The best kind of advice: unsolicited.
Jason and I will have been married five years next month. Five whole years . That’s definitely not as long as some people, but it’s respectable; especially considering all the outside drama and catastrophes we’ve weathered in that short time. I was thinking about this a lot today, and I really want to talk about that topic– marriage. So if you’ll just bear with me– I’m not an expert, at all, but there are a couple important things I’ve learned over the years. Sit down while I climb up on this soapbox, because I’m just full of tidbits on wedded bliss. Heh.
The vast majority of wisdom I’ve gleaned is obvious. Number one: marry the right person. I know. You’re like, “That’s like saying buy a wedding ring that fits.” SERIOUSLY, though, you need to marry. the. right. person. There are a lot of people I’ve seen get divorced over the years, and only 2% of those were an out of the blue surprise. The rest you could see coming at the reception.
You can’t get married because everyone else is doing it. You can’t get married because you put enough time in the relationship and want a payoff. You can’t get married because you’re pregnant, or someone is moving. You can’t get married because you want an excuse for a honeymoon. You can’t get married because You Might As Well. I’ve heard this from other couples: “Well, we were together, and… might as well.” That is a TERRIBLE reason to marry someone. I’m telling you this not to hurt your feelings, but to save you from a crappy union.
You should never half-ass the decision to spend the rest of your life with someone. Please, always go into it with the assumption it’s FOREVER. If you’re walking down the aisle thinking, “Eh, if this one sucks, I can just divorce and start over,” then you need to turn around and get out of there. Don’t be afraid to call off a wedding. If you already sent the invitations out, who cares? It’s so much better to lose that money and be a little sheepish than have to divide up all your belongings, house, pets, and kids in a divorce court.
Marry someone you like. You have to like them. I’m putting that above love, because there a lot of people I love but couldn’t stand on a daily basis. Heh. You need to enjoy them as a human being. They need to be someone you trust. Big thing: trust. Not just trust not to cheat on you, but trust that they can handle your money, raise your kids, deal with an emergency, choose the right option if you’re in a coma and the doctors want to take you off life support. You need to respect them and their decision-making. It’s a partnership above everything else. You would never go into a business with someone that you thought was going to embezzle your funds or set your warehouse on fire, and yet people do it all the time in marriages.
Talk about everything before you get married. Put it out there. I credit this as the number one reason Jason and I are still going strong: on our second date, we did the You Should Know This About Me game. We told each other EVERY potentially scary thing that would come up later. I’m not saying you need to do this immediately (second date can definitely freak some people out), but you need to do it before you propose. Things won’t just work themselves out later. You need to know if someone has a health issue, if someone wants no kids or ten kids, if someone has massive credit card debt, a criminal history, some weird perversion, if someone wants you to convert to their religion. These are big issues, and you have to talk about them; even if it isn’t fun. You need to know what deal breakers are. Everyone has a deal breaker. Find out what it is, and if you’re okay with it.
When you ARE married, you need to talk about problems that day. If you have a fight and you’re too upset– that’s fine. Walk away, drink a beer, stew. Come back when you’re sober and discuss it before you go to bed. Don’t go to bed upset. If you don’t come to a definitive conclusion, that’s fine. Get to a point where nobody is pissed off anymore, and decide what note you’re adjourning on. Like: Okay, I’m not mad anymore that you bought this TV without asking me. I’ve heard your reasons, I listened. I’m not sure we shouldn’t take it back and ask for a refund, so let’s just leave it on that and come back tomorrow.
If one person feels strongly about an issue and the other doesn’t, the strong person wins. It works for us. There’s no use fighting over something one of us only mildly cares about. If Jason wants to visit Spain and I am DYING to go to Disney World, we go to Disney World.
With kids: don’t talk smack about the other parent. Don’t undermine them. If your spouse grounds your child, they’re grounded when they come to you, too. If your spouse’s punishment is too harsh, pull the spouse aside and talk to them privately. You guys are a united front. There’s nothing wrong with questioning why your partner did what they did, but– barring some violent act or abuse that needs to be acted on THAT SECOND– you back them up and quiz them later.
