A little while ago, my wife and I celebrated seven years of marriage. While ours is a good, healthy relationship, it’s also had its share of ups and downs like any other. With half of all marriages seemingly doomed to failure, here are seven things I’ve learned so far from being married.
It may help to know that neither of us have been married previously, and we both entered into our marriage with an understanding about the commitment that a marriage — for it to last — takes. So all of the things I’ve learned are based upon the belief that marriage is a serious, long-lasting commitment — not a reason to throw a party, or to “try on” new relationships for awhile.
Many of the tips below work not just for marriage, but any long-term, committed relationship.
1. Get Married For the Right Reasons.
There are dozens, perhaps hundreds of reasons why a person may want to get married. But I see a lot of people getting into marriage for the wrong reasons, including: financial or emotional stability (because they have none of their own); because it’s expected (by their family); dating so long it’s either break up or get married; because they’re getting old; it seems like a fun idea; etc.
2. Talk About Things That Matter.
They say that communication is the number one problem in relationships that don’t work. This is especially true of marriage. Marriages that fail almost always include two people who either don’t know how or have simply given up talking to one another in any meaningful way.
Talking to one another isn’t just, “What’s for dinner? How were the kids today?” It’s also, “How can we build this relationship into something even better 3 years from now?” and “I know the kids are important and I love them as much as you do, but we need to spend more “us” time together.”
This is perhaps even more important before you get married. How many couples never talked about everything you need to talk about before marriage? Children (yes or no; how many; who will be primarily responsible for child rearing), finances and money (existing debt; spending habits; outstanding loans), family (history of serious troubles; drug abuse; alcoholism; genetic problems; “crazy” relatives), and general future expectations (where to live; house or condo; city or country; two careers or one; retirement plans; etc.).
3. It’s Okay to Be Wrong.
Thirteen years ago, I wrote about how you have to make a conscious decision sometimes to choose happiness in your life over being “right” in an argument with your loved one. To make a marriage work, you need to give in on the little things that don’t matter — even when you think you’re right. Being “right” in most arguments just doesn’t mean much in the long run.
When you “win” an argument, you’re ego remains intact. But you just broke your partner’s heart in order to do so. Was it worth it?
4. Compromise is a Sign of Strength, Not Weakness.
Some people bask in their stubbornness and belief that their opinion and needs are all that matter. To them, compromise is a sign of weakness, or showing that you lack a spine. Many of these people are also those who’ve gone through at least one divorce.
Sticking to your beliefs is great if you’re running for Congress. But it doesn’t work as well for a healthy, long-term relationship. Relationships — especially marriage — demand compromise from both partners. Next to a lack of communication, I believe a lack of being able and willing to compromise when the relationship needs it contributes to most breakups and divorce.
5. You Need Your Own Life.
Your partner may be the greatest thing since a hot fudge sundae, but you still need your own life. Man (and woman) cannot live on hot fudge sundaes alone. And “your own life” doesn’t mean your children, either. It means pursuing activities, hobbies and friendships outside of the home. It doesn’t really matter what it is — as long as it gives your life additional meaning and purpose, and it’s something you enjoy doing.
Pouring yourself into your work doesn’t generally count. Why? Because it’s too easy to see that turn into a slippery slope of no return. All too often, the more you put into working, the more it demands. Some people can do it, but for others it is not a way to add to one’s life — it becomes one’s life.
6. Fun is Always Important.
One of the first things people complain about is how sometimes fun seems to get sucked out of a relationship after one gets married. It’s not surprising — you move in together, you combine finances, bills and schedules, and you start planning a future that may include children. It may be awhile before you feel you can have “fun” again.
And when the children do arrive, fun as a couple gets substituted for fun as a family. Which is great, don’t get me wrong. But as a couple, you still need to spend fun time together. Alone. You need to focus on transforming the mundane activities of everyday life into something a little more exciting.
Sure, life is serious and there’s a lot of responsibility. But if you ignore having fun, your relationship will suffer.
7. Commitment Means Commitment.
With divorce fairly simple to obtain in most instances, marriage may seem like just a temporary situation you try out. But then why get married in the first place? You should just live together and call it a day.
Marriage means commitment. And that means that when the going gets tough in the marriage, you try to do everything before you turn to divorce. That includes going to couples counseling, and even individual therapy if need be. It means sacrificing for a time to make it work. Or to at least give it your darnedest while trying.
I don’t think marriage is right for everyone. I think if you want to “test out” married life before you commit, you — grandmas, cover your ears — live together first. Living together is a sure test of a relationship’s strength, because it is basically marriage without the legal document. If you can make it one to two years living together, you have a good idea what married life will be like.
One last thing — sometimes the very concept of marriage changes things in a person’s head, especially about expectations. Before marriage, it may have been alright to hang out with the boys at the bar after work for a drink without calling your partner to let them know. After marriage, the phone call may become expected.
Talk about these things, rather than just expecting your spouse to “know” what you’re thinking. Even in marriage, mind reading is not something most people do well.
Good luck with your own marriage or long-term relationship! It can be successful, but it requires work and nurturing to keep it healthy — and both of you happy.
What has helped your marriage?
Share your tips and tidbits learned from being in your marriage or long-term relationship below.