Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Ten Steps to a Great Marriage

It’s coming up on wedding season. Many young and not so young couples are planning their summer nuptials. Everyone loves a great party, and while it is sensible to put some thought and energy into all of the details surrounding catering, décor and bridesmaid gowns, it is far more important to think deeply about what marriage itself actually means. A lovely wedding does not a marriage make.

I am no expert on marriage, although Lori and I will be celebrating our twenty-fifth anniversary this June, and I suppose that counts for something. Along the way we’ve gotten a few things wrong and a lot of things right. It really isn’t that mysterious. As a wedding present to all of you soon-to-be newlyweds, please allow me to share some of the things I’ve learned. Let’s call this Ten Steps to a Great Marriage.

1. Never Stop Being a Girlfriend/Boyfriend

I’m often shocked at the utter contempt some married people display toward each other. They act as if their spouse is the least important person in the world, little more than an annoying roommate, sibling or co-worker. This is easily remedied. Remember how you acted when you were dating? Do that. Put your best face forward. Call them on the phone for no reason. Put erotic notes in the pockets of their coats. Pack them a lunch. Bring home their favorite candy bar. Take care of your self, keep the weight down, dress nice, bathe. Look them in the eye. Listen. Act like you care, because you do, don’t you?

2. People Don’t Change – Choose Wisely

Don’t marry a musician then complain because they’re gone ten nights a month. Don’t marry an artist then resent their poverty. Don’t marry an ambitious go-getter then complain that their career always seems to come first. Don’t marry a momma’s boy then act surprised at his weakness and indecision. Don’t marry an assertive man then whine to your friends that he’s too controlling. Don’t rescue a damsel in distress and resent her for not being a powerful, competent life partner. Don’t marry a quiet man then complain because he never talks, or a talkative woman, then complain because she never shuts up. Those traits were there in full display the first day you met. Perhaps they were hard to see through the fog of your own denial, desperation or fantasy but you chose this person out of the billions of people on earth. There was something about those traits you wanted, even needed. Try and figure all of this out before the wedding bells chime.

3. Be Kind

No matter what’s happening, find a way to be gracious and kind. Your anger is your problem. Try to avoid using your spouse as a garbage disposal, a convenient place to dump all your darkness and bile. This is the one time when it makes sense to treat your spouse like a stranger, that is, restrain yourself. Courtesy and decorum pave the way for genuine bonding.

4. One Bank Account

Real intimacy has nothing to do with taking your clothes off. Real intimacy is pooling all of your resources and blending your fates into one. Only when you know you are responsible for the whole damn thing do you rise up out of your childish selfishness and become a full grown man or woman, someone who practices good communication and is intimately acquainted with prudence, restraint and generosity. If you can’t let go of control, you aren’t ready to be married.

5. On Big Decisions, Everyone Has Veto Power

Respect your spouse and believe with all your heart that this person really does have your back. Trust their judgment. Honor their opinion. On the really big decisions, everyone has veto power. What are the really big decisions? To have kids or not, to have a dog, where to live, major expenditures, vacations, religion, money. Again, all of this should be fully explored before you shove wedding cake into each other’s faces. And by the way, don’t shove wedding cake into each other’s faces. That is so over.

6. Let Your Spouse Be Who They Are

Naturally, you both need to put the marriage before your own childish desires. Foolish obsessions that pull you out of the marriage are to be avoided. You might have to let go of those World of Warcraft all-nighters. But this most certainly does not mean you are a slave to the other. Set your spouse free to be who they really are. Not all of your interests have to align. In fact, it would be weird if they did. A good marriage is a safe place to be true to yourself. To some extent, have separate lives.

7. Avoid Danger

We’re only human. Be smart about situations and environments that erode loyalties. This is controversial I know, but it’s pretty risky for married people to have close friends of the opposite sex. Intimacies develop. Attachments form. Secrets are shared. Pretty soon, lines get blurred. Good people go bad. A world of suffering can be avoided by simply avoiding certain situations. Some married couples have one shared email address. Not a bad idea.

8. Sex is Not an Option

This just in from the Obvious Department: sex is an essential, profoundly transformative experience. Open and honest sexuality between committed partners cements bonds in ways that no one really fully understands. Regular and frequent sex creates an atmosphere of trust, celebrates generosity, concretizes love, bolsters self-acceptance and heals wounds you didn’t even know you had. Sex makes everything better. A sexless marriage is a three-legged dog – it still gets down the road but it isn’t pretty. And here’s a surprise you don’t hear much in popular culture: married sex is way better than single sex. It is. And if your sex life starts to lag there’s a simple reason: you’re lagging on steps one through seven.

9. Men and Women are Different

Men and women have different needs and different ways of doing things. Wise women know that men are simple – if a man knows that he is loved and admired by his woman, he will do anything for her. Wise women also know that men show affection by mowing lawns, washing cars and painting mailboxes. Wise men know that women are complicated, and that satisfying them is a mysterious art requiring intelligence, awareness, vigilance and an almost preternatural sensitivity to the subtlest of non-verbal cues. Husbands, pay attention. Get out of your head and into your heart, then feel your way. You’ll be fine.

10. Mindfulness in Action

Marriage is a microcosm of the whole world. The same energies and actions that create a great marriage create a better world. Cultivate the sensitivity to hear what the other is saying as well as what they’re not saying. Ask questions. Say what you mean without drama and embellishment. Ask for what you want, but keep it simple. Be willing. Stop saying no all the time. When you’re feeling lonely and misunderstood, come out of yourself and give. When you wake up in the morning, ask yourself, what are three concrete, specific things I can do today to make my spouse’s life easier, better and more beautiful? Then do those things – and watch your own joy increase. That’s the most beautiful thing about a great marriage – you realize that your well-being and happiness are forever intertwined with the well-being and happiness of others. Loving is an action that does not know the difference between giving and receiving. Giving and receiving are two names for one circle.

These are the ten steps to a great marriage. Share them with your fiancé and have a nice long talk. Then after that you can get back to the important things, you know, napkin rings or linen origami?

Have a wonderful wedding. But have an even more wonderful life.


Alexis Ahrens said...

Great post, Peter! You just may be quoted at many a wedding reception this year! It's also great food for thought for those of us already in it.

Vince H said...

wisdom is as wisdom does.
I understand in some cultures this is mandatory reading
Vince H.

luvtocook said...

Brilliant, Peter. I'm in total agreement with everything you said. Since I just celebrated my one year anniversary and aspire to make it to 25, I'm going to print it and read it weekly as a refresher.
Bless you for sharing this

KingHussein said...

This was a brilliant read. Enjoyed it so much. Just shared it with the fiancee too and she thoroughly loved it. Lets hope we can live up to these 10 commandments of marriage :)

Diana V. Hennessey said...

Professor Bolland, (as I addressed you for a whole semester in my World Religions class at SWC back in '03),

As a newlywed (a year and a half this October), I truly appreciate your wonderful words of wisdom. I am truly blessed to say that I married my best friend and true love. Believe me when I say that your words will be forever present in my mind. I know marriages are almost never like fairy tales but we can try our very best to make it so.

Thank you again for your wisdom :) and congratulations on your 25th anniversary!


Diana Hennessey (Diana Villanueva)