20 years ago today, I woke up scared to death that I was getting married. So scared that when the busboy wandered by and asked me if I would like a drink while I was getting dressed, I thought for a minute, then replied, “Why, I believe I would.”
Two drinks later on one empty stomach, I did not float down the aisle like a beautiful, elegant bride as much as I staggered and drifted, stopped abruptly at the altar and said, “Oh, it’s you!” As a good friend of mine who attended my wedding kindly pointed out, “You were a drunk.”
You might say I entered into marriage without a clue of what being in a successful relationship required. You would be right.
That was in 1994. Two decades later, I am still learning.
In the past 21 years (20 married and one dating), I have learned a few things about marriage and what it takes to make a relationship work. Some of them took me years to figure out, and some I’m still working on. Clearly, this is a class that I will never graduate from. But I’ve learned a few shortcuts to passing the class that I’m willing to share:
- You will never agree on everything. Learn to say, “You could be right.”
- The only person you will be 100% compatible with all the time is yourself. Give each other space to do the things you enjoy.
- Don’t make him go shopping with you. Go with a friend. You’ll both have more fun.
- When your spouse wants to gripe about work, remember to listen. Or act like you’re listening.
- Pay off your credit cards every month, even when it leaves you broke. You’ll be glad later.
- There are times when you will be your absolute worst self with your spouse. Remember that, and allow them the space to be the same.
- On the other hand, also do your best to remember your manners and show respect for each other. Sometimes this can only be accomplished by pretending your spouse is a stranger you have just met.
- If you are going to fight about how he drives too fast every single time you head for the mountains, either get a Xanax prescription beforehand, or consider separate vacations.
- Remember that inside every man is a 14-year-old boy afraid of rejection, and be as kind as possible. In fact, be as kind as possible, all the time.
- When you need something, whether it’s a back rub, a hug, or to be left alone for the night, say it. Your spouse is not a mindreader.
- Always keep in mind that you both play for the same team.
- Try very, very hard NOT to roll your eyes when he starts telling the same story you’ve heard 100 times to a group of friends.
- Consider carefully what you have built in your own backyard before you decide that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.
- Never underestimate the importance of feeling safe with someone.
- Show up for them when they lose someone they cannot live without (this is also a good rule for friends).
- This one is so important that I’m making it Nos. 16-20: Learn to laugh. At yourself, at the crazy things that happen, the messes, frustrations and disappointments, the little annoyances and the giant failures, the petty grievances you both share and argue about. If you can laugh together, you can stay together.
William Blake once wrote, “We are here to learn to endure the beams of love.” In the past 21 years, I think I have finally learned a little bit about learning to do just that. As my favorite Buddhist used to say, “May it be so.”