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Dr. Zorba Paster: Some words of wisdom for couples about to marry

When I first started practicing medicine in the 1970s, we had to counsel every married couple before they could get their marriage license. Can you imagine?

Yes, there I was, a newly married 28-year-old novice, joining a practice established by the highly respected Dr. Kellogg, giving my wisdom to young couples when, in fact, the only thing that was really required was to test for bad blood – the slang term for syphilis – and educate them on birth control.

Now, first a bit on birth-control history. When Dr. Kellogg came to our town in 1949, his birth-control arsenal consisted of condoms, the diaphragm (for those of you too young to know what this is, ask your moms), and surgery.

When it came to the vasectomy, he had to send men to Rockford, Ill., because those dandy operations were put in the same category as abortions. As for tubal ligations, a woman couldn’t get one without her husband’s consent. My, how life has changed.

Regarding “natural family planning,” the moniker for the so-called “rhythm method” of birth control, we would offer a book with detailed graphs trying to predict when a woman would ovulate.

It might be a somewhat effective method of birth control for women with very regular periods, but for those who weren’t as regular, the results were more and more kids.

Testimony to this was the high number of large families in our town in the days before birth control pills. That number dropped precipitously when the pill became available.

Now, on to the counseling. What does make a happy marriage? It’s a common topic during this high season for weddings, which is why I was interested to read about a book by Karl Pillemer, a Ph.D. expert in human development and gerontology, titled “Lessons for Loving: Advice from the Wisest Americans on Love, Relationships and Marriage.”

Anyone interested in tips from some wise elders might take a gander. Pillemer’s research team surveyed people 65 and older who were married (or in equivalent long-term relationships, straight and gay) for 30 to 50 years, looking at what worked. A distillation of the wisdom:

1. Learn to communicate Talk to each other. Let that communication be open. Make it two-way. Many of the divorced couples say that a lack of communication was a big reason for the breakup.

2. Make the commitment We’ve all been to weddings and heard in the vows about how important it is to get through those times when difficult decisions need to be made – with children, parents, jobs and other life issues. With commitment, couples have a better chance of paying attention and respecting the other person in the relationship.

3. Team effort Do you have your partner’s back, and do they have yours? In sports, in work, in everything that requires us to work together, we do better as a team. This certainly applies to raising children. When I read this, I thought about my lifelong partner, Penny, my wife of 40 years. When it comes to important things like raising children, planning our life and living the dream, we’ve been on the same page.

4. Similar values If you’re a saver and marry a spendthrift, beware. And if you’re a free-spender who marries a tightwad, it’s just the same. There is a balance. Study after study has shown that too much debt is toxic to a relationship.

Finally, I’d like to add something from my own years of listening to patients in my office:

5. Learn to forgive Compassion is a great salve. Never, ever go to bed angry – never.

Dr. Zorba Paster hosts a radio program that airs locally at 3 p.m. Saturdays on WBFO-FM 88.7. Email him at