I’ve only been married for seven years, and the US Census Bureau says most first marriages last only 7.8 years. I’ve done a lot to help maintain a happy marriage, but certainly not as much as I could have done. I am working on it though. There have been many ups, there have been a few downs here and there, but without a doubt the first year was the rockiest road and has left some memories that are difficult to wipe away.
With the divorce statistics getting worse every year, there’s no doubt America is in a marriage crisis. But it doesn’t have to be. Marriages, like anything else, take hard work and dedication. You only get out of it what you put into it. And believe me when I say, that first year can lay a foundation for a healthy marriage or a partnership that needs some TLC. Here’s what I’ve learned from my experiences and the marriages of my friends. I apologize for not references gay marriage here, alas I have no relative experience on that front (although I’m sure many of the same principles still apply).
- You are a partnership; 50/50
If you come into a marriage with archaic notions of 50’s relationships you will not get very far. Men are no longer the hairy hunters, women do not need to be tied to a stove. Just try and remember that if you come home from work one day and the house is a mess and dinner isn’t made. If you have kids, your wife may have spent all day chasing after them. If your wife works, her day most likely sucked as badly as yours. Even if your wife is just at home all day, she’s not obliged to be your servant. Sometimes you cook and clean, sometimes she does. It’s 50/50.
- You are not the same
This may seem as obvious as pointing out the difference between hot and cold, but the author of “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus” sold millions of books for a reason. For instance, the first thing men usually want to do when they get home from work is to chill out and do nothing. Maybe watch TV, shoot pool, read a book, just something to get out of a work mindset and into a different mood. Women on the other hand want to talk. They want conversation. They want to unload their day, as soon as possible. It’s oil and water, they just don’t go together. When you both realize that, it will avoid a lot of arguments. How you reach a compromise is more tricky, but some guys have learned to talk about stuff that’s more interesting to them rather than the daily download, and their wives are happy about the genuine attention and conversation.
- Sex is important
It’s not everything, but to say it doesn’t play a huge role is fooling yourself. After all, it was physical attraction that most likely brought you together. If you have differing sex drives, that can be rough. Work out a schedule that makes sure you get what you need and so does your partner. And sometimes affection doesn’t have to lead to sex. It’s fine to kiss and cuddle guys, sometimes women just need to know you care and aren’t just interested in the old in-and-out.
- Have the children talk as early as possible
When my wife and I were talking about our future (before we were married) the question of kids came up. At the time I was 26 and I said, quite clearly, that I would not be ready until I was 30. I just knew it. My wife often brought the subject up but I was as sure two years later as I was the day I said it. I just wasn’t ready. We got pregnant in the winter after my 30th birthday. I think it’s important to be completely honest about this from day 1. Don’t pacify your spouse with a phony answer that will keep her happy and string her along. She’d be increasingly frustrated and it will always lead to arguments.
- Think “what would she like me to say?”
All too often we focus on our own feelings, wants and needs. But pause for thought. There may be a way to say what’s on your mind in a way that she wants to hear. If you want time on your own one evening, she doesn’t want to hear “I want a night without you around.” Instead, maybe suggest she’s been working hard and deserves a night out with the girls. If she asks your opinion on what she’s wearing, don’t give the usual “it’s nice” or “looks fine.” She’s reaching out for a response that will make her feel good and she deserves a better answer. Maybe tell her she looks years younger in it, or that it really shows off her great figure. But please, don’t lie either. She’ll rip you apart and rightly so.
- Learn to suck it up and say sorry.
I learned my lesson way too late on this one. Regardless of who started the argument, saying sorry is an easy way to end it. Most likely you were pretty insensitive during the course of the argument and said some nasty things anyway. But when you do apologize, make sure you know what you’re apologizing about. Saying sorry is hard enough for most people, but if her rebuttal is “what are you sorry about” you don’t ever want to answer that with “ummm, whatever it is I did.” That’s a night on the sofa right there.
- Don’t be a brick wall in an argument.
As we’re on the subject of arguments, this one’s really crucial…don’t just sit there and say nothing, staring into space with a grumpy look on your face. For a start, it makes her feel like you’re not listening, and women want to be acknowledged when they speak. She wants to know you give a damn about what she’s saying. Keeping stony-faced with your arms crossed will prolong the agony and elevate the tension. Talk. Don’t shout. Just talk. It will help, a lot.
- Remember to make time for each other.
Once you’re married it’s very easy to forget each other’s needs. Making time does not mean putting on a TV show or a movie and sitting on the sofa for 3 hours (although sometimes that’s nice…but not every night). Make time for dates. This is especially important when you have kids. You got married because you wanted to spend the rest of your lives together. All too often we fall into a pattern of just surviving day today, rather than living and enjoying each other. She is your best friend and your lover. She deserves your full attention, and vice versa.
- Throw some thought at gifts, not a bunch of cash.
Jewelry is nice. Clothes are nice. Perfume is nice. But it doesn’t really say anything about how you feel about your spouse. It’s not really thoughtful, it’s just a generic gift. When birthday time comes around, or Valentine’s Day, think carefully about the one you love. What does she really like? What makes her smile or feel good inside? The simple things work, like compiling a CD of the songs you would both listen to while you were dating. Maybe you make her something, or get her something unusual like adopting her favorite animal at the zoo. You will have better ideas but be original and make the gift all about her. It works way better than flowers and candy.
- Don’t let the in-laws make your life hell.
Before your wife started her life with you, she had another life. And it’s amazing how often that other life keeps butting its head in your business. Her mom will always be on her side, her dad is just protecting his little girl. Your own folks will be the same way, and before you know it you’re fighting each other by channeling the thoughts and ways of the in-laws. Just remember the most important person in your life now is your partner. You can’t pick your parents, you did pick each other. And you’ll hopefully spend the rest of your lives together.
I’m not saying that following every single tip will lead to a blissful marriage, but it will certainly help the first year go much more smoothly. If you can’t remember every single one and just want to walk away with one nugget of advice, just treat your wife like you’d want to be treated yourself…with affection, love and daily attention.
Written for Dumb Little Man by Paul Michael, a Sr. Writer for the budget living and life tips blog Wisebread.com.