Saturday, December 16, 2006

Four tips for a pretty good marriage

I wrote these the other day as I thought about the wedding I'm attending tonight. Our dearest friends from Morocco and California days are watching their son walk down the aisle. I met this boy when he was 18 mos old and toddling in diapers around an apartment in Fes. Amazing.

He is marrying a lovely young woman and as I thought about the fact that they are about to establish a family whose ties are built not on blood, but on their choice to commit to each other, I couldn't help but wish someone had also shared a few of these principles with me 22 years ago. (In fact, I kept thinking about the fact that while today is an unbelievably happy day in their lives, I know as surely as my dog pees in my living room when it's cold outside that they will both make each other cry and feel pain and anger unlike what they've ever experienced before.... so that made me think: what might have prevented a few of those tears in our own marriage?)

I'd love you to add to the list!

First: Want for the other person what that other person wants.

If one person loves TV and sports, then don't resent it, don't nag it away, don't attempt to manage or control it. Bring the bottle of beer and show interest.

If one wants to buy a new kayak, help that person budget it in and go shopping.

If one wants to travel every year to see best friends, make a plan to see it happen.

If one wants to go back to grad school, to start working, to stop working, to move to a new city, to put the kids in school or take them out, to have more babies, to have fewer....

Listen to what this means to the other person before expressing all the reasons it can't happen. Really hear why this change is critical to that person's well-being. Really look in an exploring kind of way at what benefits to the whole family would come from this change. Look at the emotional well-being that will result for that person before seeing all the reasons it will ruin yours.

Then, begin to imagine you both can have both. How can the primary breadwinner quit a job to do his own thing without losing your home? What can be done incrementally to make that happen?

Where might you move? If moving ends up not being realistic, can you vacation there? Can you move in five years, not this year? Can the elements of the new place be found where you already live? What does moving relieve about the current situation?

Agree to help the other person realize his or her goals, hopes, wishes, wants, interests…

Second: Take responsibility for what you need every day.

If one person wants the living room vacuumed every day, that's the person to do it. It's not a role that is assigned to a gender. It's a desire that can be fulfilled by the one with the desire.

If the personality of the spouse does not match the expectations on that spouse, get over it. In other words, the husband may never be the financial wizard in the marriage... and neither will the wife. So hire out or bumble along... but neither one gets to criticize the other when a bill is paid late, or no one knows the balance…

Same with things like making dinner, organizing the basement, washing clothes...

One person can't require the other to be what he or she is not. If you are disappointed that your spouse is not a handyman or a housewife, grieve it and then hire out, do it yourself or lower your expectations. Real life is like this.

Third: Ask for what you need/want, take responsibility for it... don't require it, don't guilt the other into it.

I would love to have sex right now because I'm bored and can't sleep. Do you mind?


We haven't had sex all week. Why don't you want to? It seems like you never want to.

Fourth: When you can, give the very thing your spouse needs from you.

There is nothing like saying: I have no idea what to do about dinner! I am swamped!

And then to hear: Don't sweat it. I'll order in Chinese.

So much better than: You knew you'd have a busy day. Why didn't you plan better? We're all starving in here.

It’s great to hear after a long day at work:

You’re stressed after working and need time away from the messy house? Go see a movie, honey. I've got the family covered.


Bilbo said...

Hi Julie,

I have been offline for the past ten days because my computer has been in the shop... Great tips....I especially liked the ones about encouraging and supporting each other to reach their potential, hopes and dreams...and...taking responsibility for what you need without expecting the job to be done and assigned to a particular gender. Strict gender role assignment is one of the potential horsemen of the marriage apocalypse, especially, if one of the partners is not particularly well suited to his or her "expected" role and either partner judges the marriage success according to identification and abiltity to fullfill those roles....Here is my addition to the list...Take responsibility for your own "emotional needs" every day...In other words,learn to care for your own soul and don't "expect" your partner to make you happy or get you out of the funk you are in. I am not suggesting we do not share our needs in this area and ask for help, but I am suggesting we can't "expect" our partners to heal the emotional pain or discomfort we may feel at any particular time and to expect otherwise is to place a burden on our partners that nobody can bear....

Margaret said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matt said...

That is a great list. My wife and I try (with varying degrees of success) to do things along the lines of what you've posted here -- marriage is indeed a challenge, and it's sometimes difficult to come out with the best answer rather than the fastest answer. We just celebrated our tenth anniversary, and one of the biggest lessons I learned is that I still have a lot to learn.

- Matt

Steve said...


Add to your list of skills...therapist! You could have saved me mega bucks in therapy costs over the years. Good advise. Marriage is not for the faint of heart.

Carol said...

I just read Tuesdays with Morrie, and he had a few gems about marriage that I think are really true! I titled it: Rules for Love and Marriage

Here is the blog link:

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