I’m a newlywed and this week, I felt compelled to share some of the lessons that I have learned first hand about marriage. Here are some of the pearls of wisdom that I have stumbled upon, without the juicy details of how I arrived at those conclusions. Sound fair? Here it goes.
1) One of the most valuable lessons that I have learned after close to eight months of marriage is that you cannot fight fire with fire and expect to live happily ever after. A negative, multiplied by a negative, amounts to something positive in math only. You simply can’t seek to get the last word and you can’t always be right, even if you’re right (and I have learned that I’m not always right). That’s in every marriage handbook. That’s something that I learned to do with my friends as we grew up, but for some reason, I struggled to practice the same life skill with my wife. I had to learn all over again to not fight fair. Fighting fair means taking an eye for an eye; you both play by the same rules. If she hurts my feelings, then it’s okay for me to hurt her feelings if we’re fighting fair, but that’s not love. Shoot, I had to learn what love meant, but I went into marriage thinking that I knew.
2) What I have now concluded about love is that loving someone means to choose to protect, edify, comfort, and strengthen that person despite the circumstances and how you might feel on any given day. This choosing to love without conditions or expectations of a reward can often be extremely difficult. That’s a fact of life. Even God wanted to kill off humanity at different points in time. So we, being human, cannot expect to perfect the art of loving without the occasional error. We can, however, successfully and easily perfect the art of perpetually trying to love without conditions.
3) Never, I repeat, never compare your marriage to someone else’s. Yes, many of us take the same or similar vows during a wedding ceremony, but a marriage is as unique as a fingerprint in many ways. Married couples don’t all like the same pastimes, we don’t all communicate in the same ways, and we don’t all interact with our spouses in the same manner. There are many aspects of my marriage that are unique to the relationship that my wife and I share. While most married couples will experience the same events or transitions, we won’t all experience them at the same time, and we won’t all respond to these events in the same ways. So, don’t measure your relationship based on what the Jones’s are doing. Seek happiness in the ways that work for you both.
4) Because marriages are different and people are different, keep the intimate details of your marriage to yourself. While it may be great to vent to a friend when you’re upset with your spouse, you shouldn’t betray your spouse’s confidence. Your closest friend may mean well when he/she gives you advice on how to handle a particular situation, but a friend’s advice is not always the best advice. Imagine, for example, that you tell your best friend that your husband’s breathe smells like beetle juice. While you may only say that in anger, can you expect your friend not to interact with your husband with that thought stuck in his/her mind?
5) Don’t let other people live vicariously through your marriage. Don’t let friends and family members dictate what happens in your marriage and find their joy in what happens between you and your spouse. In some instances, loved ones will plan your wedding, your honeymoon, your children’s names, your date nights, and determine the neighborhood in which you’ll live. You may, as a result, find yourself desiring things, wanting to go places, and arguing about other ideas that were never yours to begin with. If you want a small wedding, have a small wedding. If you and your spouse don’t want to name one of your children after your great grandfather, don’t let your aunt Suzy convince you otherwise. Let your friend find a husband and choose her own wedding colors. Don’t allow your marriage to become someone else’s Sim City game.
6) The best romantic comedies are hinged on spontaneity and impulse. We love to see lavish weddings and grandiose expressions of love. Remember though that movie marriages last only a few hours (unless it’s a sequel in cases like The Best Man and The Best Man Holiday in which movie marriages may actually span decades). Don’t neglect romance and intimacy, but don’t hold your spouse accountable to the standards of a fictional character, or an internet meme.
7) Don’t wait on the “Ok” from someone else to decide that it’s your time to seek marriage. When you’re ready, you decide. Just because your friends are not shooting for that star doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t. Some people get married at eighteen and others wait until they’re fifty. When you and your significant other are ready to make the leap, jump. Don’t jump blindly, you need to know beforehand where and with whom you will be landing, but jump when the two of you are ready.
8) Two words: marriage counseling. Someone should sit down with the two of you and force you to face the realities of marriage before you embark on that journey, someone that is trained to do that sort of thing. The excitement of dating and the bliss of an engagement can shield you away from the fact that you may not know your potential spouse as well as you think you do. Like high school students need guidance counselors, engaged couples need marriage counselors.
As I conclude this list, I do realize that me giving you this advice (and you taking it) violates some of the very lessons that I have included. They’re good lessons for me to have learned though, and they may not apply to you in any way, but married people like to give advice to single folk and to people who have been married for less time. That’s just something that we do. We all feel like we’re a part of a huge club and, in many ways, we are. Still, find your path and hold fast to it and you’ll do well in your romantic endeavors.