Next Wednesday my wife and I will be celebrating our first anniversary as a married couple; and as I’ve reflected on the past year as a married man I’ve come to realize just how much I’ve learned and grown as an individual in this relatively short amount of time. It also made me realize just how ignorant I was beforehand. As I write this, my little sister is planning her own wedding in December, which I will be officiating. My future brother-in-law proposed on Christmas day, and they’ve already booked the location for the ceremony, the reception, the bartender, the D.J., and have gone shopping for the dress. When I hear how much money this will all end up costing them, not to mention how much they’ve already spent, it just makes me glad that my wife and I chose to elope. That’s the thing about marriage- so much emphasis is put on the day, that more often than not you don’t really think about what comes after (beyond the honeymoon). Well, dear reader, allow me to share a few nuggets of wisdom that I’ve gleaned about marriage over the past year. I’m far from an expert, but these are just a few things that I’ve learned.
- Don’t Wait for Perfection.
Movies, television, and music have done a really great job of painting a picture of what they think love and marriage should look like. Unfortunately that picture is, like the models in magazines, a doctored up fabrication. Love and marriage isn’t a perfect fairytale. There are only two perfect things in this world- God and The Empire Strikes Back, so if you’re holding out for that perfect love as described in a Marvin Gaye song you’ll end up a lonely, bitter old man/woman whose gone nose deaf to the stench of your hundred cats.
- Wait for the Perfect Person for You.
No, this isn’t a contradiction. We’ve been so indoctrinated by media by what we think love should be that sometimes it can cause us to miss that perfect person for us. My wife is not “perfect”. She doesn’t look like a supermodel. She doesn’t sparkle in the sunlight or fart rainbows. She has her faults just like everyone else. That said, she’s perfect for me. To me, she’s the most beautiful person on the planet. She puts up with my crap with saintly compassion and patience and loves me for who I am, faults and all. She’s my best friend. Do we love all of the same things? No. We certainly share common interests, but she has things that she enjoys that I don’t care for and vice-versa. We compliment each other. Trust me, you don’t want to marry a carbon copy of yourself. You want to find someone that brings balance to your life, and that means that there has to be some differences. Those differences help you to stretch your boundaries and grow as a person. So do yourself a favor and check your expectations at the door. Had I measured my wife up against the expectations of those love songs, television shows, and romantic comedies I might have missed out on the best thing that ever happened to me.
- Marriage Doesn’t Solve Problems, It Compounds Them.
For some reason people think that once you get married all of those problems that you faced as a single person will magically disappear. They don’t. There’s a reason that the phrase “and they lived happily ever after” only shows up in fairytales. When you get married not only do you still have a lot of the same problems that you did when you were single, you now have all of your partner’s problems to face as well. That’s not even counting all the new ones that you’ll acquire as couple (and trust me, problems don’t wait for the honeymoon to be over). The bright side is you no longer have to face that stuff alone. When you’re with the right person, you’ll find that you’ve always got someone to help share the load, and that can make a world of difference.
- In the Hierarchy of Family, Your Spouse Comes First. Always.
If you’re very lucky you’ll have in-laws that are awesome people that welcome you to the family with open arms and a hug. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Maybe your parents don’t like the person you’ve chosen for whatever reason. That can be a really difficult and awkward situation (especially during the holidays); but ultimately that’s not your problem, it’s theirs. Your spouse should always come first. They are your partner in life and they outrank everyone else- even mom and dad. Yes, that includes the kids as well. This may not be a popular opinion, but hear me out. Your children will (eventually) grow up, leave the house, and hopefully start a life and family of their own. Your spouse (ideally) is going to be there for the rest of your life. As I’ve already said, you’re partners, and that means you always support your spouse (especially in front of the kids). If you disagree, you do so in private. Of course, this is predicated by the assumption that you and your spouse are both doing what’s right by the children. If abuse is involved, in any form, all bets are off. You have to protect your kids (and yourself).
- Don’t Fight Angry
Conflict is inevitable. It happens no matter how well you get along or how lovey-dovey and starry-eyed in love you are. It. Will. Happen. Any time you live with another person things are going to end up annoying you. You’re going to eventually disagree. You’re going to eventually do something stupid to piss each other off. You can’t always prevent it from happening, but you can control how you react when it happens. In my experience, the absolute best thing you can do whenever it happens, if at all possible, is to take a time out. Go for a walk. Take a drive. Run an errand. Even just go lock yourself in the bathroom for a few minutes. Do whatever you need to do to get some distance from the situation, cool off and really look at why you’re upset. In the heat of the moment it’s very easy to turn something that is relatively not a big deal into something huge where things might be said that you’ll regret. If you take the time to cool off and really look at why you’re angry, I’ve found that you’ll often be surprised at what you’ll find. My wife and I rarely fight at all, but a majority of the time when she’s done something to upset me my reaction has been more about me- either my hang ups, or because I was frustrated by other things and what she did just added tipped the scale- than it had to do with what actually happened. By taking a little time to calm down and then talk to her in a more rational manner, we’ve managed to avoid a lot of grief.
- Give More Than You Take
That old saying that “it’s better to give than to receive,” I’ve found, is very true in a marriage. I enjoy taking care of my wife. I get a lot of satisfaction out of knowing that I’ve made her happy. I try to go out of my way to do things that I know might make her life easier, and she reciprocates. It’s not about doing something knowing that you’ll get something in return. It has everything to do with showing how much you love them as opposed to just saying the words. When everyone is trying to be loving and thoughtful, everyone is happy, feels loved and appreciated.
- “Me” Time is Okay
Having time to yourself, or with friends, is important. While my wife is my best friend and I love spending time with her, I also need time to myself (away from the house and the kid) every once in a while. She enjoys having “girl’s night” out with her friends a couple times a month. It doesn’t mean that we don’t love each other. What it does mean is that we’re individual people who occasionally have different interests and don’t want to always be joined at the hip. Remember, “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” and nothing will expedite getting on each others nerves more than to spending every waking moment with each other 24/7. We all need a little space sometimes.
What about you? If you’re married, what would you add to the list? Feel free to comment below.
J.R. Broadwater is the author of the non-fiction book Down with the Thickness: Viewing the World From a Fat Guy’s Perspective, the sci-fi detective novel You Only Die Twice, the fantasy novels The Chosen: Rebirthing Part 1 & 2, and the superhero tale Just Super, all available now in digital and paperback formats. Sample chapters and more information about these books can be found here. Kindle editions are all available for $0.99.