Advice for newlyweds (and the rest of us, too!): Part 1

I am the youngest in my family and only two of my seven first cousins are younger than I.  Of the two, I really only remember the youngest one as a baby.  So when he got engaged recently, I felt incredibly old.  In my head, he’s not old enough to be getting married.  In reality, he’s been out of college for a couple of years now and is quite old enough to be getting married.  In fact, he’s older than I was when I walked down the aisle.

Combine that with the fact that I sort of have a thing for some wedding shows (“Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta,” anyone?) and this is Valentine’s week and I’ve been thinking of marriage advice.  What would I tell a couple about to be wed if they asked me?  (And, for the record, no one has asked me, which is why I’m blogging and not forcing my unwanted advice down throats of happily engaged couples!)  Once I got going, I had trouble stopping, so I’m breaking this up into a couple of blog posts.  Today you get the first 10 pieces of advice that comes from my 14-1/2 years of marriage.

1. Forgiveness.  Learn it.  Live it.  Embrace it.  Remember that the person you’re sharing your life with is human.  He or she is going to mess up along the way.  You have to learn to forgive easily and often.  Never hold grudges.  It’s not worth it.  Love can prevail, if you let it.  And, remember, your spouse is going to have to do a lot of forgiving of you.  Sometimes I can feel all high and mighty that I don’t get mad at my husband for certain things he does.  Then I think about how the crazy things I do and how he reacts so well and I knock myself right off my pedestal.

2. Communication is sooooo important.  I love superheroes these days.  Some of them have the power to read minds.  But, your spouse isn’t a superhero.  He or she has no idea what you’re thinking unless you tell them.  Communicate often about everything from money to dinner to work to chores.  Share what you’re thinking.  Share what you’re expecting.  See if it lines up with what your spouse is thinking and expecting.  If it doesn’t, then communicate some more until you figure it out.  Sometimes the best thing you can do is sit down together over a meal, focus on one another with no distractions and talk.  My husband and I started our relationship with long phone calls.  I wasn’t old enough to go on dates with him.  Now, 20 years later, I feel like we still need to have those times that we just talk.  If you find yourselves missing chances to connect, make them happen.  Planning is OK.

3. Never compare workloads.  This was especially an issue for me after the birth of our first daughter.  We were 10 years into being married when it really cropped up, but I had to deal with it.  Sometimes you’re going to do more than your spouse.  And sometimes your spouse is going to do more.  One of you may have to work longer hours at work.  One of you may have to pick up slack at home.  One of you may do all the cooking.  But as long as both of you are contributing, let it go.

4. Going along with number three, appreciate one another.  Say thank you often and mean it.  My husband takes out the trash for us.  I thank him almost every time he does.  Sure it’s sort of his “job” around here, but it keeps me from having to do it.  And I know that my husband doesn’t enjoy this task; he just does it because it has to be done.  He thanks me for making dinner.  Everyone wants to be appreciated for what they do, no matter how small.  Saying a sincere thanks goes a long way.

My husband and I on our wedding day way back in 1999.

5. Learn to enjoy or at least respect things your spouse enjoys.  My husband has been a gamer since before I knew him.  He loves role playing games, tabletop games and video games.  He can spend hours playing games.  I learned early on to let it go and let him enjoy his gaming time (as long as we still got plenty of couple time and everything else that needed done was getting done).  We had our fair share of discussions of what this would look like.  We set some parameters like designating one evening a week for him to get together and game with his friends.  I realized that gave me one evening to do whatever I wanted to do.  Along the way, I started asking questions about what he was doing.  If it was important to him, then I wanted to hear about it.  I slowly developed an interest in gaming, too.  Now it’s a hobby we often enjoy together.  And I sincerely wish we had the time and gamer buddies around to get back to the gaming once a week like he did in college.  I’ve evolved. Our relationship has evolved and it’s better because of it.

6. Don’t forget who you are.  While it’s important to do things together as a couple, you still need to remember that you’re individuals.  In my dad’s speech to us on our wedding day he said, “Remember that you are Chris.  And you are Stacey.  And together you are Chris and Stacey.”  It sounds a bit abstract, but I think what he meant was that we are a couple together.  We do things together.  We must spend time together to grow our relationship, but we can’t forget the individuals we are and the things we enjoy doing on our own.  We can’t lose ourselves.  After all, if I lost myself then I’d no longer be the person my husband fell in love with.

7. Talk about how you’re going to navigate extended family affairs before conflict arises.  Each of you have your own family traditions.  Each of you have your own expectations of how things are going to go.  For example, my family used to get together to celebrate everything all the time.  Come the month of June with a ridiculous amount of birthdays and you’d find us eating out and celebrating each and every one.  That’s mellowed out as we’ve gotten older, but in the early days, I fully expected my husband would participate in every single family gathering and celebration.  If he had a long day at work, too bad.  If he had just been with my family the night before for something else, too bad.  And that time didn’t count as our time of doing stuff together.  Anyone else picking up on the unfairness here?  I learned through the years to listen to my husband.  I learned to communicate back to him what was important to me.  Maybe he needed some down time for one family activity but I really wanted him to participate in another one instead.  We’d do that.  I’ve learned that’s OK.  We don’t even have to be tied at the hip for family activities.  Let’s not even get started on holidays.  Seriously, start figuring out your game plan for your first married Thanksgiving and Christmas by September at the latest.  It’s tricky.  Also know you probably can’t make everyone happy.  Do what works best for you, but don’t forget to communicate that to your families and offer alternative days to celebrate if necessary.

8. Don’t put your business in the street.  What I mean is if you’re having a problem with your spouse, talk to him or her about it.  Don’t talk to your friends about it.  Don’t talk to your parents about it.  And for goodness sake, never post about it on Facebook.  Keep your personal business personal.  Your friends and family will remember all the negative things you said long after you and your spouse have let something go.  Your relationship doesn’t involve anyone else besides your spouse and God.  The only business you can share is positive affirmations.  Go ahead and brag about your spouse to others sometimes.  You get bonus points for bragging on them when they’re around.  My husband and I aren’t a mushy, gushy couple, but I do like when chances arise that I can point out his good qualities or things I appreciate about him, which leads to number nine.

9. Be each other’s biggest cheerleaders.  The world can be a cruel and harsh place filled with lots of naysayers and people who are thrilled to knock you down a notch.  Your spouse is the person who should build you up the most.  Take time to listen, support and encourage one another.  Celebrate good news together.  The first person I want to call or talk to when I have good news is my husband.  I know he’ll be happy with and for me.  Sharing good news with your spouse should just make the good news feel even better.

10. Be a team.  Once you are married, you are a team.  You are a united front.  You will find lots of distractions ready to tear down your team.  You will find people who will try to get you to talk negatively about your spouse and complain about your marriage.  Don’t fall into those traps.  Avoid them like the plague. Remember always that no matter what you’re facing, you’re facing it together as a team.  You have to be a team to get through hard times.  I remember very clearly the day my husband lost his job seven years ago.  I remember sitting together on the floor of my home office and just sort of holding each other up.  We faced that challenge and so many others before and since then as a team.  Don’t place blame when there is none to be placed.  Support one another and move through life as a unified front.  My husband and I have said to each other, “I’d rather go through hard times with you than good times without you.”  Being a team — being together — makes any hard time so much easier to bear.  And when times are good again, your relationship will be stronger for having survived the hardship.

Check back on Thursday for part two!  You won’t want to miss it.

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