Ah, wedding season. This time it’s my little sister Sally’s turn to walk down the aisle and say those life-altering words, and I couldn’t be happier for her. But I would like to offer a few pieces of advice from nearly 16 years of marriage to my dear Rob (which is a mere drop in the bucket compared with my parents who are celebrating 53 years today — way to go, Mom and Dad!)
First and foremost, you will not always feel the way you feel about each other right at this moment. What I mean is, you will go through challenging times or even just really boring ones when — shockingly enough — you may not even particularly like one another but then suddenly you’re back on track, brimming with renewed love and affection.
To put it another way, marriage is not a static condition and many outside influences can wreak havoc on your union. The trick is protecting your special bond as much as possible during these times, much like a life jacket keeps you safe in a small boat on roiling, stormy seas. The other trick is having faith that the positive feelings for one another — when they dwindle or fade temporarily — are going to return.
I personally believe that many divorces occur because people just don’t hang in there long enough for the good stuff to come back. Mignon McLaughlin said it best: “A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.” When children enter the picture (assuming they do), a couple’s dynamic will also shift and change. Babies require massive attention and plain old hard work and often, the mother is the key parent for the first few months at least (hello, breast-feeding!) This can cause hurt feelings between the partners as husbands may be a bit neglected during this time. Throw in a roller coaster of hormones for the new mom, a serious sleep deficit and dealing with the myriad overwhelming needs of an infant, and it’s no wonder that the relationship between the new parents can suffer.
But the good news is, babies can also tighten the marital bond in significant ways. Creating a human being together is a pretty amazing feat and the ensuing teamwork between the new mother and father can strengthen an already-strong marriage.
Another tidbit for my sister and others on the verge of becoming a Mrs (or Mr.): Don’t stop “dating” your spouse. I think after you’ve been with someone for a number of years and you’ve both shared most of your stories, there is a tendency to think you know that person completely and there’s nothing new to discover. This is a mistake on several levels— it does both partners a disservice and allows for the two to get lazy and take one another for granted. It also cheats the couple out of developing a deeper relationship based on understanding the other better. Not to mention, learning fresh tidbits of information about your sweetheart is kind of thrilling. (Assuming said information is NOT that he/she is running from the law, has a secret family in Nebraska or believes he descended from another planet.)
Perhaps most important is being able to find the humor in everyday life. If anyone taught that lesson to me, it was my Dad, who often had his wife and daughters rolling at the dinner table with his comments and can still crack me up, even via email. Laughing when things are going smoothly is easy, of course. It’s finding the funny stuff when the job gets tough, the daily grind takes its toll, and stress settles over the entire family like a fine coating of dust.
Those are the times when Rob and I have had to dig deep and force ourselves to lighten each other up, with varying results. When one of you is up and the other is down, that too requires finesse.
Now I’m going to say something that is the antithesis of all the frothy fantasy of one’s wedding day: Marriage is a tough gig. Putting two people together from different backgrounds, diverse parts of the country (or world), each with a unique personality, family and “back story” and expecting complete harmony is an utterly ludicrous notion. Thank you, Hallmark Channel.
But that said, marriage is also immensely satisfying. Having a steady partner through the good times and the crummy ones is an amazing gift that should not be taken lightly. And for the record, I don’t. Well, enough pontificating from me. I am certain that Sally and her fiancé Josh not only dearly love each other but truly like one another, which is the real key to a long-lasting marriage. Fredrich Nietzsche said it rather perfectly:
“It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages.”