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Dispatch #30: 70 Thoughts on Marriage
This November, Patrick and I will celebrate 17 years of marriage, and December will mark 21 years since our first date. In some ways, it seems like a long time to be together, but then I look at people who have been married 30, 40, 50 plus years, and I know it isn’t. There is hopefully a lot more time together!
We got married when I was 25 and Patrick was nearly 30 (we celebrated his birthday a week later on our honeymoon.) Why did we marry so young? I don’t know, it just felt like it was meant to be, like this was what was always going to happen—even as I was totally freaked out by the idea of lifelong commitment. The engagement and the first year of marriage were the hardest times we faced in our relationship, and I wrote about all that here.
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But, since then? It’s been great. The best decision of my life, honestly.
I love being married to Patrick. Once, in an anniversary Instagram post I wrote that our marriage is the great uncomplicated joy of my life, and various friends recited that phrase back to me months later. I guess it resonated?! (I write books but it’s my Insta that truly hits!) I know happily married people can come off so smug and annoying, even as others revel vicariously in someone else’s romance. And if you’re annoyed: I totally get it! It seems annoying! I’m sorry!
I honestly think my marriage works because Patrick and I are well matched. We just…get along? I have no secret for success and, anyway, every couple is different, with different needs, desires, histories, and expectations. I do have some random thoughts on marriage (or any long term romantic partnership). I wrote lists on writing and parenting—those are the COMPLICATED joys of my life!—so I thought, Why not bring that same miscellaneous gaze to marital life? What fun.
This time, I asked some friends to weigh in on the topic as well. Some people wrote me their advice and some of this was shared with me in person.
All of these received pearls of wisdom are in quotes, so that it’s clear their genius isn’t my own. In the end, I got so much crowdsourced advice that it outweighs my own. I love what everyone had to say and was grateful they shared it with me…
I think of my marriage as something to cherish and protect, a place of comfort and growth and exploration. I don’t take it for granted.
“Find someone who loves you the way you are, with all your faults and kinks and eccentricities—someone you feel the same way about—and then become a team that helps each of you be the best version of yourselves.”
Kids don’t solve marital problems. Wooh boy, if anything, they will make any problem worse.
“If you want an equitable partnership, the best way is to find a couple chores or domestic tasks that your spouse absolutely hates doing, and do them as often as possible, without any expectation of reward or compensation or credit.”
I love my spouse, but, maybe more importantly, I like him.
“If you must fight, do it while on a walk or a hike, and preferably with a great meal afterwards.”
“All baggage must fit in the overhead bin.”
“Communicate, even when you know it'll create an argument. If you don't, and tapdance along as if nothing is wrong, it builds into a giant something else and explodes in an ugly way.”’
Oral sex can’t solve all problems, but it can solve a lot of them.
If sex just isn’t in the cards, then make out. In fact, make out either way.
Flirting is good, too.
Just send the sext already.
“Find someone who is weird in the ways that you are weird, and delve ever deeper into that weirdness. Also something about tolerance, because we’re in this for a long time AND a good time.”
Both partners should try to empty the dishwasher and/or dishrack before the other person can. If you’re both doing the unsavory domestic tasks so the other doesn’t have to do them, each will feel cared for.
“Get away and have sex some place fun once a month, even if it means taking a day off and even if that feels extravagant.”
“Go on walks together.”
“Buy THC lube.”
Marry someone smarter than you who thinks you are smarter than they are.
“Say as many pleases and thank yous as you can, and praise your partner as often as you can.”
If you can—and I know that illness, work schedule, travel, and kids can get in the way—have sex regularly. If you’re doing it more often, it takes the pressure off for the sex to be mind-blowing. And, look, sex begets more sex—and it may just be mind-blowing!
“On staying sane in harder times: Take a breath and listen to what your spouse, or kid, or your own inner voice, is actually saying to you before you react to it. That breath, that beat, can be the difference between an argument and a conversation.”
“Maybe this isn't the case for everybody, but sex is so much more frequent and better as we—and our kids—get older. If your sex life isn't satisfying in the way that you both want it to be, please talk it out and try whatever it takes, because you deserve so much more than to personify the sad memes about sexless marriages. Especially if you're a woman in your early middle age chronically horny era!”
“Remember to play. Even when you have kids, remember what it was like to sit around in your underwear watching cartoons; keep doing that.”
“Try to take time to have cool sex and try to have time to fight.”
“Bono said "I can't live with or without you," and sometimes that's exactly it.”
“If you can learn to say one sentence to each other, you can save a fortune in couples therapy: I’m upset because I’m afraid you’re going to abandon me.”
It’s okay to be annoyed by your spouse. How could anyone not be? If you’ve been annoyed and pissy, apologize for it once you’ve chilled out.
“An excellent team-building exercise is to spend a few days at some kind of hotel with a pool (this does not have to be anywhere fancy or exotic!), and not just because of the R&R, but mostly because it's a unique bubble inside which you get to passively observe the same cluster of people each day and make up fun (not unkind) nicknames for them and craft little narratives about their lives—which is like co-writing a souvenir booklet of inside jokes that you can draw from together for years to come.”
“If you’re parenting: Have a code word for tapping out, signaling that you’re maxed out, their turn.”
“You don’t always have to say important/difficult things to your partner face to face. Sometimes text arguing works best. Really!”
“Chances are if your partner is doing something that drives you nuts, you’re doing it too.”
Find opportunities to witness your spouse being really good at something: making a meal, nailing some task at work, completing a creative project, fixing a drawer, doing math in their head…whatever it is, observe it and enjoy being impressed.
