to hide from other! Have a good day and it was nice to hear from you again.


  5. Happy anniversary…and many more to come!
    Your husband is a true gentleman….and you know it! That, if there is a secret, is yours.


  6. dorannrule says:

    Congratulations Barbara! 40 years is a real milestone of chip bit courtesies. Your wonderful sense of humor has to help too.


  7. ritaroberts says:

    Well Congratulations Barbara on you 40th anniversary .I love to hear about happy couples, and they don’t really need to have secrets because its all about harmony and give and take .If its there it shines for all too see.


    • You’re exactly right, Rita. It’s easy to spot the happy marriages – they all have something in common, a sort of ease and humor and lightness that unhappy ones do not. How each couple arrives there is their own journey though. Have you ever met couples where you wonder what does she see in him (or vice versa) and after you get to know them, it becomes very clear? Like you say, the harmony shines through. Thanks for reading, Rita.


  8. Donna says:

    Congratulations, a big deal these days, AND you sound happy and content! It is really about the thoughtful little things you do on a daily basis (or at least weekly). Though I’ve not been married that long, I too, tend to disengage from the complaining wife parties. I have a gem and I work HARD at being a gem in return.


    • And that, dear Donna, is the secret. Recognizing you have a gem and working hard to show him you think so. And it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been married – I’ve seen plenty of long-term miserable marriages too. So congrats to you for being in a happy marriage and relishing it!


  9. Jennifer Howe says:

    Your blog post resonated with me. I have been married for 27 years and PDA has been a subject of conversation between my husband and I, as he was in the Air Force for over 20 years. People have often asked us the same question, “What’s your secret?” Not sure, but I think it is something like your chip analogy! 27 years and 3 grown adult kids later…one movie line sticks out to me and it’s from Good Will Hunting. Robin Williams character says something like, (paraphrased) it’s in the good stuff…meaning the ordinary things. Happy anniversary to both of you, great post!


    • Jennifer, your comment resonates with me! How I adored Good Will Hunting and the scenes where Robin Williams talks about life, love, and marriage. How is it possible two 23-year-olds (Affleck and Damon) could write with such wisdom? I’ve just been searching for the specific clip on YouTube and can’t find it but there is the park bench scene and it’s a tear jerker for sure. Lots of good stuff in that movie. Thanks for reminding me about it. And 27 years and 3 kids is a super-achievement too. Congratulations!


  10. Dianna says:

    Sweet….and yes, Motor Man and I have just that type of relationship! (Oh, and we’re in the untattooed group, too.)


    • Yes, Motor Man seems to be a keeper too from what I can tell. We just returned from a big family reunion where everybody was tattooed (my husband’s youngest brother is a very popular tattoo artist in New Hampshire.) I began to feel like a plucked chicken with no “tats!” All I can think of is how much I would despise today the furniture I picked out in my twenties. To be my age and have to stare at some tattoo I loved at 23 would not be a good thing.


  11. Hiya Barbara! How have our paths only crossed just today??? THIS. IS. HILARIOUS! I think we actually have the same husband – right down to the tussle over whether or not to allow a photo of his chip crumbs in the blog post… gahahaha! That is so my man. Congrats on your 40 years, btw – we just celebrated our 29th, so we’re not that far behind you actually. The secret? Exactly everything you have written. Especially about not taking your honey for granted. Great stuff. 🙂 As for Inner Rock Star and Inner Whitney meeting up, can I just say: This. Has. To. Happen. Mother Hen


    • Hello Mother Hen!! I have dear Thom at Immortal Jukebox to thank for me finding YOU, and not a moment too soon. Yes, there was a bit of arm-wrestling going on over the chip photo but husband gave up when I told him if he didn’t let me take the picture, I would simply restage it after he went back to work. He succumbed to reason and the beat goes on. So looking forward to reading more from your world!! If you are up to it, check out my post “Stevie Nicks and the Knit Wits.” There are two songs in there I think we should begin rehearsing.


  12. I love this, Barbara. Our 30th anniversary is coming up next month. Like you, I don’t join in on trash talk about spouses. Imagine how they’d feel if they heard how their spouse put them down when they were out of ear shot. That is … if I had any imperfections. 😉

    Your hubby is definitely a keeper. I can see Dave doing the same thing. Very thoughtful and generous. Happy 40th Anniversary to both of you. 😉


    • Thank you, Judy. I think participating in that kind of talk is the first step in really diminishing a relationship. None of my good friends do it — and all have strong marriages. And hearty congratulations on your upcoming big 3-0!


