I’ve been married 17 years. We are not big on cards and flowers. I don’t dress in Saran wrap to greet him at the door.
The important work in a marriage goes on every single day. I give my husband my full attention when he needs it, and raised my stepdaughter when she needed a mother. He gives me compassion and a good ear even when I’m ridiculous, a warm body to defrost my ice-block feet, and the feeling that I am always desirable, even when I think I’m not.
These are not gifts to be sneezed at.
Along the way, I’ve identified qualities that make a lasting union. I don’t pretend to have magic secrets, or that we have some sort of uber marriage, but we have beat the odds.
Here’s my list of what works.
It’s important to know what’s important. I don’t remember my wedding. There were no bridesmaids, no flower girls, no venue, no DJ, no fancy cake, no reception, no updos, no manicures, no rehearsal dinners, and no diamonds with monthly payments. Nevertheless, it “took.”
I love weddings, and all that comes with them, but it seems like it’s more important to make sure that you are marrying someone you can live with for a lifetime, than making sure that you have one beautiful day.
I like to win. Oddly enough, my husband does, too. Over the years, I have learned that sometimes it’s my turn to “win, and sometimes it is my turn to stop talking, apologize and move on. (Interestingly, it is almost always better to stop talking and move on).
This takes discipline, but unless the stakes are so high that you would be endangering the health and safety of yourself or a family member by giving in, it is usually better to stop yourself before you say the ugly thing, the “one thing too far,” the button-pushing thing. You know what those things are.
3. Novelty Apart.
I am delighted when Rob and I discover a common interest. Last summer, we started walking every day, and it was great bonding time. On the other hand, we have different tastes in many areas, from politics to music.
That’s fine. Really. Neither of us traded our personality for a marriage license, and it would be incredibly dull to hurtle through eternity with someone who had no interests of their own. It’s good to have other friends, a book club, beer making class…whatever sends you home again happy, recharged and ready to share that energy with your partner.
If your best friend, or your best client was telling you something that was important to them, something that they really wanted you to know, would you be mentally going through your “to-do” list while they spoke?
Familiarity breeds a kind of laxity if we aren’t careful. If you really can’t listen to what your spouse has to say because you are preoccupied, say so, take care of business and return ready to listen. Paying attention is often the path to someone’s heart in the first place; research shows that many spouses stray because someone else “listens.”
Show your spouse the same courtesy you would show most people, and if you really need a rain check, say so.
Before I got married, my mother told me not to discuss my husband with other people. Her test: if whatever you say about your spouse will make the listener(s) even a little bit uncomfortable the next time they see him, keep your mouth shut.
If it’s truly terrible and a deal-breaker, talk to a therapist or an attorney. Otherwise, the person you should be talking to is your spouse.
If you wanted to get a black belt, learn to knit, or speak Mandarin, you would understand that it would take time and work and energy. For some reason, marriage (which is infinitely harder) is sold to us as a thing that should unfold organically like a swathe of rose-strewn white organdy.
Not so much.
7. Novelty Together.
Many years ago, on a trip to Maui, we were persuaded to ride bicycles down a volcano. It was absolutely terrifying for me, and I tried to get out of it even as we were being driven up in a van to see the sun rise. I bucked up, we did it, and the ride down was absolutely, magically exhilarating. We still talk about it.
I attend heavy metal music festivals because my husband loves them, and he has heard opera and string quartets. We’ve checked out roller derby, Ethopian food and beer. Ruts are cliché, but ruts are real, and a new joint venture can bump you from muddy ditch to the soft, green grass of Being Interesting Again.
A little gratitude goes a long way, and taking someone for granted is almost certain to leave her sad and resentful. It is reasonable to expect that your spouse will do the things that he or she has agreed to do, or has always done as part of your household routine. It is also incredibly easy to say “thank you” for taking the dogs out in a blizzard, “thank you” for cooking dinner, “thank you” for picking the kids up at school when it’s usually your gig but you have a migraine. You really can’t say it too often.
There are lots of things we would like done a certain way, on a certain schedule, but control is an illusion. I like things tidy. My husband will pick up or vacuum if I ask him, but left to his own devices he is not given to “a place for everything and everything in its place.”
I could browbeat him and make him feel guilty and annoyed. I could tidy up around him and make myself feel resentful and annoyed. Instead, I choose not to look at the areas that bother me because they are not endangering our health.
So far, so good.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Bryonie Wise