12 Lessons From A (ususally) Happy Marriage.
There are few things in life that genuinely shock me anymore. That might make me seem old before my time or jaded, both of which are likely true. It is simply that I have experienced enough of life in my almost forty years of bumbling around on this floating rock, to recognise that there really isn’t much new under the sun. Now this might seem an odd assertion in this, the digital age, but bear with me. You see, I have now reached that grand old age when my daughter is listening to “new” music that is simply a frankly inferior remix of tunes that were big back in my day. *Sigh*. I thought that I had more time. Clearly not. More than once now she has marvelled at my singing along to some new song on the radio, only to utter “How do you know that song?!”. It reminds me of the time back in the nineties when Vanilla Ice was breaking records and hearts with his chart topper “Ice Ice Baby”. When my father started humming the intro bars I excitedly enquired whether he also liked Vanilla Ice. “Vanilla who? No, this is David Bowie!”. I was incredulous and preferred to believe that he was just displaying the first signs of early onset dementia. Skinny jeans, jeans with holes, winged eyeliner, even TV shows and movies. They all seem to be coming back again. I was about 12 when I watched “It” for the first time and Blade Runner really doesn’t need a reboot in my opinion. Heck, they even brought back Dallas and Will & Grace! It all gives me an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. So what I am about to tell you will not come as surprise. These lessons are, for the most part, tried and trusted old timey adages that have proved to be true in my marriage.
Back in the day
Ours is a pretty conventional love story I s’pose. As a girl, I had lots of schoolgirl crushes, all of which I remember vividly. It started from earliest primary school when I fancied the blonde haired, blue eyed boy William. I then graduated to various versions on that theme through the rest of my schoolgirl days. I had a couple of serious boyfriends through school and one who I fell properly in love with. But I wasn’t the kind of girl who romanticised love in that way. I didn’t dream about my wedding day wistfully and I wasn’t especially interested in finding Prince Charming. Why would I be when it was so much fun kissing all the frogs? Then I met the Hubbs. We were at university together and he was in my friendship group. He was “one of the lads”, a mate. Someone that you can have a cheap pint of Snack-bite Black with, but not the guy you secretly lust after from across the lecture theatre. He was always the last guy on my list of crushes at university, and everything that I thought I didn’t want. He was ginger, for a start, and I was much more into tall, dark and brooding by then. He also liked to drink to excess, whereas I had partied myself out at boarding school. He loved getting dirty in the mud and was in the OTC (Officer Training Corps) and Sandhurst bound. I had no interest in being a soldier’s wife. But when Cupid (or as I prefer to think of it, God) has other ideas, what is personal preference to stand in the way? The Hubbs had never had a girlfriend before me (except for Jess aged 5, but I strongly suspect that she didn’t even know they were in a relationship!). His courtship strategy was to hang around me like a bad smell for long enough that I would take notice. I had my own strategy, which involved a much more direct approach. Whatever, it worked, and we have been together pretty much ever since.
Not that it has been smooth sailing always, our early days were very tempestuous indeed. If you were to describe our personalities, I would be fire and The Hubbs would be ice. We used to fight and make up so frequently and so passionately that I earnt myself the nickname “They’re at it again!” from my girlfriends (still have the t-shirt to prove it). But when I got sick, and my future was uncertain, his devotion to me was steadfast. When it was unclear if I would ever walk again or see properly, he stood unfailingly by me, and so things changed. We were still passionate, but certainly less confrontational. There is nothing like a medical crisis for putting life into perspective. So we took the next step and cemented our relationship with a very public declaration of eternal love and fidelity in front of 350 of our nearest and dearest. We still argued occasionally. I remember our first marital spat happened two weeks after our honeymoon and was about ironing and housework. We had been to the Maldives for our honeymoon and it was glorious! Everything that you could hope for. But we came back to a sh*tload of laundry and chores that we just had to plough through. Now, in my house growing up, if you wanted to wear something out of the ironing basket, you ironed it and went about your day. In the Hubbs’ house, if you did some ironing for yourself, you did everything in the basket. So this was our first marital negotiation.
For some bizarre reason, unclear to me even at the time, we had to iron everything in the house. That meant bedsheets, pillow cases, boxer shorts and shirts. I decided to try the good wife thing and take on this mammoth ironing challenge. And this was before we had a steam iron. After six hours (yes, six!), I calmly put all the ironing away, packed up the ironing board and announced that I would never be doing that again. Hubbs called me “selfish”, I called him something with fewer letters. Needless to say, it did not go down well. Anyway, we came to a compromise somehow and we rarely argue about menial tasks such as that any more. Mostly because we invested in a steam iron and now Hubbs doesn’t mind doing the ironing, which is fortunate, since I consider it a sin and a colossal waste of time.
