Happy February everyone! Oh yes, the month of Valentines and love. It’s also the month of our my wedding anniversary. This February 15, Smitty and I will be married 28 years. Wow. That’s more than half of my life! I’ve always considered anniversaries much more significant holidays than birthdays. In today’s world of disposable marriages, I am always in awe of those who stay married despite the common ups and downs of doing so. It hasn’t always been easy for me and Smitty, but with God as the third person in our marriage we have somehow stayed together and I hope we always do.
Just last week we celebrated our anniversary in Las Vegas when I flew out to meet him after his week-long business trade show. Yes we gambled, ate well, and saw a fabulous show (Cirque de Soleil’s “LOVE”), the highlight was perhaps a long white limo. Moving on a suggestion from my friend Ana, I surprised Smitty with a limo ride to the famous Little White Chapel in Vegas where we renewed our vows. It was corny, but it was also cool.
The next day we were sitting at the lobby bar at Paris watching a group of young men clearly celebrating a bachelor party. We ended up befriending them and at one point the groom sat down with us and asked us the secret to staying married. Hmmmm, we thought, what is the secret? Tolerance? Acceptance? Forgiveness? Love? Humor? All of the above?
Today, as I’m catching up with life on this quiet Saturday, I remember to fulfill my New Year’s Resolution of reading a chapter a month of two books, one of which is Gretchen Rubin’s “The Happiness Project.” Amazingly, February’s topic is marriage. Get out! Really?
Rubin writes about her own marriage, marriage myths and truths, and marriage tips. I found the tips – quit nagging, don’t expect praise or appreciation, fight right, no dumping, and give proofs of love – fascinating and thought-provoking.
Say No to Nagging
Just the word nagging is yucky so it should come as no surprise that nagging doesn’t work. End of story. It’s important, Rubin says, for a couple to remember that tasks don’t have to be done on their own personal schedules. If it’s really important for something to get done at a certain time for you, do the task yourself. Not only will you enjoy not having to nag, the job will be done, which will lead to your happiness! It’s also important to remember that life in a marriage is not always fair. Couples often get in the habit of what’s called “unconscious overclaiming,” where we overestimate our contributions. Just do your job and don’t keep score or track of what your spouse is doing. It all evens out in the end.
Learn to Live Without Praise
Keeping score can also lead to a constant need of praise and appreciation. Rubin says “get over it.” Expecting what she calls “gold stars” for your efforts is probably a sign of either vanity, insecurity, or both. What’s amazing is that those who tend to need praise are the very ones who are the worst at giving it! Rubin suggests doing things for yourself, not for the “team” or for your spouse. What sounds a bit selfish actually isn’t. If you tell yourself you cleaned the kitchen for you, or you go to that job for you, you won’t need praise and you will be proud of yourself.
Still, couples will inevitably fight. The key is, fighting right. How a couple fights matters way more than how often they fight. Key number one: if you’re going to fight, only tackle one issue at a time. Don’t let arguing over finances spill into an disagreement over weekend plans. Also, avoid saying things like “you never” and “you always.” Finally, know when and how to bring an argument to a successful end. Don’t let it go on for hours and don’t end it without resolving it. Simply saying “I don’t want to talk about it anymore” will only make it fester and make matters worse.
Don’t Be a Dumper
According to Rubin, one sure way to add fuel to the destructive fire is to forever “dump” on your spouse. You know, those desires to unload your insecurities and struggles on your husband or wife. Come to find out, spouses just don’t want to hear it. Yes, bring major issues and worries to light if you need genuine support or are seeking true advice, but the “my back hurts today” or “Sally at work annoyed me again today” grumblings will more than likely fall on deaf ears. This fact though, is not the negative result. The negative result is the dumper always feeling unloved or ignored. Letting off steam is not beneficial at all, in fact, Rubin notes that studies show expressing anger doesn’t relieve it, but instead amplifies it. By simply refraining from being a constant dumper, you personally eliminate your odds of feeling angry. Again, do it for yourself. And , put a real effort into sharing happy stories with your hubby or wife, not just woes and worries. Keep in mind that it takes five positive marital actions to offset one destructive action.
