**Edited to reflect how long we’ve ACTUALLY been married (13 yrs., et cetera, not 12 yrs.) Pro-married-person-tip: KNOW HOW LONG YOU’VE BEEN MARRIED. I’M AWESOME.
I have been married for — hold on, I have to
poorly do math — 13 years, 8 months, and 8 days. My husband Brian and I were 22 years old when we walked down the aisle. Babies. Infants. I didn’t even have all of my grownup teeth, you guys. That is not a joke! My wisdom teeth decided to make an appearance on our “honeymoon,” which we spent at an incredibly exotic hotel near Six Flags Great America in Chicago.
We had no idea what we were doing, but we were so in love that it didn’t matter to us.
Sounds like a recipe for a divorce, doesn’t it? If you’ve worked in the legal field for any period of time, I’m sure your attitude toward the institution of marriage is one of cautious optimism, at best. The United States’ divorce rate is staggering — though I just read a snippet claiming it has declined in the last decade or so — and if you are a court reporter, judge, attorney, working in social services of some kind, et cetera, you have the pleasure of seeing the worst of the worst dissolutions of marriage play out in front of your eyes. Many divorces are settled prior to reaching a courtroom or even a deposition. If the parties have reached the point of pretrial preparations, you can bet it ain’t gonna be pretty.
I consider my marriage to be strong and happy. That doesn’t mean it’s always easy, but it has definitely always been worth it. Part of the reason I’m happily married is pure luck; a much larger part of it is that my husband is an insanely patient person who doesn’t scare easily. And a lot of it is just plain hard work from both of us. I also credit everything I’ve seen in the legal setting for keeping my marriage healthy and strong. Every time I see a divorce, I take away a new lesson on what we should or should not be doing.
So, without further ado:
How To Keep Your Marriage Strong: Tips from a Court Reporter
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate.
*I realize this is the most cliche advice to ever be dolled out regarding marriage, but it’s so true. There is absolutely no way for either partner to get what they need from the other if neither speaks up and asks for it. No one is a mind-reader; you absolutely have to tell your partner what is bothering you and/or what you’re feeling.
Pick Your Battles.
*Maybe this should be more of a caveat to Number 1. But effective communication never necessitates that you express every thought or feeling that sweeps through you. Many times, if you’re irritated by your spouse, you’re probably overreacting. Let the issue go until you’ve calmed down a bit, then reevaluate whether it’s worth an argument or even a tense conversation. Most of the time, it’s not.
Learn to Fight Productively.
*When you’re angry with anyone and are trying to convince them of your point of view, putting them on the defensive is easy to do, but it’s also completely ineffective. Learn to disagree with your partner without (1) name-calling; (2) using “you always,” “I never,” et cetera (no one “always” or “never” does anything, trust me); and (3) without dismissing the other person’s feelings, even if you feel like they’re mistaken.
Choose to trust your partner.
And, yes, this is a choice. Trust is hard to earn and easy to lose, but constantly being on the defensive, waiting for the other shoe to drop, anticipating the worst out of a person who you know can cut you to the quick, makes for a pretty miserable existence. Not that I would know, since this totally doesn’t describe me at all*. Choose to believe the best about your partner. You’ve vowed to spend your entire lives together, so do it optimistically. Giving someone your trust is one of the most wonderful ways you can show them they are loved.
Never, Ever, EVER use the D-word.
*Words are the most dangerous weapons we can use against the people we care about. If you intend to remain married to your spouse, the word “divorce” shouldn’t be in your vocabulary. Saying it makes it easier to do it. Its use gives it life and substance. To be a complete nerd for a second: It’s a lot like, in the Harry Potter series, where saying “Voldemort” set off an alarm and called him directly to the speaker. No? Too nerdy? Okay.
Share All Accounts.
*This seems silly to some, and obvious to others. But if you can’t trust someone enough to put them on your bank account, phone bill, et cetera, you certainly can’t trust them with your heart or with your children. It’s just that simple.
Go to Sleep Angry, but ALWAYS Sleep in the Same Bed.
*You read that right. It’s exactly the opposite of the advice generally dolled out to young married couples. The fact of the matter is, if you try sticking to the “never go to bed angry” advice, you’re going to be REALLY tired. Some fights can’t be resolved, and many times they don’t seem like nearly as big a deal after a night’s rest. But under no circumstances should that rest be had in separate beds. There’s something innately healing about sleeping next to your spouse, even if you’re curled up as far away from him/her as possible. You’ll likely find you’re right next to each other when you wake, and the anger has faded significantly.
Always Apologize (and never say, “…but,” afterward).
*Even if you feel like you’re not the one who started the current conflict, say you’re sorry. It’s fairly likely that you said or did something during the argument that was hurtful, and a sincere apology never hurt anyone.
If You Choose to Forgive, Don’t Throw it in His/Her Face.
*If you choose to forgive your partner for something rather than ending the relationship because of it, you don’t get to bring it up for the next 50 years. I’m not saying it’s not natural to think of it from time to time, but remind yourself that you’ve already hashed this out. Another argument down the road isn’t going to go toward a further solution, it’s just going to make your partner feel like he/she is being punished for something over and over and over again. “Let It Go!!!!” as Elsa would say.