  13. Barbara– I don’t comment much on blogs, but with our 30th coming up next year, we too are either the longest married in the group, the ones being asked what the secret to our happy marriage is, or the non-tatooed, or all of the above!! The secret is–there is no secret. As we said from the start, “Sometimes you just know.” Right now we are contemplating the next phase of our life, and a possible “retirement” to Charlottesville. I am quite torn about leaving New Jersey (yes!! it really is nice here) and my home of 22 years. But in the end there is a line from a movie with Tea Leoni and Nicolas Cage called “The Family Man” when she is faced with the choice of staying or following him that resonates with me— “I choose you”— and that is what I do. I choose to be with the man I married 29 years ago because in 29 years there has been no one I have found that can take his place. Enough said. Cindy


    • So much to respond to here, Cindy. First, I’m really happy to hear from you even if infrequently. Second, congratulations on contemplating the next phase in your life which might bring you only two hours away from me! Charlottesville is a favorite place of ours. Third, I was just in New Jersey visiting one of my oldest friends in Pennington and I know that NJ is a beautiful state in many, many ways. So I understand completely your angst. “I Choose You” I love that so much I might just get it tattooed!!!!!!!!!!!!! Can you even imagine the surprise? And I am really happy to hear from so many of my readers that are in such great marriages. It totally renews my faith in the great old institution. Thanks for reading and commenting, Cindy.


  14. nrhatch says:

    Happy Anniversary to the both of you! I think your “litmus test” is spot on . . . it’s those little things that add up to a GREAT marriage.


  15. Sheryl says:

    Happy anniversary! The years fly by so quickly–and sometimes I can hardly believe how many years I’ve been married to my wonderful husband.


    • It really is mind-boggling how quickly time flies and the pace is escalating, isn’t it? I think about that with your blog. How quickly 100 years has gone by and how much life has changed in that time.


  16. The fact that you noticed and acknowledged your husband’s kindness is also part of your equation for long-lasting happiness. You both found keepers. Congratulations on 40 years and cheers to 40 more!


  17. Barbara – I love your vignette of the chips. When my husband makes us breakfast (which he usually does), he often gives me the omelet that looks “nicer” because he knows I “eat with my eyes” as well. I like your emphasis on there not being a secret because of each couple’s individual needs and attributes.
    Congratulations on your successful time together and never getting a tattoo in the process (actually, I read somewhere that unexplained nerve pain elsewhere in the body is often seen in people with tattoos).


    • That’s exactly what I mean….he knows you eat with your eyes (me too) and so takes that little step to show you how much you matter to him. I’m really happy to read so many comments describing their own happy marriages which we know each have their own little secret to working.

      Speaking of omelets, I have never made one that didn’t end up mutilated somehow in the process. It is then called scrambled eggs, sadly.


  18. It’s not unusual to find my wife crying…but this time she said it was because you wouldn’t approve her comments?

    Barb, you’ve just got to! Her blogging life is one of the few joys she has, the poor woman. Her allowance has been cut until she pays for dishes, so she won’t be doing much, and…

    Well, call it a personal favour?


    J A


    • Actually I was saving this trying to come up with an inappropriate response but my creative juices are not flowing properly lately!! You do make me smile because I adore eccentricity in most forms.


  19. Pat S. says:

    Each morning I awake to the aroma of freshly brewed coffee. A cup of caffeine filled nectar magically appears as I stagger into the kitchen. The front section of the newspaper is relinquished with good cheer even though his perusal has not been completed. This routine is one of many thoughtful gestures that I encounter during my day. Yes, Barb, we are both lucky along with many others who have responded to your thoughtful blog. It is 43 for us. Are we just lucky, or did we have good sense and an uncanny ability to judge fine character when it mattered most?


    • George is aptly named, that Prince of a man!

      Hmmmm, I think luck had something to do with it at least in my case because how do you really know a person until you plow through a few years with them? So luck and a bit of good instincts, I guess. Thanks, Pat.


