What I’ve Learned in a Decade of Marriage:
1. “When I got married, I was stupid.” What I mean by that is, I had no idea just how huge a decision I was making. Sure, I’d heard all the blah-blah-blah about how marriage is a big step, but it’s hard to comprehend the blah-blah when you’re in your early twenties. What I know now that I didn’t know then is that choosing a person to spend your life with is perhaps the biggest factor in how the rest of your life will go. Education is important. Jobs are important. But nothing even comes close to who you choose to trust, to spend your life with, to make babies with. Nothing comes close to that.
2. “He just needs to drive.” This means that spouses have to learn their partner’s quirks and accept them. Tom needs to drive. Even though I’m a perfectly good driver with an excellent record, he can only tolerate being in the passenger seat for roughly 10 minutes and then it’s nearly killing him. He just needs to drive. What he has learned about me is that, while I will surrender the driver’s seat without much protest, I can not be driven down an unfamiliar road “just to see where it goes.” I need to know where we’re going. We’ve both learned to accept each other’s needs and drive or ride accordingly.
3. “Think before you speak.” That one speaks for itself, doesn’t it?
4. “Points are for losers.” When I first got married, I was under the delusion that arguments were opportunities to win or lose, as in “score your points and win your case.” That might work in a debate or a courtroom, but it really backfires in a marriage. That day-to-day point-keeping puts you on opposing teams. You stop rooting for each other and the whole thing can get bad pretty fast. Ten years has taught me to forget the points, be a good sport and win the game.
5. “Go to bed mad.” I know it totally goes against conventional wisdom but I stand by this one. There have been times, at the end of the day, when I’ve forgotten Rule No. 4 and become tangled in an argument – usually about something I can’t even remember a month later. But at night, when we’re tired or stressed, the fight really seems worth fighting about. But if I go to bed and let it decompress, the morning usually brings a dose of reality and perspective. So I say it’s okay to go to bed mad. Just be sure to get over it by lunch.
6. “Sometimes I’m wrong.” Boy, that was a tough one to wrap my head around. Still is. But these past 10 years have made me realize that there are rare occasions when I’m not absolutely right about things, and it’s better to just admit it and move on. It’s humbling, but nobody wants to live with “Little Miss (or Mister) Can’t-Be-Wrong.”
7. “Play dates aren’t just for kids anymore.” One of the unfortunate parts of parenting is that we’re so busy being the grown-ups that we forget marriage is supposed to be fun. We make actual dates for our kids to get together and play, but couples rarely do that for themselves. One of the best pieces of advice we got was from a woman who said we should go out on dates to “play” – not just the standard “dinner and a movie” thing, because people don’t talk much during movies. So we went bowling and laughed at ourselves and each other and remembered that it’s okay to be a parent and still occasionally act like a goofy kid at play with your high school crush. How can you love somebody like you should if you don’t like them first? And how do you like somebody if you don’t ever have fun together? That’s why you’ve gotta go play.
8. “Wives have excellent long-term memory.” Tom added this one to my list, which I’m pretty sure is his sneaky way of saying that sometimes we women hang on to things a tad too long. That’s probably true. But I would also add that if more men would adhere to Rule No. 3, there wouldn’t be nearly as much stuff to remember for a decade.
9. “Lighten up.” Ever notice how the really intense dramas on television are usually on for only a couple of hours each night, from around 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.? I think it’s because too much drama is tiring. It burns you out and you end up wanting to get away from it. One of the keys to making it work in a marriage is learning to just lighten up and not make a federal case out of every little thing. Roll with it, and remember that comedies are more fun to watch.
10. “Be kind.” I know it sounds like over-simplifying, but let’s face it: If two people aren’t kind to each other, all the marriage books and couples retreats and counseling won’t heal it. It’s sad, how sometimes we’re kinder to strangers or mere acquaintances than we are to the people in our own home. We think true love should be “unconditional,” thereby letting us off the hook for bad behavior. But love is conditional. And its biggest condition insists – no, it demands – that we, above all else, “be kind.”
To my wonderfully kind husband of 10 great years, thanks for learning the rules along with me. I’m looking forward to a Top 20 List. Happy anniversary.