Marriage Advice For 'Dummies' From A 'Dummy'

by Madeleine Kohnen
Hero Images / Getty

If you can believe it, there have been times when my husband and I have not felt super in love with one another. I know. It’s shocking. You probably think we stare into each other’s eyes every night and retell the story of how we fell in love. I mean, according to my Instagram, that’s what all the other married couples are doing.

But no, alas, we are not that couple. I don’t know the last time we stared into each other’s eyes (not because we don’t love each other, more so because that is creepy as hell).

I should preface this by saying that I love my husband deeply. He and I have grown up together, which means we have been through just about everything you could think of. We may be beyond the days of butterflies and giggling, but I would argue that life gets better when you get beyond all of that. We are not, however, at the point where we can just let things fly because we have been together for 50 years and have fought all the fights. We are in the stage of fighting all the fights, which is necessary to get to the previously mentioned stage.

As we move through this phase of figuring out how to spend eternity with one another (which, can we just acknowledge, is a damn near impossible feat?), I have learned a lot about myself and about marriage. We have not been married long (almost 5 years), but we have packed a whole lotta life into those years and I think I have a little bit of knowledge on how to thrive in the midst of a difficult (but still wonderful) marriage. So, here it goes.

How we have managed to thrive even when we kinda want to strangle each other:

1. Take time to work through things the right way.

Seriously. I have a theory that whoever coined the phrase “don’t go to bed angry” had never been married. Sometimes we both just need space and time to process something that has been said, or something that one of us has done. And sometimes that space and time is longer than one day. That’s okay. Your marriage is not flawed because you can’t work your problems out in the same time it takes for the characters in This is Us to work out all their childhood issues. This is real life. It might take a few days. Just make sure you continue to show each other love and respect in the midst of that time.

2. Go to bed together.

No matter what. Even if you’re still angry. This has been something that started on accident, but has turned into an intentional practice in our marriage. We go to bed together every single night. I stay up with him to watch football; he stays up with me to watch the Bachelor. And if you are reading this thinking “gag,” that’s fine. I said this is what I’ve learned about what works for us. This is how we remain united no matter how divided we might feel on any particular day. And it is a way of saying to one another “things might be hard, but I’m still here.” If you don’t do this currently, try doing it for a week. You might be surprised how big of a difference it makes.

3. Fight it out.

Say the things. But don’t go below the belt. Mike and I are both hot-heads. We are not great at a lot of things, but we are great at fighting. And we are great at finding the one thing that can completely disarm the other person. There have been many times when one of us has said something that has been incredible wounding, just because we let our ego take over and we found a way to “win.” Just know that there is no winning when you hurt your partner. When one of you is hurting, you are both hurting. So think before you speak.

4. Find a therapist.

For each of you, or for both of you. Some people prefer therapy by themselves, and some people prefer to go with their partner. I don’t care how you do it, I don’t care when you do it, I just care that you do it. You cannot fix all of your problems on your own, and it is exhausting to try. Find someone you trust (your mom doesn’t count) and let them help you sort out all the things that just can’t be sorted out at home. If your husband isn’t on board at first, start going by yourself first. Let him see you thrive and grow as an individual and I promise he will want to drink the Kool-Aid, too.

5. Don’t ask a question you don’t want the answer to.

Ladies, this is for you. There is no right answer to “does this dress make me look fat” or “am I as hot as I was when I met you.” Listen, some dresses make you look fat and kids tend to knock your hot factor down a few notches. So, don’t ask it if you don’t want honesty. It’s setting your partner up to fail and it’s not fair. If you are prepared to have your husband say “well, it’s not the most flattering pair of jeans,” then by all means, ask away. Otherwise, ask your girlfriends because they will know exactly how to lie to you.

So there it is! The 5 secrets to marriage. Go forth and live happily ever after. You now have all the tools you need to be married for the rest of your life.

Not really, but I can say these 5 things have gotten us through some really, really dark stuff — so there has to be some value in there. So hunker down, remember why you fell in love, and maybe take a minute to stare into each other’s eyes some time. If it doesn’t create a spark, it’s at least sure to make you laugh.