  20. This made me smile a lot. Thanks for that.


  21. dorothy says:

    Isn’t love about respect? Whether it’s your mate, your home, your family or any body or thing in your life want to protect it, we are now in our 56th year and no internet could have ever connected our dots. It’s hard to put into words what makes the heart skip a beat at the sound of a voice, or a touch of the hand or some silly gesture that raises the heart rate. Congrats on 40 years you two and I’m so glad the bag of chips was on the last leg as there might not have been a blog, a real love story BARB and ROGER and you are an inspiration to many others. Wishing you 40 more .here’s to the chips…..


    • You know, Dorothy, I used to hear 56 years and think that was just too far out of the realm of possibility to even think about. And now I realize it will come tomorrow, if I’m lucky. Wishing YOU and that handsome devil of yours many more to come too!!


  22. Caroline says:

    Very sweet post Barbara. We’re going on 20 years and it seems all of bout friends are in the midst of divorce or already on to new relationships. Nice to hear you two are going strong! (And I hope this comment is on the correct post – reading/typing from my phone and it’s a little wonky!)


    • Yes, you landed on the right post. It’s traumatic, isn’t it, when friends divorce. I remember exactly that happening to us several years ago when about half our social circle divorced. We were just beside ourselves because in most instances we never saw it coming. There are LOTS of us long-time marrieds around as evidenced by so many who responded to this post. Thanks for reading, Caroline, and here’s to twenty more at least for you!


  23. Jane says:

    Hi Barbara! You are really on to something! I agree with you! It is the many little things that can make or break a relationship! My guy is sweet in the way your husband is and I’m looking forward to many happy years with him. As he continues to model the esseence of kindess, love, and sharing by saving me the last cookie, the last of the chips, letting me pick the movie, and cleaning out the bathroom sink, I will continue to buy smooth mild taco sauce, leave out the mushrooms and capers, throw away junk, and watch the car shows!


    • Hmmm, you introduce the interesting concept of a “two-way street!” You mean I need to make concessions too? LOL! I think I detect a very nice balance, Jane, in your marriage and that is a good thing. No capers OR mushrooms? You’re a good woman!! My man despises tuna – can’t even stand it when I open a can in the house so let’s just say we eat a lot of ham and cheese around here.


  24. So, true. What a nice post! I think maybe success is accepting an 80% solution. We all come to the table with a different, and mixed, bag of qualities. We can’t just cherry-pick what we like, and leave the rest, we have to take the whole bag, the whole person. But if we can find someone in life who we enjoy being around 80% of the time, and has 80% of the qualities we like, that is a pretty spectacular match. Where people get into trouble, is instead of considering themselves lucky to have found that, and letting that other 20% go, they decide to marry the 80% that they like and just try to change that last 20. When a man does it to a woman it makes her feel unloved and miserable, when a woman does it to a man, it makes him feel angry and resentful. Better perhaps to just get better at loving, then we can let the rest go and actually enjoy our time together. xo, N.G.


    • Words of wisdom not just in marriage but in all our relationships, actually. It can be awfully easy after we grow accustomed to the lovely 80% to begin focusing on the balance. When our daughter got sick up in Boston and I spent many, many weeks at a time up there separated from him, I discovered just how much I relied and depended on him in ways that I didn’t even realize. What a huge lesson that was for me and I’ve learned my 11th Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Take For Granted.

      Nina, I just also want to say that I think you produce one of the most beautiful blogs out there. Not just your gorgeous photography but the sentiments behind them. I’ve been reading you for years now – long before I tiptoed into blogging myself – and it is a thrill for me to see you in my comments. Thank you!


  25. Simply delightful. Happy Anniversary!! I’m not sure how we became the old peeps without tattoos either, but it happened in the blink of our eyes. 36 years together and I still don’t know a “secret” for a happy marriage. Maybe I’ll figure it out during our next 36 together. Congratulations!!


  26. Betsy says:

    Happy 40th Barbara and Roger! it’s hard to explain what makes a good marriage but when you start to finish each other’s sentences and they’re the yen to your yang you’re pretty darn lucky!!!


  27. Eliza Waters says:

    Great post! It is true, that the little things all work together to make a marriage a success. We had our 30th this past May and the response was similar – “Wow, how’d you do that?” It feels like we won the lottery or something. Congrats on your 40th, may you be blessed with many more!


    • Oh, Eliza, thank you so much. What has really struck me from the comments I’ve received on this post is just how many long-term marriages are alive and well – at least in my little corner of the blogosphere. Congrats on your 30 years together!!


  28. Paula says:

    I enjoyed very much! I’m in my 18 years of marriage and the littlest things are the most important


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