When you ask 400 physicians and 700 therapists the question, “How do you know when you’ve seen a good marriage?”—you get the same answers in the same order. In my world, this has become one of the benchmarks I quickly use when I meet with a couple. The five markers are: 1. The frequent and open display of affection. 2. The development of shared interests. 3. Frequent communication. 4. Infrequent arguments. 5. Sexual compatibility.

I think the key really is point 2—the development of shared interests. If you don’t have shared interests, there is not much to talk about. I led a class a few years ago on ‘anger management’ and asked the class what is the average amount of time a couple married for more than 10 years actually talk in a week’s time. A lady answered the question correctly and said, “27 and ½ minutes.” I was stunned and asked her how she knew and she answered, “I timed him.” She was exactly right, 27 minutes on average. So, what do you do for fun? Is this something you and your partner shared together? I also believe that each of us should have our individual ‘thing’ we do, but my question is what do you do together. This actually leads to the fifth point—sexual compatibility. My belief is that for women to want to be physically intimate, they first need to feel psychologically intimate. How to do that? Talk, do things together that you both enjoy.

Chris and I are tango dancers. Sort of. This is the second marriage for both of us and both of us wanted to dance. How to do that? Take lessons. I don’t think I’ve ever met a woman who didn’t want to either secretly or openly want dance. Men often struggle with the idea of taking lessons. If we don’t ‘get it’ after an hour’s class we quit. Yet, we’ll practice golf, or practice shooting free throws for hours and hours. Many men simply won’t dance because they can’t master it easily and feel foolish out on the floor with others watching. We started with Salsa—an extraordinarily fun dance that you can use for many types of music. Watching two salsa dancers dancing to a slow song is as close to sensuality as it gets. We started with the basic ‘six weeks’ of salsa classes. I have a pretty good sense of rhythm and a good sense of my body, yet after the first two salsa classes, I wanted to hit my legs with a baseball bat because they simply wouldn’t do what I was told to do. Very frustrating, BUT, by the sixth class I was dancing something that looked like salsa. We went on to take about 40 more classes, getting better and better as time and practice went by. One byproduct of this that has boosted my self-esteem is to have young women come to Chris and ask if they can dance with me. When you’re almost 70 years old, it doesn’t get much better.

Much of what we do these days revolve around tango. We’ve gone to festivals in Mexico, Portland, Seattle, Albuquerque, Qualicum Beach on Vancouver, B.C., and several in our hometown of Port Townsend. We leave in a month to one of our favorites—‘Burning Tango’ in McCloud, California. McCloud is right at the base of Mount Shasta. We will meet up with a friend that we met in a tango festival in San Miguel d’Allende, MX, a few years ago. We’ll stay with her and her husband in Reno before we drive up to McCloud together. We’ve developed a good, positive relationship with this woman and it all started by joining the tango cult. We have small parties in Port Townsend with people we know through the tango world. There has been so much richness added to our lives by finding a dance community.

My point is that it doesn’t matter what type of dancing you might try, but try something that interests you and find a partner to dance with. One of the reasons Chris and I are going back to McCloud—our third trip—is because we’ve been asked to come back to play music at a ‘house party’ at the end of the festival. One of the women from this group asked us specifically to learn how to play some tango music. Two songs actually. One was easy. The other song was quite difficult for me to learn to play on the mandolin and I’ve had to learn a new series of chord patterns and chords that I’ve never played before. Chris, who does not speak Spanish, is learning to sing one of the songs in Spanish.

There are two things apparently that seriously contribute to brain growth as we get older—playing music and dancing. There is now a body of research that suggests that having an active and positive social life staves off dementia and extends our lives.

I think the next addition will be Chris’ response to this. Good Luck. Find someone to play music and dance with.

Terry Copeland


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  1. Reed Qualley:

    I feel that Terry has hit the issue of relationships dead on! Although it seems to me that it is difficult separating all 5 benchmarks – as they are like dominoes. They fall on each other and will knock out the next, no matter which one is toppled first. To share an interest you have to communicate; to communicate you have to have points in common; to be intimate with each other you cannot begin in a vacuum; and so on …
    Linda and I have been married for almost 50 years [August 28], and we have fallen in and out of intimacy and communication and interests and arguments. But we keep coming back for more – or less. Married life is wonderful if you persist.
    Reed Qualley M.Div; MA in Counseling Psychology

    • Terry Copeland:

      Reed, thanks for your thoughts. Marriage is like dominoes in a way. The trick is to keep adjusting the balance as we get older. You and your wife obviously have done a very good job with this.