Secrets of a long, happy marriage

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

My husband Bob, winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize in physics, is a power ball of energy. He bounces into a room, sending shock waves into space. He talks nonstop about any subject, has opinions about everything from nuclear energy to termites. He is a font of information, reads the World Book Encyclopedia every night and is the only person I know who actually remembers what he's read from A-Z.

To maintain any sense of myself as an intelligent being who likes to read cookbooks, I have created a measure of validation through my job. Over 25 years of teaching, I have hopefully had a positive impact on hundreds of young children - teaching them to write poetry like Jack Prelutsky and to tie their shoes, upside down, while reciting hysterical limericks to their unsuspecting parents. The special joy for me is the moment a child's authentic voice emerges as though cocooned for eons, unfolding loudly with strong, startling brilliance.

Marriage is a give and take of mutual strengths - a balancing, energizing and forward momentum that may take us in different creative directions, but is an evolving gift. Bob deeply supports and respects my need for a career and looks the other way when I re-arrange the living room for a 53rd time. He knows that furniture placement is part of my need for change and innovation.

I am patient while he writes books and composes piano sonatas, and don't flinch when he announces he's off on a 35 mile uphill bike ride (from which I will occasionally drive 45 minutes to find/rescue/re-hydrate him). We don't limit one another's vision of what is possible.

As the family of a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, my two sons and I have learned to know when to let Bob immerse himself for hours in quantum theory, and when we need family time. On the one hand, we don't want to disturb him when he is thinking, writing, producing (he is now writing his third book.) On the other, we have come to know when he needs a break.

Over 31 years of marriage, Bob and I have supported one another by valuing our creative gifts and not trying to control each other. You have to fundamentally believe that the other person has a passion for whatever they do and support it rather than argue about it or try control it.

It actually helps that we are interested in different creative areas. He's the science/math guy and I'm the language/arts person. We support each other through total acceptance of what we do creatively.

This, I believe, is one of the most important parts of a healthy marriage. You have to find something that really interests you, and if your spouse doesn't want to do it, just go do it. I think having separate interests actually stimulates the relationship.

At the same time, every marriage needs common ground. For couples with children, it's so important to share values and agree on how you raise your kids. Bob and I have always been united in raising our two sons. We didn't always agree on all areas, but we talked it out so we could come to compromises.

For 20 years, Bob and I have constantly redesigned the gardens on our property. We are always looking for ways to make them fresh, exciting and interesting. Like our changing patterns of beautiful plants, mutual support and distinct interests have helped our marriage grow and thrive.

About the author: Anita Laughlin is author of the new book, Reindeer with King Gustaf on how her husband won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1998. She has taught since 1995 at Escondido School in Palo Alto, Calif., where she has been recognized for her work with special needs students. Anita holds two master's degrees, in Education and in Special Education and Expressive Art Therapies, from Lesley College Graduate School, now Lesley University, in Cambridge, Mass. She and her husband, Stanford Physics Professor Robert B. Laughlin, have been married 31 years and have two grown sons. For more information, go to