I’m always curious about what makes other marriages tick, especially couples who have been together for decades. What is their secret? Recently, I had a conversation with someone who had just gotten married. She remarked that my husband and I radiate happiness. She wanted to know what our secret is, since we’ve been married for more than 10 years. These are the things I told her:
1. The toothpaste cap doesn’t matter, really. This should also be known as “pick your battles wisely.” Day in and day out, little things like this feel infuriating and can add up, but ask yourself: In five years, will you remember this? Will it really matter? Probably not. Focus on fundamental issues, the ones that matter, not the trivial stuff.
2. Listening is important. This applies to both of you. Listen to what your spouse says, and listen to what comes out of your mouth. Could you have said whatever you just said in a nicer way? A less condescending way? In a calm voice and not a screaming voice? Chances are, you could have presented your argument differently, you would have been heard differently, and it goes a long way in an effort to fight fair with your partner.
3. Just like history repeats itself, so do arguments. Whatever problems you have when you get married will be the same problems you have 10 years down the road. They don’t change, because people don’t change. People can grow, sure, and get better with age, but generally, the same annoying crap they did when you got married will not dissipate overnight. Can you live for the rest of your life with the problems you have when you are dating?
4. Your partner should be your No. 1 cheerleader in public and your No. 1 constructive critic only behind closed doors. Don’t criticize your partner in front of others; it makes you look like a petty person. Say positive things about your partner to others when they ask about him, and brag about him like you did when you were dating. My husband and I constantly brag about each other, but when we are dealing with problems at work or with the kids, we ask each other, “Could I have handled or said this differently?” These conversations build trust and strengthen the relationship. Also, we are quick to forget small things, but others will remember once you’ve moved on.
5. You have to accept yourself as much as you do the other person. When you are annoyed with your husband because he doesn’t listen, or he didn’t do what you asked of him in a timely manner, ask yourself, “Is he thinking the same thing about me right now?” Take a deep breath, and make sure the mirror you are holding up to him, you are also holding up to yourself. This helps you grow together, not apart.
6. Time alone matters. The old saying that distance makes the heart grow fonder is true. In the South, where I live, men hunt most of the winter, allowing for many weekends apart in marriages. I’ve asked multiple older couples how that worked for their marriages, and they all responded with “distance makes the heart grow fonder.” When the weekend ended, they were excited to see their husbands when they came back.
7. Tell the story of how you met again and again, whenever you can. The story of how you fell in love can get buried in the day-to-day humdrum, but how you ended up together matters. Children, finances, work struggles and illness can take over and all of the warm and fuzzy will get lost. Telling the story of how you met and fell in love when people or your children ask you will make you feel nostalgic all over again. Ask others how they fell in love and watch their faces light up with memories.
8. Your friends will divorce, and this is not a reflection on your own marriage. We are at an age, unfortunately, that our friends’ marriages are starting to fall apart, and it seems as though divorce is frequent. It is frequent, but that doesn’t mean your marriage is doomed too. I made the mistake one time, after a couple we knew went their separate ways, of wondering if what caused them to split could cause our marriage to fall apart too. The answer was no. I realized that they are different people, with different problems, and we have no idea what went on behind closed doors. No one ever does, and whatever version you are hearing is likely tainted and skewed. You will never know what goes on in someone else’s house.
9. Hang out with others who like and enjoy their spouse. I find this to be the best indicator of happy marriages, new and old. Happy couples encourage each other to have strong marriages, and it builds trust within them. Don’t you want your husband to have drinks with another man who is happy in his marriage? Yes, you will worry less that he is out hunting for other women. Unhappy couples complain, and encourage you to complain about your spouse, leading to discontentment.
10. Have different interests, but try to find one thing in common to do together. My husband and I have almost nothing in common; we are the definition of opposites attracting. He loves science fiction, I love drama. He doesn’t understand the need for hardbound books, and I refuse to read an e-book. He loves computers, and I want to scream at mine most days. We have distinct differences, and we have very little in common, but we cling to what we do: We love food, we love to travel, and we love to binge watch Netflix. Having different interests makes us interesting to each other. Embrace your differences.