As the daughter of a well-regarded marriage and family therapist, I had a quirky upbringing. I knew theoretical concepts on marriage relationships before most of my peers knew what a theory was. I have heard a lot of stories of marriages over my years and yet, at my own wedded bliss, I was shocked that I hadn’t learned it all. Here are seven lessons (of many more) that I’ve learned.
I’ll admit this is a new one for me and a very unpleasant one. I talk. A lot. I’m an entrepreneur, a writer, an idea-generator, and have a very active mind. (If only half of my mental energy was physical energy I’d be in such great shape!) I’m coming to slowly realize that equality in “airtime” is not actually that he talks, I talk, he talks, I talk. It is also about shutting the hell up so the poor guy has a chance to think when I’m in the same room as him. Even if he doesn’t know what to say, it doesn’t mean my airtime is interesting, useful, or productive to our marriage. I’m learning to slow way down.
Resentment is common in marriage. Even as assertive as I am, I still sometimes choose inaction that can result in resentment toward my husband. I can choose to say nothing when my kids are crabby, I’m crabby, and my husband was not around all day. Or I could tell him I need some “me” time and come back refreshed. What about those moments I’m ready to just crack? Do I sit quietly with resentment building up? Sometimes, but it’s a lot better when I stand up and tell him I need a break. Or when I get in “the flow” and knowing at 10am that I can work til 10pm uninterrupted, means I’m putting my husband on overdrive with the kids, but I still need that sometimes. It really is worth standing up for those exceptional favors!
The trick about marriage, it seems, is I am also standing up for HIS needs even if they don’t benefit me. This was a new one. What if we’re both needy and both can’t get our needs met at the same time? With our mutual respect we almost always agree on whose needs are more important in the moment. And sometimes we don’t, so our default is to both be pissy. Together! Call it an equal opportunity crap fest. We have gone back and forth on a lot of household duties depending on what is going on in our lives. I can’t even count the times we’ve both had laundry duty. But, when we stand up for each other we both win.
Sex It Up
I’m going to maintain all privacy on this one other than to say it’s amazing what you can learn if you truly listen to your spouse. I had no idea how very small things can be romantic, attractive, and make me less “mom” and more “sexy wife.” It greatly helped us to communicate to get to a realistic place of fun in the midst of the exhaustion with two small children. (Think small actions, body movements, secret grabs, none of which result in anything more than being playful while drained.)
If you had told me at my wedding exactly what levels of hell and horror I’d go through to have two children, I think I would have probably cried nonstop for two weeks and then been petrified to get pregnant. I never gave any attention to the vows about “in sickness and in health.” Holy moly. The sickness part is really intense! When one partner is down for the count, your marriage is really put to the test. Can I just suggest having an awesome marriage before ever getting hurt? It really helps. Because you’ll need every fiber of marital positivity to get you through it and when something strikes is the last time you have the energy to find any books or websites that talk about marriage and illness.
Oh, the dreaded date night nazi’s love to talk about how important it is. I know, I know, but, but, but, but… But babysitters are expensive. But dates are expensive. But it’s not a good use of our limited funds. But we’re too tired anyway working many jobs. But, finally, with an almost six year old, we’ve realized it’s not about the “doing” of the date, it’s about the “being”, or showing up. We’re just about a month into the simplest date nights ever. We watch one of the few DVD’s we both enjoy, sometimes eat something, and sometimes play a board game. The rules are simple – no talking about kids or work, and we must be touching though there is no requirement beyond cuddling. We have an hour or two together. We’re showing up for each other and it’s great.
Sass It Up
At my wedding reception we invited guests to share their marital wisdom, whether they were newlyweds, married a long time, divorced, or widowed. One of the pieces of advice is from a very well known marriage therapist (also married to a marriage therapist) and it was this: wear red. What she went on to explain was how much she loved red, but one time her husband casually mentioned she didn’t look as good in that color, and she never wore it again for at least two decades. Sass, in this case, is me just realizing what is fun, goofy, or otherwise “uber Elizabeth” goes a long way towards making me more fun and our marriage healthier. I just turned 35, am newly healthy after a lot of medical drama, and have been on a sass kick lately. I’ve come to realize that I am petrified of guns but have this strong desire to go to a shooting range. Sassy, yes! This will be one of the dates my husband and I go on. I can’t wait. Getting sassy, even if it’s just about me doing or wearing something, can help the marriage find renewed energy.
Have you seen this on polls lately? Someone asks a question and if you don’t fit any of the answers you are a “unique snowflake”. What I’ve come to very firmly believe is that each marriage is a unique snowflake. Sure we have a ton of similarities, none of us really defy the research on what makes marriages happy, but ultimately there doesn’t seem to be enough talk about the internal culture of a marriage.
Our special snowflake relationship continues to grow in its own quirky ways and we love it. Most of our anniversaries end up being a huge love fest on our special snowflakiness. And why not? Snowflakes rock. And so does marriage. Even when it falls hard, melts, or gets annoying.
What lessons have you learned that aren’t the standard lessons?
Elizabeth Doherty Thomas is a marriage junkie, author of a premarital book Take Back Your Wedding, runs a national marriage therapy directory, helps mental health professionals market online, and has a never-dull life with a husband and two small kids. She can be found at one of her dozen websites, www.ElizabethDohertyThomas.com or on Twitter at @MarriageKids