I walked down the aisle a second time recently. Elvis Presley locked arms with me while singing “Love Me Tender” and gave me away to my partner, Jared, in a little white chapel in Vegas. Our three kids climbed the pews and crawled beneath, only to pause and take peeks at what was happening at the altar. Giggles and glee. It was pretty adorable. And I couldn’t help but smile and be completely filled with joy: I was ready, and not in the way that I felt ready the first time taking that notorious walk.
I thought I was ready in my previous marriage,but hadn’t had the chance to build my inner confidence and to figure out how to name my needs. Before, I thought loving my partner meant giving him what he wanted and dismissing the very real emotions and needs I had to keep the peace – to keep the marriage alive. We had dated for three years so I wasn’t oblivious to the relationship slumps that would show their face. I just knew those slumps shouldn’t turn into one truly long slump with no way out this time around. This time I would be proactive and equally kind to both myself and my partner. I would do my best to take what did and did not work in the prior marriage, add in a ton of introspection and self-respect and would surely figure out the secret sauce this time around.
I like to think of it as romance-proofing. Think fireproofing, but for your relationship.That means learning and using effective communication strategies, loving yourself, orgasming a lot, being intentional and looking forward – together.
Here’s how I’m doing it in my new marriage – in ways I didn’t in my first.
- Communication is key.
I have rather outsize emotions. Luckily, my husband is understanding and accepts that about me. When I’m on my period, like so many other women, I become “Hot Mess Meg.” Fruit and yogurt become a nemesis—where is the tiramisu danish from the local coffee shop? I go from laughter to crying to snapping at my 6-year-old to singing Michelle Branch’s “All You Wanted” with a battle cry of “and all you wanted was somebody who cares.” But I’m aware. I’m aware of this and simply name it. And my husband, to his great credit, will simply ask,“What do you need?” Those words drench my soul with love everlasting. I make sure to tell him how thoughtful he is. I name that for him. Because I can’t just be naming my own emotions and needs.
And he uses this clever little color system – red, amber, and green – to let me know where he’s at emotionally. A midday call and I might hear him say, “Hey babe, right now I’m pretty deep in the red with all that’s on my plate.” Amber? That’s simply a more neutral, just-vibing state of mind. Green? “I need you and I need connection!” Instead of getting hurt if he’s in the red, I voice gratitude for letting me know and then quickly say, “Can I do anything to help out?” Often it’s a no in response, but he always voices gratitude in return. For us, this works.
- Love yourself, however you feel works for you.
Essential to romance-proofing is loving yourself, otherwise you look to your spouse for validation, which is a surefire recipe for codependency. Instead, if I love myself, I approach our relationship from a place of confidence and joy and can better love him. Loving yourself can be anything from taking naps, to petting dogs, to hanging with your friends. For me, it’s all that and masturbation. I’m so much happier – as a person and as a partner – now that I’ve learned how to embrace this part of me and my body.
Sex for me really is a key component to romance-proofing but it’s definitely not everything, and if it’s not possible just being present – physically and emotionally – is fire for romance-proofing.
- Have separate interests.
My husband and I have separate interests and hobbies, but also joint visions for what we want out of the world. We’re both big autism advocates through our work and hobbies; we share that passion. We love to dine at new restaurants, to workout together, to talk about how we parent our kids and to end our best days watching ‘Ted Lasso’. We love to travel and prioritize that – both with and without our kiddos. But we also have diverging interests, which keeps us independently interested. I think that’s key to establishing home within myself while gladly setting up room for him to dwell with me and I with him in a healthy, not codependent relationship.
- Be intentional in having ample whole-family time.
Spending a lot of quality time together as a family is a critical ingredient in romance-proofing. In doing so, we’re creating shared positive memories between ourselves as “Mom and Dad” to our kids, while our kids see that they are not only important but what makes it so great Taco Tuesdays, family dates to our favorite Park City pizza joint and time spent outside are pretty typical in our household. So are wrestling parties. We’re a unit, after all, and it’s important that we have fun together. Which brings me to the next point of proofing:
Perhaps the utmost important component to romance-proofing is laughter. Life, especially adult life, requires so much planning, organization and “getting things done” that it’s easy for laughter to take the back seat. Life is full of much to be overwhelmed by, so we seek laughter. Think watching stand-up comedy, simply making each other laugh by not being so serious in one another’s presence and meme-sending. Is there anything better than getting a text in the middle of a hard day and seeing something that makes you smile and laugh? And it’s not just the laughter that is so good for the relationship, it’s the idea that in that moment I know Jared was thinking of me. That’s currency in my marriage.
Meg Raby is a mom, children's author of the My Brother Otto series, and Autistic residing in Salt Lake City where you can find her playing and working with neurodivergent children as a Speech Language Pathologist and friend, or writing and planning big things in the second booth at her local coffee shop that overlooks the Wasatch Mountains while sipping on her Americano. Meg believes the essence of life is to understand, love and welcome others (aka, to give a damn about humans).