So The Hubbs and I really have been through the ringer. From illness, to post-natal depression, to the mother of all depressions just this last year, I have brought my fair share of challenges into the relationship. And for his part, I have been forced to show my husband some grace on more than one drunken occasion. I can laugh about it now, but having to explain why the hallway smelt of vomit and there were icky streaks on the front door to a curious 4 year old on her way to school was not funny at the time. We have successfully tried counselling, couples therapy and even a marriage course. And it is true that we are now stronger and arguably closer than we have ever been. So after 12 years of navigating the choppy waters of married life, I thought it apt to share 12 lessons that we have learnt along the way. As I said, they may not be anything that you haven’t heard before, but hopefully this reminder will prove helpful in your relationships.
1. Nobody’s perfect, least of all you.
And by you, I mean me. Or the royal I, or… never mind, you know what I’m trying to say. I’m saying that for every finger that you point at someone, there’s four pointing back to you (or three, because technically one is a thumb and it never points backwards anyway as that would be anatomically impossible, but I digress…). As children, we innately learn the art of self-defence. The Boy demonstrates this all the time. Whenever he stubs his toe or falls off his chair, his first reaction is to hit the chair or door or whatever has aggrieved him for being “naughty”. No matter how many times I tell him that the inanimate objects are not to blame, he still refuses to find fault in his own actions. In the same way, as adults, we are quick to find fault in our partners whenever something goes awry. Just know that nobody can be perfect all the time. When you are tempted to tell him how annoyed you get when he leaves the toilet seat up, be prepared for a lecture on why it makes as much sense for the toilet seat to never be put down. In my experience, it is important to pick your battles. Is this annoying habit or foible something that is harmful to you, your kids or your family life? Yes? Then good God, why are you still there! If not, then think carefully about making it a bigger deal than it actually is. Yes, she might not notice that her hair keeps clogging the drains, but she doesn’t comment when you dribble wee on the toilet seat, does she?
2. Don’t bite your tongue too often, lest it fall off.
In the band-aid camp, you are either a ginger or a ripper. You see, when you were a kid and you had a plaster stuck on a particularly nasty graze (usually on the knee, for some reason they were always the worst), once it had scabbed over, you knew that you’d have to get that sucker off. Now if you’re the timid type, you probably tried to tease the thing off gingerly, careful not to dislodge any of that drying skin underneath. It’d take you time, but would hopefully spare you pain in the long run. But if you were smart, you’d just rip the sucker off dead quick. That was the best way to avoid any of the agony of crusted over wound pain. But it requires nerves of steel to be a ripper, you have to be tough, prepared to steel yourself against any and all eventualities. It’s the same way with confrontation in relationships. I’m a ripper, he’s a ginger (pun intended. Thank you very much, I am here all week!). If something is bothering me, I have learnt that it is far, far better to air your grievances early, whilst they are still but small, than to let them fester like a rotting corpse stinking up your little love nest. Of course sometimes you should just let it go, like when you think that her mum’s chilli con carne recipe is superior to hers. But if it’s something that he can fix, like doing the dishes after you have cooked the meal, then tell him straight. Do so with respect and out of love wherever possible, but just do it. And then move on. Let it go, like a fart on a gentle breeze.
3. Sex is sexy, even when you’re not.
None of us is as attractive as we would like, but you are probably not the bog- troll you imagine yourself to be either. Insecurity can plague even the pluckiest Lothario at times. Do not let it get the best of you! Yes, I know that your kids have been driving you nuts and you never did get that report done by 6pm and it is due tomorrow. But the kids are asleep now and the report can wait till the morning. You owe it to yourself to love and be loved, and that includes sexy time too. Some nights are for just falling asleep on the sofa, watching Inbetweeners repeats on E4, but some nights just turn the tele off and make your way upstairs early for a nightcap. Do it even when it feels like a chore. The more you do it, the more you will want to do it and believe me, that kind of intimacy can save a marriage. You want to be in a “can’t keep our hands off each other” type love affair? Then do the do, at least once a week, but preferably more. And make sure it’s quality lovin’, not the lie back and think of England type. Show some enthusiasm and perhaps she will too!
