1. Marriage isn’t always equal.
Marriage isn’t perfect balance. It’s a balancing act. At times you’ll shoulder more of the household chores or work longer hours or change more diapers. Then things will change. Sometimes your relationship will be a 50/50 split. Other times it will be 10/90. Be flexible. This is hard because when you have the flu and you still have to get up and get the kid to school and walk the dog because your husband is on a business trip, you’re going to be pissed off. I speak from experience. It’s going to feel unfair. It is, but marriages aren’t fair every minute – they can’t be. The goal is to have a marriage that’s fair in the long run.
2. Teach your partner how to treat you.
The first few years of marriage are when you learn how to treat each other. You discover who can handle yelling and who needs space before you hash out a problem. It’s when you must stand up for yourself in a loving way and learn to ask for what you want and what you expect. If you don’t, you’ll spend the rest of your life unhappy that your partner can’t read your mind and resentful that he or she doesn’t communicate the way you’d like.
3. Separate sinks.
I cannot stress this enough. I don’t much care about separate bank accounts or having your own stash of money, but there’s something important about having space to brush your teeth. For that matter, separate TVs so you can watch Orange Is the New Black while he tunes into True Detective wouldn’t hurt either.
4. Get your finances in order.
This bit of wisdom comes from my friend T who has dealt with nearly every financial scenario you can imagine. She appreciates the romance of the early years of marriage; she just doesn’t want passion to preclude practicality. Get out of debt, including student loans. Rent, don’t buy (yet). Start long- and short-term savings accounts that can’t be tapped into unless both you and your spouse agree. And budget, budget, budget.
5. You married a person, not a paragon.
Accept the person you married, celebrate the things you love, and as my neighbor K says, “Try not to think about the other things.” This does not mean you can’t be irritated by your partner’s annoying habits or flaws. It does mean that you have to accept your partner for who he or she is, right now, sitting across from you at the dinner table texting instead of talking to you. If this really bothers you, say something, but remember we are all imperfect. Learn to deal.
6. Use your words.
Words are powerful things. Criticism is destructive and hurtful, but loving and honest observations are necessary if you’re really going to communicate with your partner. Before you say something critical or challenging, ask yourself why you’re saying it, what you hope to accomplish by saying it and how you would feel if it was said to you. If your words are meant to explain, gain understanding, work toward a common goal or meaningful change, heal, or grow, go ahead. Otherwise, zip it.
7. Be a little brave.
Marriage is a leap of faith, a tumbling into the unknown with another person for all the days of your life. Trust that the person you’re jumping off the cliff with believes in you, loves you and wants what’s best for you.
8. Wait to have kids.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. If you marry young (or youngish), wait to have kids. Give yourself some time to learn to be a married couple before you add infants to the mix. My friend M encourages people to build the foundation for their marriages without distractions so that when the distractions come, they’re ready for them.
9. You’re a team. Act like it.
You got into this legally recognized union for a reason, and I hope part of it was to have a partner with whom you can face all of life’s challenges. Remember that when things get rough. If you can’t or won’t work together, what’s the point of being married? Don’t put each other down, in public or in private. As another friend told me, “You want to always have one person on your side no matter what – and it’s awesome and rewarding and sexy when that person is the person you married.”
10. There is no perfect marriage.
Everyone’s marriage is different because the people in it are different. If you want a “traditional” marriage, go for it. If you want to live in separate houses connected by an underground tunnel and see each other only on weekends, that’s fine too. Don’t let other people judge or undermine your relationship because they aren’t in it. That being said, if something feels wrong to you, it is. Don’t accept a marriage that doesn’t fulfill you because it looks good to outsiders.