“We never did "date night" because it became stressful to schedule and execute. Instead we run away together when the opportunity presents itself. Emphasis on spontaneity over strict plans. We're also not big on formal dinners for our anniversary. Any time we're expected by society to show up and behave a certain way or do it for the 'gram it gets less fun and less real.”
“You can’t change how your partner loves you but you can change how you respond to it.”
“Being *in love* with your spouse is actually a choice you get to make each day.”
Phrases that begin with “You always” and “You never” are not helpful nor are they accurate.
“My harsh advice would be: Don’t get legally married until you’ve been together for ten years and, also, don’t have a wedding!”
“Make a list of everything that needs to be done regularly (from the obvious to the less obvious like trip planning and communicating with extended family re holidays, etc.) and divide it up to suit interests, capacity, willingness, and time.”
“Kids are the great cock-blockers.”
“One teacher I learned from who’d had years as a family therapist said, You end up with a partner who is at the same level of emotional development. Except in her case, because she was further along than her husband. (Lol)”
“If you can afford to get cleaners, do it, but don’t forget to put communicating with and paying them on someone’s chore list.”
“Our sex is great, but it would be nice to have the option to have sex with others and it not be a big deal (I don’t mean like polyamory—just no strings attached sex).”
“Alternate who does bedtime with the kids and who gets up in the middle of the night.”
When I was 26 and new to marriage, I met this older stand-up comic at one of my dad’s parties. She had been married for a long time. She told me, “Just stay married and you’ll be glad you did.” I think about that advice from time to time. I do think some marriages should end—get divorced if you want to/have to! Sometimes a marriage just doesn’t work and the union should not be suffered through. But that sentiment, of being content years later, after having weathered so much of life together, has stuck with me.
“Be nice to each other and take trips alone (as in: without one another).”
“If you do go to sleep angry, maybe you’ll wake up with a solution or more compassion or clarity. Sometimes it’s okay to go to sleep angry and sleep it off.”
“Couples therapy is very helpful and shouldn’t be reserved for a crisis.”
“If you have kids, each parent should get a regular night off each week.”
“Text during the work day, and keep it stupid not, "When do I pick up so and so?" or "Did you get this at the market?" Send memes and points of interest. Text your spouse like you do a friend. The friendship is the first thing to get lost in a busy schedule, but remember it's where you started.”
“Anal sex when you’re angry can be dangerous.”
“Everyone deserves a private life (by which I don’t mean secrets, but retain a little mystery. )”
“You can be right or you can be in a relationship. Or, a revision of that phrase: Happy spouse, happy house.”
If you have kids, take them out every once in while by yourself so that your spouse can have alone time at home.
“It is important to have dates but release the pressure! You’ll have plenty of time together after the kids grow up. Just stay focused. (Lol)”
“Marry someone with similar views on money and spending habits; that, or work through those issues and differences early.”
“My views on marriage have shifted so much as I specialize in couples' therapy. The one thing I say to every couple I see in therapy is Esther Perel's quote: "Most people are going to have two or three marriages or committed relationships in their adult life. Some of us will have them with the same person." I have been married 28 years in October and that concept of changeability sticks with me daily, and it forces me to constantly remind myself that we are shifting and evolving. Our marriage doesn't look like what it did when I was 24, and that's okay. We are not who we were then so it makes sense that our marriage has to change too. How could we be the same now that we have three kids, aging parents, different careers, etc.?”
“You’ve got to really respect your partner. They have to be a strength match and you both need to believe you’ve gotten a really good deal!”
“Light, ticklish touch might have been sexy when we were dating but now I’m a stressed out mom and a little arm tickle or whatever ignites my high-alert reflexes and bugs me. I welcome a firmer, stronger touch! I’m figuring all this out and trying to communicate it to my partner.”
“When you’re at your worst, tell the inner child within: Take your sticky hands off the steering wheel and let me drive!”
“Don’t be a slob. Even if you’re “just” working from home, put some effort into your appearance.”
“Find time to take long walks and talk about your dreams.”
Doing something together, as a two-person club, is a nice way to connect. For me and Patrick, that’s books—very occasionally we’ll buy two copies of the same novel to read simultaneously and discuss. It’s nerdy and fun, and it gives us something to talk about that isn’t the kids, the bills, what we need to get at the market, or, um, hemorrhoids.
“Jokes made during a fight never land well.”
“I’m not in the advice business, or at least try hard not to be, but the basic things I discuss with individual clients works for couples too: talking more, keeping less inside because emotions need somewhere to go, but also being curious and learning about your partner and most importantly, learning about yourself, seeing what makes you tick even if it's not easy or makes you see parts of you that you don't love, because as we learn more about ourselves, it helps us learn how to be better partners.”
“My husband wants to connect through sex, and I don’t want to have sex unless I already feel connected to him, so that’s something we’re working on.”
“Ideally, figure out your attachment issues and deep problems before you get married, but you know, we’re only human.”
“Do we even need marriage? I don’t know. I think we need more collectivities, and groups of support.”
The best conversations are in the dark in bed when you should be going to sleep but you’ve reached out to hold hands and try to make sense of the world together. You joke, you spiral, you conjecture, you reminisce, you comfort.
“I have no wisdom. Really. I think I reinvent it, we both do, week to week, maybe because everything around us is always changing. I love being married because I need a companion and I like a long term project, especially how it can make you grow.”
No one but you two will truly know what your partnership is like. It’s a little private world, a shared history of everything between you: conversations, connection, desire, pain, frustrations, change, love. What a record of experience to hold together.
What do you think? Tell me your favorites, and, if you want, add your own in the comments.
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