Always be a Little Kinder Than Necessary.
*This is just good advice in general, but especially in marriage. When you marry someone, you hand over to them the power to hurt you more than anyone else in the world can. They do the same. Wielding that power is probably the biggest betrayal anyone can perpetrate upon their significant other. You know everything about them: their weaknesses, their strengths, their greatest fears. Do your absolute best, with every action, to make your spouse see that you are worthy of holding that power, because you won’t use it.
Never Badmouth Your Spouse to the Children.
*Whether they’re your step-children, or you share them, bitching and moaning about the other parental figure in the home is always a terrible idea.
Say “I Love You” as Often as Possible.
*Obviously, “I Love You” is implied when you marry someone. But it doesn’t hurt anything to say it. Before you leave for work; before you fall asleep; at the end of a text message; as a quick e-mail in the middle of the day; in the midst of an argument; in the middle of a tv show….anytime. Set an alarm on your phone to remind you to say it if you’re not already in the habit, but say it! Everyone feels better when they’re reminded they are loved.
*I don’t want to hear any whining about PDAs and being uncomfortable expressing affection in public. If you can’t hold tight to one another at the mall, you won’t be able to do it any other time, either.
Have Sex. Lots of It.
*Men, I’m sure you’re going to love this part. Women, you should love this part. Sex is an integral part of marriage. It’s certainly not the only reason you’re together, but — as I heard a comedian once say —
“…my bathroom isn’t the only reason I bought my house. I’d still be pretty upset if you took it away from me and only let me use it once a month and even then it didn’t try very hard.”
*I think this was Tommy Johnagin*
I realize that’s a pretty crude comparison, but it’s also kind of spot-on. You can’t eliminate or significantly decrease a major portion of intimacy in a relationship, especially without explanation, and still expect the relationship to remain the same.
Learn Each Other.
*Learn what makes your spouse feel loved — then do it. Learn what that weird face he’s making right now means, so you know if you should be responding to it. Learn and remember that she has resting-bitch face, and that the fact that she’s staring off into space looking pissy doesn’t mean she’s angry with you or anyone else. Learn to recognize the hidden cues your partner gives you daily. This doesn’t mean you need to be a mind-reader, it simply means being in a relationship requires you to pay attention.
Make Eye Contact When You’re Talking, and be Engaged.
*My husband has a bachelor’s degree in physics, and a master’s degree in mechanical engineering/systems management processes (or something like that. See, I’m not perfect at this either). I’m not exactly a moron, but I do find my mind wandering sometimes when he’s telling me about work, because I just literally have no idea what he’s talking about. He is brilliant, and I often just can’t keep up. But I’ve learned that nodding and smiling will only get me so far. Now, instead, I ask questions when I don’t understand. I look him in the eye when he talks to me. I remain engaged. He’s not one to talk about work unless he really has something to say, so I make an effort to pay attention to it. It makes a world of difference.
Don’t Keep Score.
*Because nobody else is, either. The only way one of you wins is if both of you do. Anytime you feel you’re losing, your partner is, as well. And at the end of the road, no one will have a count of who hurt the other more, or took the trash out the most, or bathed the kids. It won’t matter then, and it shouldn’t matter now.
Say Goodbye to Pride.
*”Pride” has a lot of positive connotations, but in the long run will only lead you down the wrong path. In marriage — In any relationship, really — not apologizing, failing to admit you’re wrong when you know you are, refusing to see the other person’s side of things, all lead to unhappiness. It’s okay to be wrong. It’s okay to admit you know it. The strongest thing anyone can do is swallow their pride. And, bonus, it has no calories, so it won’t ruin your diet.
Say “Thank You.”
* Do you feel under- or just unappreciated? Do you feel your efforts at work or at home go completely unnoticed and are totally undervalued? Welcome to the club. It’s called Everyone; we meet at the bar.
If you’re feeling these things, chances are, so is your spouse. Thank them. For cleaning; for cooking; for doing the dishes; for bathing the children; for being a wonderful partner; for loving you; for working hard. Thank them for everything you would ever want to be thanked for. I guarantee, they will start doing the same.
The Best Thing a Father can do for His Children is to Love Their Mother.
*…and vice versa. Having children is HARD. My husband and I have two, and we didn’t come by them easily. Four years of infertility treatments went into conceiving our oldest; another four years before we had our youngest. That was hard at the time, but not half as difficult as raising them. Yowza. Having children, I believe, makes you even more accountable to the health and wellness of your marriage than you were before. Kind of like putting on your oxygen mask on the plane before assisting your child with his. You have to care for and maintain the relationship that created those children in the first place, not toss it to the side until they’re out of the house.
*Life is funny, you guys. Even when it’s bad, it’s funny. In fact, the worse it gets, the more ridiculous and funny it becomes. Learn to laugh together. Learn to make your partner laugh. It truly is the best medicine.
I know there’s more. I’m sure others’ opinions will differ on what’s important and what’s not. And I know my opinions will change as I get older and learn more. But so far, these 21 rules have served me well.