Have sex. Nobody dies wishing they had less sex. I know my parents will be reading this, and my grandmother, but we’re all adults and I know they agree with me. If you can, do it. Sex as teenagers was usually terrible, and we did it ALL THE TIME. We did it in the stupidest, most awkward places, we did it badly, we got caught and we got in trouble. Now that we finally figured out how to do it and we have nice beds and hotel rooms and God’s blessing, we all have headaches. Come on.
If your spouse does something crappy, call them on it the first time. You can’t let it escalate. If your spouse says or does something that wounds you, makes you angry or resentful: TELL THEM. This is Dr. Phil of me, but it’s absolutely true– you teach people how to treat you. This needs to be your best friend and your refuge from the outside world. You both promised it to each other. It boggles my mind how cruelly I’ve seen spouses treat each other, and you need to know that’s not okay; that’s not what you agreed on, you’re worth more than that, and you WON’T put up with it. Jason has done this to me, and I’ve done it to him. You turn to them and say, seriously, “You know, don’t ever [blank] again. No.” And if they’re the person you thought they were, they won’t. It won’t GET to five years later, when you’ve put up with [blank] and it’s been eating away at you over time, and suddenly you snap.
Fight fair. If you guys didn’t resolve something, then deal with that first. If an issue is resolved, it doesn’t belong in a new argument. Arguments are between the two of you. Don’t call your friends and have them weigh in. It’s not their business. Don’t fight in front of other people. It makes your guests uncomfortable, and at least one of you will feel hurt and embarrassed that you’re airing dirty laundry like that. Don’t, don’t, DON’T bring up That One Sensitive Topic. Don’t. Everyone who is married knows what that topic is with their spouse, and it’s hitting SO below the belt. Don’t tell them they’re a horrible parent, or stupid because they never finished college, or whatever that single knife-like insult is. If you do that, you’re an asshole and you owe someone a serious apology. Don’t ever pull that again. Ever. And don’t let anyone do it to you. You sharing a vulnerability and someone you love mocking you for it is totally, completely unacceptable.
Try to have both separate and shared interests. If you don’t have anything in common, find something. Go out fishing, or dancing, or bungee jumping, or whatever. Eventually you will stumble on a mutual passion. Do things for yourself, and by yourself, and let them do things for and by themselves too. Everyone needs to evolve as a person; and you should support, not stifle, that.
When and if you have kids, you will love your kids unlike anything you’ve ever known before. And this is something I always have to tell myself– the kids will leave someday. You didn’t marry your kids. You still (hopefully) want a relationship when the youngest is off to college, so you need to keep it up in the meantime. Your children should be a result of the connection with your spouse, not THE connection.
Try to make an effort to look nice for your spouse. I’m not saying that in a 1950′s housewife way. I mean that 97% of us will do our hair, put on lipgloss or cologne, shave, pick out a sexy outfit, whatever– just to go to the grocery store. Just in the offchance that a stranger might see us and want to enjoy the view. For our spouses, though, we’re all sweatpants and no showering. Heh. You know what I mean. It’s not always easy and I know personally I’m not always in the mood, but it does make a difference. It makes me feel better when I get some mascara and cute jeans on, and I know it makes Jason happy that I want to look as nice for him as I do the checkout boy.
That’s it, off the top of my head. All I can think of. I’m sure there’s more. After I wrote this, I reread it and felt like: (A) this is all so common sense, (B) people are going to read this, all: OBVIOUSLY, and (C) people are going to be annoyed with me for being relatively young, only married a half-decade, and thinking I figured everything out. Just so everyone knows, I’m not under any illusions that I have all the answers. I’m just writing down what I know has worked for me, and what I know hasn’t, and what I’ve seen go wrong enough times to know it’s a bad move. This is me summing up five years of watching, listening, and learning in a bite-sized entry.
I would love your input, so if you have anything to add, please; feel free.