Advice, Rules, and Secrets to a Happy Marriage - 6 Guidelines For a Good Marriage
10 Years and Counting
Among my thirty-something friends, I don't know very many people who have been married ten years or longer. As my significant other and I come up on our tenth anniversary, I've had several people ask about how we have stayed together.
I can say that I was afraid to get married - at first. I didn't have a lot of solid examples of what a great marriage looked like in my life. Friends and family were getting divorced left and right or otherwise avoiding the whole idea and settling for co-habitation.
I didn't want to "settle," though. I wanted that lifelong friendship. I had taken a college class that spelled out the statistics: co-habitating couples tend to get divorced at higher rates after getting married. I loved my future husband too much to start off as a potential statistic. I also knew that if I got married, it was going to be "for real".
Luckily, my guy felt the same way, too.
My natural response to my fears? Research. (Little wonder that I love to write, no? I love doing research so yes, I researched marriage.)
I went out and found some of the best books that I could find on marriage advice. I poured over them and pondered and shared them with my significant other.
My favorite was called, The New Couple by Maurice Taylor and Seana McGee. It's about how modern marriage is different than the marriages of yesteryear and fresh rules are in order to help make them more successful.
The rules included having "having mutual chemistry," "not making assumptions," and "deep listening".
While we heeded the advice of this book, we invariably developed our own "guidelines," so to speak. We began to think of rules as sort of harsh and unyielding. Relationships are very fluid - always changing, always evolving. Thus, we adopted some guidelines to live by and strive to uphold this code.
Guideline 1: Know Your Significant Other's Personality
While we were still dating, we took the time to understand each other's personality. We both figured out that we were introverts. That was good for us because that meant we'd have no problem being "homebodies."
We also took time to understand that the other person would not change. That is, if one person liked something the other didn't like as much, we would talk about it and establish a guideline so it wouldn't become a problem.
For example, he liked working on cars. I didn't.
I liked to paint works of art. We decided that on days that we had nothing going on, I could work on my artwork and he could work on his cars. He didn't have to change his ways, nor did I.
Have you or someone you know been married for 10 years or longer?
Guideline 2: Be On the Same Page With Finances
We figured out that one person was more of a spender and the other was a saver. We discussed purchases, budgeting and spelled out our expectations of each other.
We agreed to always be up front about finances. When we first started out, we had separate bank accounts. For a few years this worked, but we revisited this when one or the other of us was unemployed at one time or another and figured out a joint account would work better.
But, it always came down to being up front and being honest and being willing to change and evolve as our necessities dictated.
We also agreed that we would do a budget every month so that we would live within our means and help alleviate the stress of being in debt. We are now working to eradicate all of our debt, including the mortgage.
This means we both forego fancy dinners out except for special occasions and don't buy things we don't need. Since we both have come to believe in this principle, the "spender" and "saver" came together on a beautiful compromise.
Guideline 3: Use Multi-level Communication
When we were dating and later got engaged, so many people said for us to "communicate." What exactly did that mean, though? I mean, I had friends who would give each other the silent treatment when they were mad at each other. Still, others seemed to "talk" all right, but really, nothing was said - they'd talk about sports or what they were doing next week, but not about the important things.
We realized that communication looks different at different times. At the end of every work day, we made a point of checking in and talking about what went on, as well as different philosophies, the news, or whatever was important. This became a ritual. While cooking dinner and maybe drinking a glass of wine, we began to look forward to our daily talks.
There have been times when we would invariably get into an argument. Some were worse than others. But we had made a pact before we got married that we would work to talk about our feelings. Now, this didn't mean that when we were angry or disappointed that we would have to talk in that instant. In fact, that meant that we would take some time to cool off - even if a day or two would go by. That's okay. In the meantime, we still would treat each other with dignity and as a friend. Then we'd come together to talk about our feelings after the heat of anger dissipated. This way, we've been able to avoid saying hurtful things to each other in the "heat of anger."
Don't Forget to Say I Love You on Valentine's Day
Guideline 4: Use "I" Statements
Have you ever noticed that when you approach someone in anger and say something like, "You are always leaving your stuff laying around all over the place!" the other person gets defensive? They immediately fire back some response in an effort to recoup some of that hurt ego.
This is a really good way to start an argument. Conversely, using "I" statements are a really good way to avoid arguments.
Thus, whenever we are expressing our feelings, we try to start with the word "I". For example, if I don't like the way he's driving, I'll say something like, "I get scared when you drive like that," instead of "You're driving like a maniac!" That way, I bear the burden of how I feel (which I should) and the other person doesn't have to get defensive.
This works with positive statements, too. "I just love it when you clean the kitchen for me," as opposed to "you never clean the kitchen when I want you to." In this way, you show appreciation for your significant other while expressing something you'd like to see get done.
Guideline 5: Compliment Each Other
You're marrying your best friend, right? Best friends find reasons to compliment each other, no matter how long they've been married. I still take the time to tell my husband that he looks great when he dresses up. We try to remember to say "thank you" and appreciate when one of us does something around the house.
My husband often gets up to make breakfast for the both of us. It's easy to assume that he'll always do this because it's become a habit. However, it's important to remember that he doesn't have to do anything like that. He chooses to, and I express my appreciation.
Each day, I try to find at least one thing to compliment my significant other about, and he does the same for me.
Guideline 6: Use Teamwork
It takes two to tango, and it takes two to make a marriage. There will always be some give and take.
Decide early on who will do what and how often and revise as you go along. This sounds unromantic, perhaps. Maybe it also sounds like it would go without saying on assuming who does what.
But that's where you can get in trouble. Just because she's the girl doesn't mean she automatically cleans the bathroom or does the laundry. Just because he's the guy, he shouldn't automatically have to go around fixing everything that breaks in the house.
Work all these details out. When life happens, rework those details. When we were first married, I was working part-time and going to school. This meant I had more time to cook and clean, so I did a lot more of it than he did. However, when the economy took a turn for the worse, and my husband's job evaporated, he graciously became the person who cleaned a lot more, made breakfast, kept the fire going (both literally and figuratively), and ran a lot of errands. Basically, when one or the other person has time, we've agreed that that person will pick up the slack.
Even now, with both of us working, we take turns cleaning, cooking, and taking care of the animals. We also have "jobs" that one or the other does: I'm really good at paying the bills; he's really good at changing the water filter every week. I'm good at making yummy dinners; he's really good at watering the plants.
Every so often, we talk about the things that we bring to the relationship and see if everything's going all right. It's great Teamwork.
© 2012 Cynthia Calhoun