Today is the day, eleven years ago, where we walked down a cedar chip aisle in the middle of a family friend’s vineyard. I was high on Dayquil, sick as a dog, and only remember flickering fragments of the entire day, but I do remember it was swollen with hope and love. I’ve been given plenty of gold star advice in the last eleven years, but the weird stuff that stuck, and seemed to work? It’s the same stuff that gets labeled “bad advice.”
Bad Marriage Advice
DO go to bed angry
In our reception line at the wedding my uncle, not a sentimental man, hugged me and whispered, “Never go to bed angry.” I loved the earnestness of his advice and for the first several years we followed it, talking out our worries into the wee hours. We were sometimes so tired that both of us were falling asleep mid-sentence, waking up the next morning, dehydrated, with swollen eye lids. Over time we realized that, actually, sometimes the only thing that can solve a big fight is a big sleep. Nothing was as dire in the morning as it seemed at three a.m.
Test the Health of your Marriage with a Newborn
I don’t care how many kids you have, the newborn stage is and will always be a peace-killer. I’m guessing it has to do with the extreme sleep fatigue and the roller-coaster hormone ride mom is on, although I’m like 93% convinced my husband says the dumbest things when I have a newborn in my hands. Nothing clarifies our marital weak-points like a newborn.
If you’re low on newborns, and need to figure out exactly where your marital weaknesses lie, head to Ikea and ask your husband to help you decide what kind of sofa y’all should purchase. No need to actually purchase anything, but definitely make sure he sits down on each. and. every. sample. they. have. Set a budget and bring your measurements to really amp up the “does this couch even fit” fun. It’s cheaper than therapy, so long as you don’t actually come home with a couch.
Share the Mental Workload (Before You Have a Mental Breakdown)
A little after I started working from home, I told my husband he was furthermore and forever in charge of all dentist appointment scheduling and dental bill paying. He balked and took longer to accept the task than I liked, but when he finally did? He rocked it. He’s a much better dentist-parent than me, my kids get to see him in the role of medical caretaker, and after his first time watching them get a cavity check (and probably seeing the bill) he became super invested in their day to day tooth care. We generally treat our partners as incapable when it comes to child rearing, which is unfortunate because they are fabulous at it, and sharing the roles gives us much needed grace. Passing off some of the mental workload pays dividends.
Photos by Jodi Lynn Photography
It’s Healthy to Tease (Just Don’t Be a Vulture)
In my marriage, we tease each other, A LOT. My husband feels that our first date was a success because of our mutual-ribbing. That said, we don’t treat each other like vultures to carrion. We don’t tease one another about things that we know hurt the other person’s heart. And if we do, we say we’re sorry.
All Marriages Benefit from Therapy
My husband used to come home from work, skip the hello’s and get right into cleaning the house. It was his way of saying, “I’m here to help.” To me though, it seemed like passive-aggressive commentary on my housekeeping skills. Didn’t he know that I cleaned the house three times today? It took a weekend couple’s course to realize we were subtly stepping on each other’s toes.
Ask: “How can I help you today?”
Through that we learned I wanted his help, and he wanted to help me, but we were crossing our wires. So instead of coming home and starting on a project he thought I needed, he began asking, “How can I help you today?” When I ask him the same, I sense the feeling of vulnerability boil up. After all, I’m already pulled in a thousand directions, what if he asks me for something totally draining? But his requests always seem minor in contrast to the feeling that I made his day a smidge brighter.
Wait Out the Rough Patch
Forget about the “seven year itch” because it has nothing on year ten. For us, year ten was actually technically year eight, but ten years if you include dating. I’m not sure why, but that year was hard for us and when we spoke to our friends, it seems like year ten was super hard for them too. The point being you will hit rough patches that are far rougher than you anticipated. Take a beat, and see if time heals those wounds. This advice does not count if the rough patch involves any kind of abuse, or course.
Divorce is an Option
We go to therapy occasionally, sneak out for semi-regular dates when we can, and enjoy weekly adults-only group meetings with our church family, all of which is a salve on our marital injuries. The “long haul” is our mutual goal. But the idea that once you’re married everything mellows out, is a false narrative. Marriage is hard, and there are patches where it feels like it gets harder every year. (PS: my own grandmother told me this, the year after her fiftieth wedding anniversary.) We have many friends who say, “Divorce is not an option,” and I couldn’t disagree more. Divorce is an option. We deserve a healthy relationship and our children deserve to see a healthy relationship modeled for them. In fact, I think knowing divorce is an option makes us double down on the hard work of marriage.
When in Doubt, Go to Bed Naked
Because the down parts of marriage are sometimes so painful, your pride can get the best of you. Maybe you feel you’re always the one asking for intimacy, or maybe you’re mad about some grievance that you cannot let go (even when you try). My recommendation? Do something completely out of your marital routine. Take a date night hike if you’re couch potatoes, go to bed naked if you normally wear a mumu…set aside your pride and do something that is decidedly not routine, to reset your marriage.
Embrace Your Mutual Failings
Sorry for the sappy ending, but it’s true: I love him so much more today than I did eleven years ago, even though eleven years ago we hadn’t even really argued. I love him even though I know his frailties and his failings. Maybe I should say I love him because I know his frailties and failings. Nothing in our marriage is perfect, (see 1-10 above) but it’s still as swollen with hope as it was on our wedding day, even after trips to Ikea.