Jeff and I had our 10th anniversary last August. <applause> Thank you, thank you. Really, that isn’t necessary. When one of us tells someone that we’ve been married 10 years, that person almost always says, “WOW! So tell me… What’s the secret?”
Now, while nothing to sneeze at, I don’t think 10 years is enough to make us holders of “the secret” to a lasting marriage, but there are some things we’ve learned along the way. I thought I’d share them to potentially help others stay married–or in a civil union if that’s all your state allows–for 10 years, and possibly longer. (The first 3 tips are for before you get married. The rest are for after the “I dos”.)
Disclaimer: I am neither morally, nor religiously, nor spiritually opposed to divorce. If a couple isn’t meant to be, or they have simply grown apart, which does happen, then the best answer is often to part ways, even when there are children involved. I just think it happens to be nice to couple up and build a life with someone for 10 years, and possibly longer. Just thought I’d throw that out there, so you all know where I’m coming from.
Disclaimer #2: This is assuming you are in a somewhat normal, healthy relationship. If your partner ever hits you, threatens you, or abuses you verbally, sexually, or in any other way, tell someone immediately, and get the Hell out of there! One strike and you’re out, Pal! You don’t deserve that crap no matter what, and they don’t deserve to be with someone who will allow it. They need HELP, not your pity and obedience. (PSA over)
1. “True love” is overrated, and quite possibly completely imaginary. Those fluttery feelings you get, and the undying devotion portrayed in many Hollywood movies, is not what love looks like. It’s what infatuation looks like, and infatuation eventually dies. And oh how ashamed are you of all those facebook posts like, “No one has ever made me feel this way before,” “I never knew true love until Chad came along,” or “Linda has shown me what it really means to be loved.” Then, a week later your relationship status is updated to “single”. Oo-wee, I am embarrassed for you. Don’t wait around for someone to make you feel like you’re living in a fairytale. They are called fairytales for a reason.
2. LIKE the person you decide to marry. This may seem like a give-in, but I have personally witnessed many a couple overlook it. They get so caught up in infatuation and attraction that they overlook the little things, like how she’s rude and has a really shitty taste in music and movies, and his eating habits are atrocious and he’s kinda not really that smart. Here’s a good litmus test: Ask yourself, “If the two of us were not ‘in love’, would we be close friends?” Come on, now. Be honest about it.
3. Seek out someone with a similar sense of humor. Yes, this is important enough to deserve its own bullet point. It may not seem like the most important thing early in a relationship, but can you really see yourself spending the next 10 years, and possibly longer, with someone who doesn’t “get” your jokes? I feel slightly asphyxiated at the mere thought!
4. Never, never, ever, ever, ever judge your marriage at a low financial point. Now, if it’s been 10 yrs, and your spouse is gambling your money away, or refuses to get a decent job and give up on a dream of being a professional musician, but never actually practices or makes a real effort at making that dream come true… then you have permission to judge the situation. But, in a normal, healthy home where both people are trying to find their paths, or they’re on their paths, but life takes an unexpected turn and you go through a rough patch, focus on getting through the rough spot. Don’t focus on the relationship, or the stress within it. Think about how things were before, and how they’ll be again when you can think straight. (Just ftr, my own husband is an aspiring novelist, and I fully support people following their dreams. It’s important to stand behind your spouse. However, I do not support someone who uses a “dream”–meaning it’s more of a fantasy than something they really want pursue–as an excuse for not moving forward with their life.)
5. Marriage takes work. Sometimes you won’t like your spouse, and that’s okay. Feel it, live in it, and give it a moment. Ask yourself what’s really going on. Are you having financial stress? Did you just have a baby? Is one of you in the middle of writing a dissertation? Did you watch a movie or read a book about people falling madly in love, and it made you want that experience? (The latter really happens sometimes!) Chances are, if you give it a little time, then talk it out rationally with your spouse, you’ll realize that you were working through some personal issue, and if you have a healthy relationship, your partner will help you get through it. Every time Jeff and I have gone through a rough patch, we come out the other end more deeply committed and in love more than we were before. When I think about how we would have missed out on that if we’d given up during a rough patch, it makes me sad.
This three year old says it well with, “I love you, but I don’t like you all the time.”
6. Don’t share every painstaking detail of your life and your day. Just don’t. Trust me on this. I had a teacher in cosmetology school (I’m a beauty school drop-out, didn’t you know?) once say, “Don’t complain to your spouse about all your clients. It will ruin your marriage.” At first I thought, “What?! I tell my husband everything! And vice versa!” But after some time, I realized how right she was. It’s emotionally draining to hear every mundane detail of someone’s day. Not to mention boring, and if your spouse bores you, you will begin to resent them, I promise! Leave your work at work, save for the most interesting or important details, leave your friendship drama between you and your friends, again save for the big stuff, and focus on your home and your family when you are together. You’ll all be happier for it.
7. Never complain about your spouse to others, unless you are talking to your therapist. Here’s why:
A) Your friends, family, and coworkers only know about your spouse what you tell them. So, if you make it a habit to complain about him/her, there’s a good chance they will develop a negative opinion. You probably don’t want that. Same thing goes if you constantly complain about your friends to your spouse.
B) It’s so easy to get caught up in what other people think, and ther people have a tendency to make your issues seem bigger than they are, especially when you have shared them out of context. And there is no way you can place things within the context of your entire relationship! I suppose an exception would be a lifelong best friend with whom you’ve shared every detail of everything.
8. Do thoughtful things for each other regularly, and show each other gratitude. Here are a couple of examples:
A) Your wife needs to bake cupcakes to take to work in the morning, and she forgot to buy frosting. She put off baking until nearly midnight, and both of you are exhausted. But it’s important to her. She’s frustrated to the point of tears. You tell her to get started on the cake, and you’ll be completely, 100% happy to go to the store for her and get the frosting. NO GUILT TRIPS, and no mention of how tired you are. She knows. When you get back, she will be incredibly grateful, and show you that gratitude, many times over. (bow-chicka-bow-wow—Okay, it doesn’t always work just like that, but sometimes it does…)
B) Your husband went to the store for you in middle of the night. You have shown him how grateful you are with words and affection. Now, you want to do something nice for him. He’s been working long hours, and you know he’s been dreading cleaning the bathroom (it’s his week). Do it for him. NO GUILT TRIPS! You can, however mention if it was extra grubby, so he’ll be extra relieved and grateful. Brownie points!
Even the littlest thoughtful things you do make a difference! And show gratitude for the little or routine things, like your spouse getting up and going to work every day, or always preparing meals. When this becomes a habit, you will get along so much better!
9. Learn from other people’s mistakes. Watch others in relationships, including your parents, grandparents, friends, acquaintances, and role models. If you see a relationship that’s clearly not working, or at least not the kind of dynamic you would want, use it as a jumping board for dialog about what you do want from your relationship. Jeff and I are constantly talking about what other people are doing “wrong” (I know, it sounds terrible). I feel like it helps us to define what is “right” in our opinion.
10. Finally, and most importantly, don’t follow other people’s advice! Including mine. Yes, I really said that. Do what feels right to you, just make sure you’re doing what actually feels right, and not what is gratifying in the moment (like indulging in spouse-bashing). If someone says something that resonates with you, take it and use it, but don’t follow advice. There’s a difference!
Have you been married a while? Do you have any “secrets” that you believe keeps your marriage alive and well?
Here’s to 10 years, and possibly longer!