Seven years ago I became a wife. A “married-filing-jointly”, primary beneficiary to Seth’s estate (according to the rules of intestacy), and the authority over when to pull his plug or send him to surgery if he were to become incapacitated. Other than that, and the wonderful wifely template my perfect-wife of a mother laid before me by example, I had no stinking clue what the heck being a wife really meant. But I’d quickly and slowly learn.
In the interest of time and in honor of hitting the seven-year-itch (minus the itch), here are seven things I’ve learned from being married.
1. The honeymoon year is a myth, experienced only by a chosen few.
Stop checking your registry, nobody bought you a honeymoon year. Year one is wonderful, beautiful, and such a frustrating learning curve. The kind of curve that makes your boat nearly capsize or makes you want to light things on fire. Especially if you’ve never lived together, but regardless of whether or not you’ve lived together. You’re learning how to divide chores, balance family time, balance your budget, manage one another’s expectations, and keep the house from looking like an episode of hoarders. This means giving up some of your things to make room in the closet, sacrificing the extra cash at the end of the month for the savings jar, and splitting Christmas with the in-laws. Point is, you’re not failing if there’s no honeymoon period, during the first year of marriage, everything is new. The new and unknown can be hard. Do not compare your marriage to other people’s marriages. “Comparison is the thief of joy.” (Thanks for that gem, Roosevelt). If it’s hard, you’re doing it right. If it’s easy, you’re doing things right. PS. You can do hard things. PPS. The “honeymoon stage” starts after year two.
2. Marriage is something to congratulate.
I don’t know who wrote that article on why marriage is not reason for “congratulations” but I want to drink from the same fountain that made their relationships so simple. I won’t go into all the reasons why, maybe I’ll eventually write seven reasons why I vehemently disagree, but we’ll bookmark that for another day. As we’ve discussed, marriage is hard. Deciding whom to marry is hard, being selfless enough to share the remote, is hard. Choosing to be loyal, faithful, supportive, and to love unconditionally, that is hard. Hard work and selflessness should be praised. Saying marriage isn’t something to congratulate is similar to saying being a new mom is not something to congratulate. Sacrifice and choosing love is always something to celebrate. Be proud of yourselves for being married and be proud of your marriage.
3. Compromise comes in many forms and with varying timelines.
I dove into marriage happily and head-first. Oblivious as to what was ahead. My mother was a great template of what a great wife should be, but early on I learned a few new things. Marriage is easy but, again, marriage is also hard. Don’t be scared. It’s the good kind of hard. The sore after the gym, hurts so good, type feeling. Compromising can be hard. So are coconuts, doesn’t mean they’re not sweet. That being said, marriage isn’t always about compromise. It’s not always about meeting half-way. The majority of the time it’s about taking turns. My sister-in-law has the best twin boys of all time. When they were little, they had a method. Even days belonged to one and odds belonged to the other. When it comes to minor decisions or arguments, you take the even days and let your partner take the odds. Your day, your decision. Point is, take turns being the tie-breaker. You married someone you trust, respect them and trust in them to share the power to make decisions. Or you can do what I do with all major life decisions, put your wedding ring in your hand, put your hands behind your back, and have your partner pick a hand. Boom. The ring says go for tacos and have that second baby.
4. The best way to be selfish is to be selfless.
My parents have been happily married for 34 years so they’re both full of marital wisdom. My personal favorite from my father is that marriage is not about each person throwing 50 into the pot to make 100. It’s about each person giving 110% to make the other happy. Think about that for a second. If you’re giving 110% to your spouse, and they’re giving 110% to you, all of your wants and needs, are being met through the selflessness and love of your partner. Instead of being 50% happy, work for 110% happy. Many times you may fall short but, short of 110 is a lot more than short of 50. This includes chores. Don’t divide things 50-50. If something needs to be done, just do it. Don’t make it a thing about who does more or who does which chore. Keeping a tally in marriage is just counting down the ticks until you punch each other in the face.
5. Fight. Go to bed angry. And remember you either both win or you both lose.
Sometimes going to bed angry or stepping away from the conversation is the best way to ensure that you don’t say something you don’t mean and can’t take back. Take a step back, have an adequate cool-off period (to legally avoid actions that would qualify as crimes of passion) then come together the next day to sort things out and work through it. One night without working through it is fine. Don’t go to bed angry for the second night in a row. I’d consider that a step towards distance. Don’t push for long-term distance. It seldom makes the heart grow fonder (hence, the track record of long-distance relationships). Don’t feel discouraged because you fight often. The divorce cases that I’ve seen come through my office are not from people who are fighting. They’re from people who have stopped fighting. Apathy leads to divorce and it comes from ignoring the important issues, fixating on the non-important issues, creating too much space, and people letting their pride lead them to saying and doing super stupid things or shutting off emotionally. In each argument, remember that you both win or you both lose.
6. Encourage each other to be individuals.
The whole is important but the whole can only work if the halves are in working order. You and your partner need your own interests, passions, and goals. Spend time apart. Develop your own likes and dislikes and encourage your partner to do the same. Push, push, PUSH each other to fulfill dreams and goals. Have some alone time to read a book or contemplate the universe. It’s easier to make your marriage work when you both know who you are. Don’t smother each other or force one another to have the same hobbies. You don’t want to be married to yourself. It worked out for Sue in Glee but she was probably the exception.
7. Date each other.
“Keep the wife happy date night” for my parents has been every Friday night since they were married. Taking time to enjoy one another is crucial to a happy marriage. It is painfully easy to get caught up in working on your goals, making sure your kids are good people and don’t die, and dealing with daily responsibilities. Like life, marriage was not meant to be endured, it’s meant to be enjoyed. Date each other. Flirt. Say only good things about one another. If you have to point out something not-so-good, say it with kindness, mindfulness, and honesty. Say nice things about your partner to, and in front of, YOUR PARTNER. Don’t assume they know how you feel or that they know how much they are loved and valued. Show them. Spend time with them.
Seven years ago, I married my best friend. I fell in love with him without noticing and it’s been a wild and happy journey since. We’ve added a dog, lived in two states, and have had two grills and two babies. This is still just the beginning. Bring on the itch, baby.
PS. Can anyone even explain to me what the seven-year itch is?