My brother-in-law got married recently.
He and his bride promised to love and care for one another, in both good times and bad. And then they did something unexpected: they promised each other the freedom to be themselves.
“I promise to let D be D.”
“I promise to let T be T.”
That was perfect, I thought. I believe that marriage is about loving your partner for who they are. Not in spite of who they are. And not because you believe you can change them.
The ceremony was lovely! And then came the speeches. Wedding speeches can be awkward, and these were no exception. Some of them were surprisingly negative.
Marriage is super-hard work. So so hard!
Now that you are married (groom), you never get to be right, ever again. Haha!
Keep your marriage counselor on speed dial.
You’d better be nice to (spouse) or I’ll kick your butt!
I suppose everyone meant well, because we all love D and T. And certainly it wasn’t the first time I’d heard those kinds of statements. But I hate it when people talk about marriage like it’s a burden that must be carefully managed. Marriage isn’t a burden, or at least it shouldn’t be. In fact, it’s a continual lifting of burdens because you and your partner have decided to be on the same team. Isn’t that the whole point?
I’m not saying bad relationships don’t exist. Divorce isn’t a moral failing, and sometimes it isn’t possible to work things out. But I’d argue that for most couples, happiness isn’t difficult to find.
What Makes a Marriage Happy?
A happy marriage emerges when both people in the marriage treat their partners well. That sounds obvious, but it’s actually profound because treating someone well takes patience and practice. Marriage means that you’ve committed to an important project (your mutual happiness) for your entire lives.
If happiness is your goal, treating each other well is essential. But what does it really mean to treat your partner well? If you believe what your parents, or society, or your friends, or romance novels taught you, you might come into your marriage with some odd ideas. For example, I came to my relationship with the notion that I needed to keep my frustrations to myself, because that’s what women did in my family. (No, that didn’t work.) I know one woman who believes a good husband should treat his wife like “a princess,” by providing a steady stream of flowers, jewelry, and foot rubs. And there was another couple I knew that believed a good wife must make her husband lunch every day and give him sex upon demand, even when she was tired or sick.
This wouldn’t work for me.
We seem to enter our relationships with a ‘template’ in mind for how we are supposed to behave. And when those templates are based upon fucked up ideas, or when we have radically different templates than our spouse does, it can make the road rocky.
I’d like to propose an alternative, for all married couples who would like to be happy over the long term. Throw the rulebook out and make your own. Literally sit down and write out what you think it means to be a good partner. Then compare notes with your husband or wife, to get on the same page.
I’ll even give you my list, as a starting place. I don’t claim to do these things perfectly, because I’m far from perfect. Back when I was a newlywed, some of this stuff wasn’t even on my radar! But looking back on my own happy marriage, all these years later, I can say that these are the things that seem to matter most:
Unsolicited Advice for a Happy Marriage
1. Be kind to each other.
2. Ask for what you need, when your needs aren’t being met.
3. Find out what makes your partner feel loved, and then do those things.
4. Love them for who they are, even for their
5. Be responsible for your own happiness.
6. Respect one another.
7. Have fun together!
8. Butt stuff.*
9. Support them as they pursue their dreams.
10. Sacrifice for them.
11. Pick up the slack without being asked.
12. Say “please” and “thank you.”
13. Forgive their mistakes.
14. Comfort them when they are sick or sad.
15. Stay by their side through the ups and downs of life.
16. Be sweet to their friends and relatives.
17. Have adventures together.
18. Keep your promises.
19. Admit your mistakes.
20. Hold them tight. (Because no matter how many years you get together, it won’t be enough.)
*Ha! Okay, not literally this. But keep things interesting is what I’m saying.
To our dear friends and relatives getting married this summer, P and I wish you all the happiness in the world. Marriage is awesome! We’re glad you’re joining in on the fun.
And if you ever feel stuck, as all couples do from time-to-time, you could do worse than to reach for your partner’s hand, remind them you love them, and ask humbly for what you need. And when your partner does the same, be sure to really listen, and work to meet their needs in a loving way.
Does that sound like a burden to you? Because it sounds like love to me. And when you’re loved like that, happiness is never very far away.
Happiness is right beside you, because they are standing beside you.
Photo credit: meme generator, death to stock