By Mitzi Bockmann
Marriage doesn’t come with a manual. I wish it did, because after the vows have been said, the doves have been released, and the dress has been put in dry storage, comes marriage.
And as much as we would like to believe it’s all happily ever after, it often isn’t. But it CAN be. All you need is some awareness and a willingness to act.
Here are the 5 pieces of marriage advice I wish someone had told me on my wedding day — even if I might not have wanted to hear them:
1. Communicate, communicate, communicate.
One of the most disturbing aspects about many marriages is that after a while, communication just stops.
Sure, there is lots of logistical stuff to discuss — when we're coming home for dinner, where the kids’ soccer games are, and what time we are meeting the in-laws on Sunday.
But real communication — expressing feelings, frustrations, hopes, dreams, and longings — ceases.
Marriage is a 24/7 commitment. During those days, and years, lots of issues can arise, issues that can be hurtful and cause resentment. Instead of being addressed immediately, feelings are often left unsaid. It seems too scary to go there, to share how we feel and not know what the response will be. So we don’t.
And then, before we know it, it’s easier to just not say anything, to do the dishes or spend longer at the office, doing anything to avoid difficult conversations. We do this assuming that the issues will be dealt with eventually, maybe after Christmas, after Memorial Day, or when the kids go off to college.
If you only take one thing away from this article it’s this: keep communicating. Your marriage and your life will be better if you do.
2. Have lots of sex.
I know newlyweds will laugh now at the prospect of no longer having sex with their partner. "That won’t be us," they say. But it very well could be.
We know that anger and resentment can build in a marriage because of unexpressed feelings. For a woman, there is no better libido killer than anger and resentment. And there is no better way to create anger and resentment in a man than the absence of sex.
So push past the anger and resentment and make love with your partner. Or, better yet, kill the anger and resentment with communication and happily make love every night.
You will be happy you did, both in the moment and long term.
3. Remember to respect each other.
There is a concept called the "contempt of the familiar". This concept occurs when people get to know each other very well. Too well perhaps. We know how the other person looks when flossing their teeth, how they leave their pants hanging on the door, or how they slurp their coffee or that they fart in bed.
Perhaps, at one time, you thought these things cute but now, as time has gone by, they drive you nuts. They might even repel you.
Mutual respect is a key to any successful marriage. Your partner’s mannerisms or ways of doing things might not jibe with your own and this can lead to developing a dislike of who they are. And if you don’t like someone, it’s hard to respect them.
Have I mentioned yet the importance of communication?
Tell your partner that something they're doing is making it difficult for you to be with them. Don’t just write them off as a lost cause, thinking "If they loved me, they would do this differently."
We are all human beings trying to do the best that we can and if you are honest with yourself you know that they aren’t doing any of those things to spite you. They just do them. They can change if asked...nicely.
Give your partner a chance to keep your respect and allow them to keep respecting you in return. And sex is way better when you respect your partner. In case you didn’t know.
4. Don’t let your extended family get in the way of your new one.
No matter how old we are when we get married, we have many years of experience and tradition with our extended families — holidays spent just so, toilet paper rolls that roll out on top instead of under, and sarcasm that's part of every family get together.
The extended family is wonderful and part of who we are but the priority now is the new family — the one we are creating with our partner.
Of course, it’s important to respect our family traditions. But, if doing so is at the expense of the new relationship, it needs to be addressed. If the birthday tradition on one side is the whole family gathered and plenty of gifts exchanged while the birthday tradition on the other side involves quietly celebrating with friends, then you need to have a conversation.
Have I mentioned yet the importance of communication?
Both sides of the family need to be told, respectfully, that while all family traditions are important, what is important now is how the new family wants to make their own traditions. Compromises might need to be made but it is important that both partners feel like their new life as a couple is their own.
5. Know that a baby is going to change everything.
I know! Having a baby is so exciting. From "starting to try", to nine months of watching it grow, to baby showers and then childbirth, it’s all so wonderful and new and partners are bound closer than ever!
And then the baby is born and all bets are off.
Like when we get married, no one hands us a manual when we become parents. This means that from day one, we are flying by the seat of our pants.
Women most often immediately change their focus from their husband to their child. Men are left wondering what happened to their life. Yes, the child is delightful, but dinners together, time with friends, free time for athletics, are all suddenly gone, not to mention the sex.
It’s important to be aware that the baby is going to change everything and prepare and allow for it. Know that everyone is going to be exhausted, that things are going to be messy, that the next 18 years are going to be an evolution, and a revolution, like you've never been through before.
Commit to making it through those years together. Communicate like you did when you were first married, perhaps even more so, have as much sex as you can squeeze into your week and continue to love and respect each other even as life gets challenging.
It won’t be easy but it will be worth it.
So there you go, these are the 5 things I wish someone had told me on my wedding day.
I was married for 20 years and have been divorced for 5. I've spent a lot of time reflecting on what went wrong in my marriage.
What I do know is that we, as a couple, got lost in our family. We gave up who WE were to please everyone else: our kids, our in-laws, and our friends. We stopped looking at each other with love, talking about our feelings, hugging each other, and respecting each other.
We were business partners. Our family was a successful business but our marriage fell apart.
I am madly in love with a new man now, one I very much hope to marry. And believe me, I won’t make the same mistakes twice.
Marriage is truly a wondrous thing and can be a big part of living the life of your dreams. So do what I suggest and don’t ever stop.
Mitzi Bockman is a New York City-based Certified Life Coach. Looking for more ideas about how to keep your marriage strong? Contact her and she can help.
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