By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3
My husband Tom and I are a few days away from celebrating another wedding anniversary. We’re up to 12 years now, which is strange because it feels like less time has passed and, at the same time, it feels like we’ve known each other forever. We sat down yesterday and talked about 10 things we’ve learned in the past 12 years.
1. Contrary to popular opinion, it’s really not THAT hard. We hear it over and over again: “Marriage is HARD work.” Okay, here’s the deal: It takes effort, yes. Every now and then, it’s hard. But overall, if you choose your spouse wisely and avoid being a jerk, marriage is not like digging a ditch. Not even close. If you ask us, being lonely would be a heck of a lot harder.
2. Marriage often leads to “mind-meld”: At least, that’s what we call it. Tom and I have noticed lately that one of us will say something at the exact same time the other one was only thinking it. It’s almost creepy because, many times, it’s some out-of-the-blue topic that he brings up, and the hair on the back of my neck stands up while I say “NO WAY! I was just thinking that!” Must be a marriage phenomenon.
3. You rub off on each other, both good and bad. It’s easy to eat too much of the kids’ Halloween candy when he’s scarfing down the miniature Twix bars right along with you. But it’s also easier to go for a power walk in the neighborhood if you have a partner to burn calories with.
4. Silence really can be golden. Tom said when he was a teenager, he once saw this older couple sitting at a restaurant eating breakfast, and they hardly spoke to one another at all. He thought it was sad because he assumed they’d grown apart and had nothing left to say. But now we know that filling the air between the two of us with words, words, words just isn’t always necessary or even desirable. Sometimes, it’s nice to simply “be” with each other. (Also, if you’re good at the “mind meld” phenomenon mentioned in No. 2, you already know what the other one is thinking anyway.)
5. Money matters: If you think you can get married and not fight about money, you’re nuts. It happens. It took us many years to finally get on the same page about money and I wished we’d figured it out earlier. Reducing financial stress makes you MUCH more likely to stay married and happy… and not living in a cardboard box.
6. Familiarity doesn’t have to breed contempt. Tom, who waited until he was 30 to get married, said one of the things that scared him most was the thought of being with the same person, day in and day out, FOREVER. Dating relationships usually come and go, so it was hard for him to imagine one stretching out into his golden years without becoming boring. Thankfully, we along with lots of other couples, find that it gets better, not boring. There’s something to be said for sharing history together and making a future at the same time.
7. On having children: If they don’t kill you first, they’ll make your marriage stronger. Having kids is amazing, and we’ve been blessed with three. Part of the bonding that children bring to marriage is the joy of merely surviving. When you and your spouse clean up a child’s bodily fluids at 2 a.m., you know you’re truly in this thing together.
8. You gotta have faith – faith in each other and faith in a higher power to guide the two of you. There are so many things – in marriage and in life – that you can’t understand or control. It’s nice to know a heavenly Someone who’s bigger and smarter than you has got it all covered.
9. On “doling out your crazy”: We borrowed this line from one of our favorite sitcoms, Scrubs. One of the characters offered this advice to her friend who’d just started dating someone: “You can’t show him all your crazy at one time. You’ve got to dole it out in small doses.” The good thing about being married for a long time is that, at some point, he or she has already seen all your “crazy” – including the treasure trove of crazy in your extended family. And he stuck around anyway. If that isn’t love, what is?
10. It’s not like the movies: You know how, in a romantic movie, the chemistry is so intense that your stomach does flip-flops just watching it? Yeah, well long marriages aren’t like that. That’s not to say that your stomach no longer flip-flops. It can and it will. But a romantic song won’t start playing every time he walks into the room, and the sexual tension won’t build to a crescendo every time you sit across the table from each other. Most days are ordinary, and that’s not only normal, it’s also good. If real life was like the movies, we wouldn’t ever go to the movies for entertainment, would we? Marriage is real. Movies are scripts. It’s good to remember the difference.