Your top 5 secrets to a successful marriage!
R and I have been married - on and off - for 20 years.
Yes. On and off.
We got married in college - way too young, I might add. We were married five years, then we divorced, but we never really stopped dating each other. Yeah, weird, I know. Five-ish years after our divorce, we moved back in together and eventually got around to getting married again. Now we are going on 10 years for this round, and I'm pleased to say so far, so good.
We've had all the normal ups and downs that most married couples go through, and some were things that happened to us, but for the most part it's been due to the things we have done to each other, and to ourselves as we've tried to navigate the tricky, complicated waters of spending your life intertwined with someone else's.
I told R that I was writing this post and I asked him if he had any words of wisdom. First he said, "marriage is full of compromises." Then he quoted a recent episode of CSI to me - "Don't marry someone who you think will make you happy. Marry someone you know you can't live without."
I couldn't have said it better myself, but as is usually the case, I have a few things of my own to add.
Don't talk bad about your spouse. To anyone. Ever. Fight with each other when you need to. Get all the ugly truths out there in the privacy of your own home. But when it comes to the rest of the world, you are a unit. You are in harmony. You have each other's backs every. single. time. You simply do not bad mouth your spouse. I know the temptation is there to vent to your friends or write a snarky Facebook status or even a blog post. But don't do it. Step back, think about how you would feel if the tables were turned, and just... Don't. Every time you do, it erodes just a little bit of the protective framework that encases your marriage, and believe me, you want that framework to be strong as strong as possible. It's made up of a million shared memories, and lifelong commitment to each other and your common goals and you need for that framework to be as strong as possible to stand up to the rigors of everything that gets thrown your way. Don't break it down in a fit of pique over some little thing or another. It's simply not worth it.
Be polite to each other. When you are around casual acquaintances, chances are that you use your inside voice. You smile, make eye contact, say please and thank you, put your phone down and engage them in conversation, hold open doors and generally use good behavior. If you're willing to expend that energy with virtual strangers, why wouldn't you do it with the one person you've chosen to spend your life with? Its easy to fall into a trap of complacency here, because after all, you don't HAVE to be polite. It's a little thing, for sure, but really...
Remember it's all about the little things. Occasionally there is some sort of grand gesture you can make for your spouse, like when R surprised me with my dream car, but those opportunities only come around a few times in a lifetime. It's the daily stuff that keeps the wheels turning. For example, there's a certain kind of facial cleanser that I love (it smells like cucumbers!) but I don't buy it for myself much because it's so expensive. R notices when I run out, and I often find a brand new package sitting on my side of the sink waiting for me. I buy his favorite ice cream. He offers to schedule appointments because he knows I hate talking on the phone. I learned how to cook Vietnamese food because that's what he remembers eating when he was a kid. He notices when I'm getting to the end of my rope with the boys and steps in to get them (or me) out of the house for a couple hours. I start his car every morning when it's cold so the windows will have time to defrost before he leaves for work. He brings me a bottle (or three) of wine from time to time. These little daily seemingly mundane things scream two really important points to each other - 1. I notice you and 2. Your feelings matter to me.
Have your own life. One of my greatest fears when I stopped working was that I would lose my sense of self. I'm happy to say that didn't happen, and for the most part, I feel more authentically like ME than it ever have. I cook, I garden, I craft, I blog, I run, I write, I sew, I read. Those are the things I love. R likes to go out with the guys from work for a beer occasionally, he loves to tinker with computers and electronics, he listens to audio books, he plays epic video games. By cultivating our own interests, we are happier and we have things to talk about when we spend time together.
Have fun together! When we were young and first married, we spent quite a lot of time hanging out in bars and restaurants with friends, eating half priced appetizers and drinking pitchers of beer. We went through a spell of bowling. We took up archery for a while. We go to concerts whenever we can. I started running almost entirely because it was something he used to do and I thought we could do it together. Currently we like trying new restaurants, going to movies without talking wildlife in them, wandering around flea markets and bookstores... The point is, we make a point to spend time having a good time together whenever we can. At the stage we are in our lives - busy with kids and his job and house repairs and responsibilities, it's nearly impossible to not let our time together take a back seat to everything else, but pretty much anything that's worth it takes work and attention, so don't let this one slide.
There's no such thing as a perfect marriage. It's hard and messy and complicated and totally, totally worth it when you find the one your heart loves. It's more about two people, complete with all their weirdnesses and idiosyncrasies and baggage and self doubt who come together then refuse to give up on each other. It's about knowing all someone else's faults and still thinking that person is amazing. It's about having a partner in all things who has your back. Someone who really, really gets you, and who loves you both because of and in spite of who you truly are.