Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Marriage advice

chocolates we made, with out-of-season strawberries

In my role as a Frau (wife), I was recently asked for some general marriage advice. Granted, Dear Husband and I have only got 6.5 years of experience in that area--a whole order of magnitude less than my grandparents--but I agreed to share the short essay below. I post it here in honor of Valentine's Day, which DH and I will be celebrating "Eastern Orthodox"-style this weekend. (Before we got married and while we were still living in separate states, we used to wait until Spring Break to celebrate, rather as Eastern Orthodox Christmas and Easter fall a little later than their counterparts in the Western Christian church.)

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Dear Husband and I are high school sweethearts. My friends used to ask how it was that I knew Dear Husband and I were in love and right for each other. Unfortunately, the surest measure I knew then or now of the quality of a relationship is time. If you are still together next year after all the good and the bad, and the year after that, and the year after that—then you have a successful relationship. Of course you should treat each other well, but we have all seen seemingly happy partnerships fall apart. Marriage requires more stick-to-it-tive-ness than Americans are used to exercising, and I hope if/when the two of you ever find the glue between you getting thin, you will turn to your friends for a nudge back together, like the pieces of a plate or bowl you superglue back together after dropping in the sink, because although you could afford a nicer set of dishes, you are used to and still like the one you already have.

One of our coping strategies is that we refer to each other as “partners in life, for life.” That means that we have committed to help each other out with mundane things like household chores, to ensure that each of us can achieve the things we want for our careers and our family. As a church musician, DH is particularly busy during the months of November-December (Christmas season) and April (Easter), so I make sure he gets a meal between rehearsals and mastermind our holiday plans so he doesn’t have to. He does the same for me during the stressful parts of the semester. Because we (usually) manage the little things well, we are individually poised to accomplish big things better. So we joke that although he works several part-time jobs without benefits, DH is my “sugar-daddy” putting me through medical and graduate school; but I’ll return the favor: once I make a physician’s salary, I’m his retirement plan!

A less romantic but more useful measure of the quality of a long-term relationship than time is…your ability to assemble furniture together. This life skill is particularly tested after buying a house, as you finally have the space and an excuse to splurge on a nice set of shelves from IKEA. You know, the kind that look the same from both sides and come with one of those crooked little wrenches and picture instructions without any words? Are you still speaking to each other an hour later? DH and I think we set a record for the 3.5 hours necessary to put together the large, wheeled island in our kitchen from a set of instructions that possessed merely a superficial  resemblance to English. The key to getting through some difficulties in your marriage is to recognize when it is the other person's fault and when it is not. If you two can unite against a common enemy (such as a furniture assembly guide in Engrish), then you really have a strong relationship!

Which brings me to my final point: laughter really is the best medicine. Laugh with each other at each other. Pick your battles, walk away from the unnecessary ones, and use humor to diffuse tense situations—for instance, by talking to bad drivers in a syrupy, sing-song-y voice as if they were stupid puppies: “Did you just cut me off? Yes you did! Yes, you did! Don’t f*** with me today, buddy, I’m on my way home from my in-laws’.”* Read to each other: on picnics, on long car trips, in bed before falling asleep at night. That way, no matter else you do individually, you will always have one thing in common as a conversation-starter. Bonus points for reading something so funny that you have to stop because you’re gasping for air from laughing so hard.

I love being married, and I love being married to Dear Husband. We wish you the same happiness—and intelligible furniture assembly directions.

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So, that's what I know about marriage. In honor of the holiday, I would love to hear your stories and advice as well. Don't worry if you're "late" responding--remember, we're not celebrating until Saturday!

*--I actually have about the best in-laws in the country; I used this as a figure of speech for comedic effect only.

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