It’s also important to remember that men and women simply see things differently. Remember, men are from Mars and women are from Venus, right? A female generally has more feelings of empathy then her male counterpart and men don’t want to listen if they don’t feel they can “fix it.” Knowing your wife is sensitive may help a husband listen more attentively and knowing her husband just isn’t good at doing so may give her a new perspective.
When asked the secret to a happy marriage, so many say “happy wife, happy life.” Even the pastor at our Vegas vow renewals said so. But, even if “momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy” is somewhat true, momma needs to make sure she is happy inside. True happiness has a very strong influence on marriages, as happy people are more forgiving, helpful and tolerant, while unhappy people are more defensive, withdrawn, and self-absorbed.
Show Them the Love
Part of the vows I wrote in Vegas included the line “I promise to love you even when I don’t like you.” That is sometimes a tough one to show…not feel, but show. Whatever you feel in your heart others will only see in your actions. It’s imperative that spouses show love to one other…often. This can be anything from an “I love you” as you walk out the door in the morning, to a goodnight kiss, to a kind or email, or to complimenting them in front of others. That last one is perhaps way underused but oh so powerful. Tell your spouse you love them. It’s a marriage must!
I’m a hugger. Smitty is not. Hugging relieves stress and creates bonding, so from now on, I’m going to hug for me. I like hugs so I’m going to give them. After all, every time you give a hug you get a hug!
When we were in Vegas, I bought a beautiful bracelet as an anniversary present. I love it and cherish it, but something just as meaningful happened yesterday. I was doing something in the kitchen and Smitty was in his chair watching golf. Out of the blue he said “I really liked that wedding thing you did in Vegas.” Hello! Scoop me off the floor! Those simple words made my day.
Hugging and kissing are sure fire ways to show love, but in marriage, thoughtfulness trumps lavishness. Small gestures often mean just as much as grand ones. It’s those tiny little treats and courtesies that keep a marriage alive, but so often spouses take each other for granted. Why is it we are so considerate to everyone in our lives but take everything out on our spouses, or worse, ignore them and their needs?
So, the secret to a happy marriage? There really is no one full-proof way. It’s basically a puzzle you constantly work at putting together. Father Pretto, who married us, told us to never go to bed mad. I think those who are happiest married are those who are each other’s best friends. BFFs enjoy being together, laugh together, and cry together. Try to be more grateful, more easy going, more enthusiastic, and more fun. Be less negative, angry, and irritable.
It’s important to incorporate a no snapping (one of my weaknesses), no criticism and no nagging atmosphere in your home, and I think it’s also essential to add simple silliness to your marriage. In my Vegas vows I of course promised to support and respect Smitty, but I also promised not to dry his golf shirts or cook with mushrooms if he promised to take out the trash and to not walk in front of me!
Spending quality time together is also imperative. Our friends Doc and MB have had a Thursday evening date night for going on 20 years now. I totally admire their doing so, but Smitty and I are homebodies. I would rather watch a great football game or movie with him then try to think of something to do once-a-week. Whatever works for the two of you, do that. I really like the idea from Rubin’s book of having one outside activity you do together (golf, tennis, running, etc.) and one inside game.
Finally, although it’s easy to focus on the annoying things about your spouse, try instead to think about the things you actually like about him or her. Even if it’s just something like “he has a full head of hair” or “she can cook mean lasagna.” Rubin talks about this in her book and really woke me up when she said to consider how you would feel if your spouse physically or mentally couldn’t do those things that bother you. Gulp.
Happy and successful couple ultimately boast mutual trust and respect and shared interests and values. The “3 C’s” come into constant play: commitment, communication and compassion. In the end, it’s all about commitment. Those vows you said are binding words. No one said marriage would be easy or even fair. It’s what you make it. It is more than the vow you once made, it is a choice you make every day.