Recently I was at a work party and one of my soon-to-be-married colleagues said, “Ok everyone, give me your best marriage advice.” Of course we gave her all sorts of unhelpful, sarcastic comments we didn’t mean like, “don’t take it too seriously, you can always get divorced!”, but it did get me thinking. Over the next day or two I mulled the idea in my head and wondered what advice I could seriously give a young couple.
This August my husband and I will have been married 10 years, but we’ve lived together about 14 years. I was sure I could come up with a real gem, I mean, that’s a long time to get to know someone. I decided to surf the web for some ideas to trigger my brilliance. I did find some a few good tidbits, but there were some pretty cliche pieces that I mostly disagree with…such as…
Have the same hobbies. You probably have something in common, or else you wouldn’t be getting hitched, but should all of your hobbies be done together? Oh god, no. I mean, if you and your spouse do everything together and enjoy it, keep it up, but sometimes a girl needs her space. I think my husband and I do an awful lot together. He’s mostly who I hang out with and neither of us has a very large group of friends outside of our couples we hang with. What’s nice about when you and your spouse do separate things is though, is when you reconnect, you actually have something to talk about. Additionally, when I hang out with my husband and his friends, I’m generally super bored by their lame conversations. Likewise, he totally tunes out when he is forced to hang with me and the gals. It’s important to have space, it’s important to remain individuals, and like I said, it gives you something to talk about when you do hang out together.
Don’t go to bed angry. You know, when you live with someone day after day after day after day, you are bound to sometimes have ridiculous fights. Sometimes these happen in the evenings and spill into bedtime. Sometimes they start because you are bored and cranky, sometimes a pet peeve triggers one (I mean, seriously, can’t you put the toothpaste back IN the drawer when you’re done?!) and these fights are best to just let die. Sometimes bedtime is a blessing and you have excuse to end a fight. Even in cases of serious topics, I think it’s helpful to call it a day, get a good night’s sleep and re-evaluate in the morning. One time, my husband and I were arguing about something mundane and he literally fell asleep IN THE MIDDLE of our conversation. Like I made an amazing point and when I nudged him for a response, I was met with a snore. It was probably best. It forced me to go to bed and by morning we were on to other things.
Divide responsibilities 50/50. This is ideal, but I don’t like it because (1) it requires score-keeping and (2) it just doesn’t seem feasible to me. Look, I’m a natural score-keeper and I’ve had to really tamp down that desire over the years because it really is not helpful. We are both busy, we are both tired, we are both stressed and it does nobody any good to sit down and list it out and add it up. However, if you are in a relationship that really is very one-sided, then listing it out might help your partner see the error of their ways… but it might also cause a fight… see above.
I also don’t know how realistic it is. It seems like one person’s work schedule might mean certain chores are more reasonable for him or her, or one person might just be terrible at laundry. Often my husband and I will make trades. “Clean up the dinner dishes? Or get the kids in the tub?” or “I’ll fold the laundry if you let me watch old episodes of Sex and the City” (we only have one TV currently). Sometimes our negotiations go like this:
Me: I have to run to the store, I’ll do the dishes when I get back, if you start getting the kids to bed.
Chris: What do you need at the store? I’ll go and you can get the kids to bed and we’ll do the dishes together.
Me: No, you get the kids to bed, we’ll skip the dishes and watch a violent movie (his favorite).
Chris: Let’s both put the kids to bed. Can you go to the store tomorrow?
Me: Did you check the mail? *exits quickly*
Choose your spouse, everyday. That’s romantic sounding, but somedays you don’t want to choose your spouse. Somedays you want to escape to a remote island where you won’t have to smell that awful morning break or hear someone else’s farts. Sometimes you just want to know where the damn kitchen scissors are. On these days, you might not pick your spouse… but tomorrow you probably will and that’s okay too.
So I read these things and thought surely I can come up with something better, but I’m not sure I can. I can tell you, young, soon-to-be-married colleague that your marriage will (hopefully) see many phases. Sure there’s the honeymoon phase at the beginning, but there will be many more. There will be the “should I look for a new job? Let’s calculate our finances again” phase, there’s the, “shit, maybe I shouldn’t have quit my job to try something new” phase, the “we had a baby and he/she is absolutely glorious” phase, then the “oh shit, why did we think having a baby was a good idea?” phase, the being sick together phase, the buying a house together phase, the (attempted) paying off of debt phase… of course as a married couple you may also have to face heavy stuff like death, the divorce of friends, miscarriage, other medical scares or emergencies… some of these phases will be awesome, some will be devastating, but all of them will define your married relationship.
Initially these challenges and tribulations may feel awkward, embarrassing, and challenging, but eventually you will grow to know your spouse in such a way that handling difficulties will become, not routine, but safe-feeling. You’ll come out the other side and look at your spouse and feel like, “damn, we rocked that.” Unfortunately, the only way to get to this point is to weather these ups and downs. Together.
When I was in college training to be a teacher, I remember I was so frustrated when we studied pedagogical theories or brain development because I wanted specific strategies to use in my classroom. I now know that there could never be a list of strategies long enough to prepare me for the many, many different types of situations I’d see in the classroom. Having a good foundational understanding of learning and development, however, has helped me grow and adapt to various situations.
That’s kind of how I feel about marriage advice. There a lot of specific strategies that will help, but having a good, foundational understanding of your relationship (past, present, and future) will give you a larger perspective.
When I was younger, one of my friend’s parents were going through a bit of a rough patch. There was a real possibility of divorce. When they decided to stay together, I remember his mom telling us that, yes, they had had a rough year, but within the perspective of a 30, 40, 50 year marriage – what’s a year? You’ll have rough patches, but if you accept that these are normal, I think it’s easier to focus on moving through them, rather than dwelling on the struggle. It’s important to grow together, to adapt, and to remain flexible, so that, whatever life throws at you, you’ll be able to adjust and move on. Together.
And maybe, someday, you’ll have kids… and then you’ll start all over again!