A couple of weeks ago, the Washington Post published this article on Five Myths About Marriage. I’ve been married fifteen years, and these myths had already been debunked for me. They did get me thinking about all the marriage advice I’ve received in my life, and whether it helped or not.
- “Sometimes it’s love, and sometimes it’s duty.” Thanks to Mrs. Griffin, my high school Latin teacher, for this gem, passed along when we were reading Book 4 of The Aeneid. Aeneas has decided to leave Dido and continue on his journey to found his homeland. Although he’s in love with her, he is duty-bound to lead his people to their own land. Dido, heartbroken, kills herself, despite having her own duty to her people, whom she had hoped to rule with Aeneas. Aeneas chose duty and survived; Dido chose love, and died. Mrs. Griffin’s advice was a little bleak for a sixteen-year old, but it’s been borne out by experience. It’s worth hanging in there on the duty days/weeks/months; the love comes back.
- “Don’t marry an Italian.” That’s from my mom. It’s a joke. I think. Anyway, I didn’t, so I can’t tell if it’s good advice or not.
- My Gram gave me 3 pieces of advice when I got married, and she would know. She had a great marriage. The first thing she said, “It’s okay to go to bed angry. You’ll know in the morning what you’re really upset about, and you can deal with it then.” The authors of that Post article agree, and so do I.
- Second piece of advice: “Keep laughing together.” Oh boy, is this true. You have to get along with your spouse. Joke with them, have inside jokes that only you share. But don’t ever make fun of each other in a mean way. You probably know their biggest vulnerabilities. Never exploit them.
- Third piece of advice: “Never speak ill of his family.” This is another good one. No matter what they say about their family, just listen and laugh. Do not pile on. They will be hurt and need to defend their family. Once you’ve been married for awhile, it can be okay to say, “Well, you know how your dad/mom/brother/uncle can be,” but that just shows you are sympathetic to their feelings, not having negative ones of your own.
- I told my aunt what my grandmother said, and she agreed (she’s been married a long time too). She added, “Try to read the same books, but not at the same time.” In other words, have a few common cultural touch points, so you can discuss them instead of only talking about your kids, your parents, the bills and one person’s personal hobbies. But if you read them at the same time, it can get competitive, so space it out.
- From some old New York Times article, I learned, “Be nice to each other. Be kind.” Wow, this is so true. Sometimes, I hear couples bickering, or using sarcasm or a disparaging tone, and I think, “That won’t last.” Listen to how other couples talk to each other, and decide if that’s how you want to sound or not in your relationships.
- “Say I love you every day.” That one is from me. Remind yourself and your partner that love is the basis for the thing. Sometimes, I say it out loud even if my husband is already asleep, just so, if something happens, I know I said it.
- “Go on dates.” This one is from my husband, who has insisted, since our older son was a month old, that we go out alone sometimes together. I was so resentful that first time; my breasts were full of milk and I was terrified to leave my baby for even an hour. He survived, so have we. We’ve had years when we were less diligent, and those were the years I found it hardest to be married.
- Learn about the five love languages. You don’t have to run out and read the whole book. It’s just helpful to know that people express and appreciate love differently, and knowing what your partner wants, and telling your partner what you want, as expressions of love is a surefire way of getting what you want.
We are at a stage in our lives (mid-forties) where a lot of couples we know are breaking up, or hitting rocky shores and deciding what to do with their relationships. New couples think it’s smooth sailing and have it figured out, but even after 15 years, I am on the lookout for new ideas. More than anything, marriage is something you must work at. Even if you are not feeling it right now, I suggest you try just one of these things to see if you can make it better. And let me know if I missed anything!
MEMOIR WRITING PROMPT: Make a list of exes and start writing about the ones that played a significant role in shaping who you are and why.