Many of the young people who grew up with my sons are getting married. Sometimes while sitting at their weddings, the tune and lyrics of “Sunrise, Sunset” starts playing in my head. Just as Tevye did, I wonder, “What words of wisdom can I give them. How can I help to ease the way?”
To help answer that question I asked the Grown and Flown Parents group, ”For those married 25 years or more, what is the one piece of advice you would give newlyweds on how to make a marriage work long term?” Over 750 people responded to the question, that’s something like 25 thousand years of marriage so let’s just stipulate that it’s a cohort that really knows it’s stuff about making marriages tick.
But the responses were confusing because almost every piece of advice was counterbalanced by its polar opposite. For example, many said don’t go to bed angry, but many others said, “Go to bed angry, you need time to cool off.”
Here are 12 nuggets of wisdom distilled from hours and hours of reading your answers:
Find a way to communicate effectively with your partner. You will need to find a way that works for the two of you. Some of my favorite comments on communication were,” Don’t bring up the past.” and “Never say anything you can’t take back because nasty things can’t be unheard.” and “If you need something from your partner, tell them. You didn’t marry a mind reader.”
Be kind, be thoughtful and be patient. Some days you will want to strangle him but rest assured that many days he will feel the same about you. Sometimes you will bear more of the load and sometimes he will and that is just how it goes. And, while you can’t control everything you can always choose kindness and that will take you a long way.
Be honest with each other. Almost all issues can be worked out but only if both parties are honest with each other about how they are feeling. And honesty extends to not cheating. Once you start telling lies, you enter into an endless loop of dishonesty that will ultimately destroy what you have.
You’re going to fight. Try not to fight in front of others because it’s uncomfortable for everyone concerned. And, try to keep the fighting civil. You can and should be honest with your partner but it’s also okay to keep some things to yourself. Once angry words are spoken they can’t be taken back. You’re going to have to compromise about big stuff and little.
Many said that a sense of humor is key even during fights, “My husband actually stripped down one day, I was laughing so hard I forgot what we were arguing about.”
Try to forgive easily and quickly. Forgive them and forgive yourself. Bearing a grudge for 30 years is not good for either party. Once a misstep is forgiven, DON’T bring it up again. Accept your partner’s shortcomings as they will hopefully accept yours.
It’s wonderful to share interests. Golfing together, playing tennis together, loving the same shows…all good. But, you should also work at being a whole and complete person on your own.
Having interests that are solely your own or that involve friends and not your spouse is healthy and good. Or if you prefer some alone time, take time for yourself to do things that you enjoy.
You are responsible for your own happiness. Don’t expect your partner to make you happy or complete. Make yourself happy. Of course, a good relationship can help you feel happy but you need to make yourself happy.
Don’t do it. It’s probably never going to be 50/50 but you should each be willing to put 100% effort into the relationship.
Drink from the well of laughter often and deeply. A sense of humor is vital.
When the kids start coming, it’s easy and often necessary to put each other on the back burner. It’s all heads down to raise the kids but once in a while look up and see each. If that means scheduling a date night every week or just a half an hour a night to chat. Nurture the core of your family-that’s the two of you.
We know you’ve heard it before, but it’s gold-when the children leave-and they will-it’s going to be the two of you again so don’t let family consume you as a couple.
If you hit a rough patch, marital counseling is a great way to keep things on track. One of our moms told us, “You can both got batshit crazy just not at the same time.”
Don’t sweat the small stuff but little things matter
Don’t get caught up in minutia but little things matter. Fix your partner a cup of coffee in the morning, get their favorite magazine, listen to them when they speak.
Alas, in the end, there is no one answer, no secret sauce, no wizard behind the curtain who has the ultimate set of directions on how to have a long-term, fulfilling marriage. The secret to marital contentment turns out to be as unique as each marriage itself.
Perhaps, the only constant is that successful marriage is merely two people who have decided that divorce is not an option. It is two people who decide to stay together come what may. That is the simple answer but the devil, as always, is in the details.
Oh yeah…separate beds, rooms, toothpaste and for God’s sake…Don’t wash the cast iron skillet with soap.