As a retiree who’s no longer perpetually exhausted from working full time, I now have the pleasure of taking courses at will. My husband Harvey, 10 other couples and I just started a six-week course called “The Art of Marriage” and I’m hoping to pick up some valuable pointers. The course is offered from a religious perspective, which presumably will align with our mixed secular/religious lifestyle. I’m just relieved to hear that marriage is an art, not a science. I was never good at science.

Next week it will be Harvey’s and my ninth wedding anniversary (and 12th year together), and while there are still plenty of stars in my eyes, there are also some spots. Detached retina, maybe? Floaters? No, just some blind spots I need to fill in with a good dose of patience, compassion, and acceptance. Having married at age 53 for the first (and hopefully only) time, I had no experience with serious long-term relationships. My longest relationship prior to Harvey lasted three years, and I’d never lived with anybody before. So, getting married was like a crash course in Relationships 101. Testing the waters constantly on all sorts of issues, we’ve come to a mostly peaceful place of understanding. Like most couples, we don’t always see eye to eye. And there’s the challenge.

I may be jumping ahead, but to my relatively inexperienced wifely mind, the whole marriage thing hinges on how we treat each other. Whether in the area of intimacy, expectations, character traits or how we deal with problems, all of it comes down to respect and communication.

Never mind that Harvey was married twice before and comes with his own set of experiences being part of a couple. Sure, that may colour (notice I didn’t say taint?) his approach to how he interacts with me, but he usually keeps an open mind. We’re in it together, and we’re receptive to learning about how to interact more positively and lovingly as a team.

Apart from the Art of Marriage class, if we do nothing more than look around at our happily married friends and take a page from their book, we’re on the right track. I realize that perfect-looking marriages are not always what they appear to be. And what goes on behind closed doors could very well be toxic. But even cherry-picking the very best qualities from a bunch of successful marriages can only help us as a couple.

It’s ironic, isn’t it, that the one who’s relatively new to marriage is the one dispensing advice. But maybe I’m exactly the right person for the job. I’m a fresh set of eyes with no previous marriage baggage. If you ask me, the key ingredients to a happy marriage are: communication, respect, kindness, patience, compassion, acceptance and of course, love. The fireworks and infatuation may wax and wane over time, but the other ingredients are what make for a solid foundation. Now if I could just find a job as a highly paid marriage counsellor, I’d be all set!

Shelley Civkin, the retired “Face of Richmond,” was a Librarian & Communications Officer at Richmond Public Library for nearly 30 years, and author of a weekly book review column for 17 years.

GuidedBy is a community builder and part of the Glacier Media news network. This article originally appeared on a Glacier Media publication.