4. Don’t believe everything you fear.
Those who know me will attest that I have a very active imagination. This does not always play in my favour, particularly when combined with my anxiety. If the Hubbs is literally 10 minutes later than expected, or forgets to call me at lunchtime, I am imagining which flowers I will choose for the funeral and whether we can pay off the mortgage with the life insurance pay-out. I know that the chances of him being stabbed by a vagrant or being run over by a car on his commute are slim, but my mind just goes there. What I have learnt though, is that not everything I worry about is realistic, so I don’t need to process them. Although I can’t make myself stop worrying, I can stop giving those thoughts any credence. So I don’t reach for the phone if he is late. Instead I just wait for him to walk through the door, all apologies, and we get on with it. Just because she is out late, doesn’t mean that she is having an affair. Just because he has a mole on his right shoulder, doesn’t mean that he’s contracted cancer. Chill, just because you think it, doesn’t make it true.
5. Forgiveness is not optional.
I can hold a grudge with the best of them. I used to love demonstrating my righteous indignation, stropping like a mardy 3 year old whose little sister just p*ssed on her chips. But then I learnt, the hard way, that forgiveness isn’t something that you can opt out if they are “undeserving”. Either none of us deserve it, or all of us do. And when you’re going through it, that is a bitter pill to swallow. If he’s hurt you in a way that only those we love the most can, it takes all the strength in the world to muster up enough grace to forgive him. Especially when he doesn’t think he’s wrong. But if we want our marriage to grow stronger, then forgive we must. We all have our lines that can never be crossed, but short of that, we need to learn to forgive. Besides, it may not be long before we need a little forgiveness ourselves.
6. Only losers keep score.
As tempting as it may be, tit for tat is a game where everyone loses. “Vengeance is mine”, sayeth the Lord. I say, grow up and get over it! No judgement, truly. Lord knows that I love a good sparring match scoreboard myself. But the proper grown up in me knows that this is just not right. It doesn’t do to keep track of every time he has ever screwed up. What happened in the past, for the most part, should stay there. If you have forgiven someone, it is unfair to keep reminding them of their fault every time you get angry. It is petty and it will only drive a wedge between you. Drop it and move on.
In the spirit of fairness, I asked The Hubbs to list six of his own love lessons from the last 12 years. After groaning and rolling his eyes, he dutifully has. So I here-below present the male perspective on our marriage.
1. Patience is a virtue.
It comes as no surprise to me that patience tops his list, he claims to need a lot of it to stay married to me! The Hubbs and I are so different, that I often find myself wondering how we ever manage to make this work. He’s physical, I’m cerebral. He likes action, I love drama. He craves the outdoors, I want cosy comfort. Yada yada yada, the list of our differences is as long as Pinocchio’s lying nose. What we do have in common however are principles, morals and a seriously stubborn streak. We never quit, for good or ill. It’s partly what has kept us going for so long, partly what has threatened to tear us apart. But with age comes a little wisdom. And that wisdom reveals that patience is truly a virtue. When he is driving you so mad that you would willingly risk jail for some gentle reprieve, do not pick up the screwdriver! Instead, remember that time and distance are your friend. Cut him some slack and be just a little patient with him. He will eventually learn that you put the teabag in first, like all decent human beings.
2. It’s like Paula Abdul said, opposites attract.
So sometimes our differences present a challenge, but usually they strengthen us a couple. Where he is strong, I am weak and vice-versa. To this day I have never had to call a plumber or many other tradesmen, as Hubbs is so perfectly practical he can turn his hand to almost any fix it job. And he has enjoyed the benefit of being married to a skilled cook, social entertainer and generally organised individual who makes his life easier. Winners all round!
3. Till death do us part, or whatever comes sooner.
The Hubbs did not take his vows lightly. When he makes a promise he sticks to it. So when he said that he was in this thing for life, he meant it. The lesson here is, stick to your word, no matter what. If you said that you were in it for life, then fight for it to the death. Isn’t she worth at least that?
4. Farts are always funny.
Not sure that I agree with him on this one, but I can see why he chose to put it on here. Still unsure how this relates to our marriage though… maybe it’s a plea?
5. Money can’t buy my love.
Not even for the mega-rich, so what chance do we mere mortals have? The trick is not to try. The Hubbs and I used to buy each other lavish gifts. Then The Girl came along and our disposable income disappeared faster than Trump Corp profits on tax return day. We then discovered that it is not about the stuff. The greatest gift that we can give each other is our time. That is our most precious resource at the moment. So we are just as happy cooking a meal together with a glass of wine and some tunes, as we are going out to a fancy restaurant. If it were all to disappear tomorrow, I know that he’d still love me and I would still have his back too.
6. Life is short.
Stop worrying about the if’s, buts and maybes. If you love him, let him know every day; and live each day with her as if it were your last. One day, it will be.
So there you have it, 12 lessons from us to you. Not an exhaustive list, by any means. Take heed of the ones that make sense to you, ignore the ones that don’t. But whatever you do, do it in love and fingers and toes that it works out for all of us!