Seemingly all of a sudden, the friends of Jayne Haines’ two children were getting engaged or married, prompting the questions to come pouring in: How in the world have she and her husband managed to sustain their marriage these past 30 years?
But then, it was her son who had gotten engaged, and she decided to put her advice to paper. What started out as a gift for his wedding day in two weeks soon took on a life of its own, and eight months later Haines had churned out “How to Grow a Marriage,” a 90-page guidebook of sorts on the roots and bloom of matrimony drawn from her own experiences and deepened by the well-earned wisdom of dozens of couples whose marriages have flourished even longer than hers has.
A Del Mar resident for more than 40 years, Haines got her start as a feature writer for Young Rider Magazine before transitioning to a career as a copywriter. In 2011, she wrote Cry for the Moon, a middle-grade novel about a girl forced to cope with her parents’ shortcomings. Her second book, self-published a few days before Christmas, isn’t just for engaged couples or newlyweds, she says. Rather, she hopes its timeless lessons prove valuable for couples of all ages and stages of marriage.
So with Valentine’s Day fast approaching, this newspaper talked with Haines about the keys to marital bliss, the pitfalls of modern coupling, and the strength she’s found by circling back to a more traditional view of marriage. This interview has been edited for length and clarity
DMT: What prompted you to write this book?
Haines: My son is engaged, and a lot of my kids’ friends are getting married and engaged. Their parents aren’t always together. I’ve been married for 30 years and we would always get the question ‘How do you stay married for so long?’ and ‘What works?’ So I thought I’d write just a little pocketbook, just for my kids. The idea grew and grew, and I started interviewing other couples. There were a couple dozen people who I met with and talked to—friends and friends of friends. But the clincher, for me, was the 95-year-old man who’s been married for 70 years. I went to his office in his nursing home in Escondido and he had walls of relationship books and I thought, ‘Wow, this is golden.’ We talked and we prayed. I saw him several times. He gave me such great insight. I was in the middle of writing this book and I just wanted a quote from him, but he looked at what I’d written and he had a lot of knowledge. There’s a dedication to him at the end of the book.
DMT: In these dozens of interview, what parallels did you find?
Haines: I would say having a like-mindedness—not being the exact same, but like-minded. And to be able to come together and work through things and be on the same page with each other. Also, commitment; a big thing is just being committed to it. I talk in the book about cohabitating versus being married. A lot of my kids’ friends are living with each other and I just think there’s a big difference there; it’s like renting a house versus owning one. I really got a kick out of talking to people who have been married for a long time. I learned a lot from them. There’s not one person I talked to who said, ‘I have a perfect marriage.’ They all said, ‘We have grown together through thick and thin.’
DMT: The theme of the book, obviously, is growth and marriage. So, how do you grow a marriage?
Haines: Putting the wedding rings on and the ‘I do’s’ are just the beginning. It’s an organic, constant process. It’s just like growing a garden. You don’t just put beautiful plants in and hope that they grow. You have to fertilize them and water them. That’s the whole metaphor behind the book.
DMT: Do you have a goal for this book, or a particular outcome you want to have?
Haines: For me what I would hope when somebody reads it is that no matter how long they’ve been married, it will help them think about different areas where they can say, ‘Aha, we’re doing it right’ or ‘Boy, we need to work on this’ or ‘This is something I never thought about that could help us.’ I have some little homework pages in here, little assignments, where you ask yourself things—for example, things that bother you about your spouse. There’s always going to be things that annoy you about your spouse. But are they game-changers? Are they worth really arguing about?
DMT: What are the core things that anchor a healthy marriage?
Haines: Trust. Trust is very, very important in a marriage, and it’s something that can be easily broken. I also think that having a spiritual connection can be a foundation. This is not a religious book but it does focus on that as being a good anchor for planting the strong roots of marriage. It doesn’t matter whether you’re Christian or anything else, as long as you’re on the same page and on the same journey. It’s easier especially when you bring children into a marriage. That can really fracture a relationship, because then it becomes either this religion or that religion or nothing at all. When couples don’t do enough to reconcile their religious differences, they default to raising their kids with no religion at all. I had that happen in my childhood.
DMT: What do you think you and your husband brought into your marriage having both come from divorced families?
Haines: That it doesn’t define you. You have a chance to have a good marriage even if your parents aren’t together. You can do things differently. It’s just about commitment and choice and respect. We both learned to communicate better than our parents did. We really focused on talking things out and not going to bed angry. Little weeds can grow into big weeds, and there’s always going to be weeds. There’s no perfect marriage, because we’re human. So forgiveness is big, and just moving forward from situations, and really communicating on a lot of things.
DMT: The institution of marriage, to many people’s minds, has changed significantly as an institution compared to when you got married and what you’ve experienced. As marriage itself has changed, have the things needed to sustain it changed?
Haines: There are certain things that have changed as far as social media and the way people communicate. I think it’s even more important now to value communication, because it’s not done face-to-face as much as it used to be. So it is a skill I think people need to really keep in mind and develop and stay in tune with. But very much the traditional values of marriage are important. Male roles and female roles are very important, and they get diffused a lot of times. I think our culture has kind of evened the playing field, whereas I think that it’s worked for centuries and generations. So I kind of circle back to the traditional roles of marriage—in a light-hearted way. I try to be very fair to male and female throughout this, with a neutral voice.
DMT: With the pressures and conditions young couples face today as they enter into marriage, as someone who grew up in a different era, what guidance has felt most important to offer?
Haines: To look at your role in your marriage, that a man and a woman have different roles, and being able to work together on that. There’s a lot of synergism now with women working and men staying home. There’s a lot of different things that have changed through the generations, so having a really good idea of what your expectations are between the two of you, what your goals are, and discussing how you’re going to reach those goals. It not that easy for couples nowadays to make it on one income, not like it used to be. And with social media, you see what other people are doing. There’s a lot of comparing that goes on today, whereas we lived almost in a vacuum before. Now, you’re seeing what your friends in Cabo are doing while you’re maybe sitting in front of the TV watching reruns of Seinfeld and feeling bad.
DMT: Did the process of writing a book about how to grow a marriage help you, in turn, grow your marriage?
Haines: It did, absolutely. When I first started, I think I had maybe 10 chapters and it turned out to be maybe 30 or so. It really kept growing and growing into something much more. This is kind of like a boost of good fertilizer. I have friends who have recently gotten divorced—people who have been married for 30-some years—and it makes me so sad. I think that they could use some of the insight here and maybe latch on to some of the principles. I’m very, very blessed because with my husband and I, it gets better every year. The first year of marriage, no matter what, is always the hardest because you’re just figuring it out. You’re learning each other. It’s like a rhythm, and now we kind of get each other. We know how far to push each other. It all just is a matter of taking time. My son was saying the other day, ‘How do you know if you’re talking too much?’ You just learn. You have to put the time into it and not give up. And learn how to laugh. Enjoy yourselves. Enjoy life. Enjoy the things you really liked about each other when you were dating. Because if you can circle back to humor and say, ‘Well, what did I really like about this person?’ you may have to think long and hard but eventually you’ll get there. I mean, my husband’s got as many quirky things as I do; we just learned to say ‘Oh well, that’s them.’
“How to Grow a Marriage: Sharing the Secrets to Everlasting Love” is available on Amazon.com