Keep your eyes open to the little things. Avoiding a thankless marriage.

 September 4, 1982, thirty five years ago.  September 4, 1982, thirty five years ago.

Years ago, I sat across a table from my new husband as we enjoyed a night out on our honeymoon. As we waited for our food to arrive, the wait staff appeared, singing Happy Anniversary, and delivered a cake with a single flaming candle to the couple at the next table.

Michael and I looked at each other with wide-eyed awe and said, almost in unison, “Wow. A whole year.”

It was hard to fathom being married for a year. Now, it’s been 35.

We were so young when we got married; I was 23 and Michael was 25. In 1982, two years out of college where we met, many of our peers were getting married as well. It wasn’t unusual at that time, but now we look back and realize that we were practically babies.

 This was where it all started. Catholic University of America, 1980. This was where it all started. Catholic University of America, 1980.

In many ways now, we’re each a totally different individual than we were then.

Before getting married, I was Karen M. Rampolla, as I was reminded recently when I came across some pre-printed notecards, presumably from my wedding showers.

I also found a notecard printed with Mr. and Mrs. Michael P. DeBonis, Jr.  What a mouthful!  And talk about a loss of identity. I never went by that name; I didn’t even want to be called Mrs. DeBonis, who was Michael’s mom as far as I was concerned.

Aside from my name change, we’ve had many opportunities to grow in 35 years, and sometimes I’m amazed and always grateful that we grew together, rather than apart.

We’ve had it easier than some. We had good role models in our parents, similar values, and a shared religious faith. We also agreed from the get-go which way to hang the toilet paper. Plus, Michael was already in the habit of putting down the toilet seat and we were both closer to the slob end of the cleanliness spectrum than neat-freak.

But like most (all?) couples, we’ve had plenty of worse with the better. Personal and relationship growth is usually tough and marriage is no exception. Marriage takes a lot of boring, relentless, soul-searching, sometimes ego-crushing work.

But it shouldn’t be thankless.

I won’t presume that I know the secret to a successful marriage, as if there was a package hidden away in a closet ready to be unwrapped and passed around. But if I were to choose one take-away from my 35 years of experience that I think has some universal relevance to long-term relationships, it’s this:

You can not say thank you too often.

Thank you comes easily for the out-of-the-ordinary things, like when Michael surprised me with a pearl ring to celebrate the completion of my master’s degree. Or when I took his mom to her hair appointments when she wasn’t able to get around on her own.

But often, thank you isn’t even a blip on a couple’s radar for the little things like grinding the coffee, taking out the compost, or changing the batteries in the smoke detectors. The maintenance stuff. The stuff we take for granted.

That’s where resentment grows, I believe. When all the little, boring, mundane details that make up the grind of a day go unrecognized.

So we practice, Michael and I.

I thank him for putting the shed key back in the drawer so I don’t have to dig through his pockets to find it. And for knowing so much about computers and what to do when our Dish network goes down. And for draining the radiators and remembering to take my work-out clothes out before tossing the load in the dryer.

He thanks me for remembering to button his clean shirts at the collar when I hang them up, and for grilling extra vegetables for his lunches. He thanks me for my gardens and landscaping that beautify our yard, and for running the dishwasher. And for checking over his suitcase before a trip to be sure he hasn’t missed anything.

All those little things, for us, totaled a big number. No cake or candles needed, just wide open eyes and two simple words.

As we look ahead now, we say “Wow, can you imagine being married for 50 years, or 60 or 70?” I hope when we get there, we’ll look back and remember to say thanks for it all.


  • Karen DeBonis

    Karen DeBonis writes about motherhood, people-pleasing, and personal growth, the entangled mix told in her memoir "Growth: A Mother, Her Son, and the Brain Tumor They Survived" forthcoming in spring 2023. Subscribe today to receive Chapter 1: A Reckoning.

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No Comments

  1. on September 8, 2017 at 11:29 AM

    Happy Anniversary Karen and Mike! Such a lovely article, and so true. Here’s to the next 35!

    • on September 8, 2017 at 4:14 PM

      Thanks Deb! Happy 35th to you as well. Good thing we both got married when we were 10, right? Otherwise we’d be old now. LOL!

  2. on September 8, 2017 at 1:38 PM

    What a beautiful post.

    • on September 8, 2017 at 4:15 PM

      Thanks so much Deborah! It must be Debbie Day .. two comments from Debs. Hope it’s a good one for you!

  3. on September 8, 2017 at 11:21 PM

    So happy that you have grown together over the past 35 years. Saying "thank You " is certainly a simple but often neglected gesture. thanks for reminding us all how important it is.

    • on September 8, 2017 at 11:55 PM

      Thank you Pat!

  4. on September 8, 2017 at 11:25 PM

    Wonderfully said!

    • on September 8, 2017 at 11:55 PM

      Thanks Sam!

  5. on September 10, 2017 at 5:37 AM

    You’re so right. Here’s a thank you story with a twist. Pat and I are both 84. A day or so before you posted this blog Pat was walking by the dining table, her elbow brushed against a half filled teacup too close to the edge, and the cup went over. Who knew that half a cup of tea could completely wet eight square feet of table top, twice that area on the floor, a chair seat, and one of my notebooks (the latter keeping my records of everyday stuff like do lists, phone calls made, internet orders, appointments). At this moment I was napping (my default mode) so by the time I got up Pat had dried up table, chair seats and floor, and opened my notebook to let the pages start drying. With true contrition she says “I’m so sorry about your notebook”. I say “Thank you”. Now that “thank you” could have been laced with sarcasm, but it was laced with sheer gratitude. Here’s the backstory.
    Pat and I bring communion once a week to a shut in woman about our age – call her Jane. Jane has had severe Alzheimers for several years, her twelve hours a day not sleeping in bed are spent sitting in a chair staring emptily, sometimes humming in a monotone, occasionally moving hands slowly and without purpose over the page of a colorful magazine placed in front of her. Her husband – call him Harry – hires a live in caregiver for five days a week but still must spend a lot of time assisting the caregiver, and two days a week has total responsibility for Jane. Harry is an unsung saint, as devoted to Jane as ever a young lover was devoted to his beloved.
    Just hours before the teacup spill we had visited Jane and Harry. How Harry would love to have a wife with the ability to be up and about and knock over a teacup! How Harry would love to have a wife who could speak an occasional sentence! How Harry would love to have a wife who could give an occasional sign of recognition! That’s where my “Thank you” was coming from, and from whence there will be many more.

    • on September 10, 2017 at 12:55 PM

      Don, that’s a great story, and you have such a great attitude when little things go wrong. Thanks for commenting!

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