Don’t be a dick, and other unsolicited advice for a happy marriage
Today is our two year wedding anniversary (hooray!) and as I reflect on the past 24 months, look through the wedding album and think about putting my wedding dress on to see if it still fits, I thought I'd share some humble words of wisdom that have helped us over the last two years, some of which was given to me from people who have been winning at marriage since long before I was even born and I'm confident they know what they're talking about. Whether you're married, in a civil partnership, a long term relationship, or have got something entirely different going on, a little reminder about not being dick is sometimes exactly what we need to help us muddle along successfully with the human of our choice.
1. Appreciate each other. Say thank you for the big and the little things, because one thing human beings will never tire of is being valued. Even if it’s simply, “Thank you for taking the bins out.” That is golden. 2. Feel grateful for what you have, not envious of what you don’t. Who cares if someone else’s house is bigger, their car is swankier, their partner earns more money than yours. That mentality is exhausting, and you will never be happy if you always want more. Be thankful, be humble and remember: The grass is always greener….than concrete. 3. Pull your weight. You’re two married adults with an infinite list of shit that needs doing. Just get it done. It might not be an equal division of task, but an equal division of time is only fair. Nobody signed up to be a house elf. 4. It’s the little things that count. You don’t have to be constantly showered with flowers and gifts to feel loved, or wined and dined in fancy restaurants. I feel loved when Rene gets my vitamins out of the cupboard every morning because he knows I always forget, and because he will always tell me if I’ve got something in my teeth, or a wispy hair growing out of the side of my face. It’s good to know he’s got my back. 5. When somebody does something wrong, don’t forget all the things they did right. (This only really applies to the minor faux pas: dropping a favourite mug, being a bit late, getting gloss paint on the carpet, forgetting to replace the loo roll. Not so much for the devastating, unforgivable fuckups. In the latter case, do what you’ve gotta do I suppose.) 6. Bodies age, so celebrate the things that have a chance of still being the same when you’re seventy five. Their humour, their sharp mind, their kindness, their whimsical spirit. There’s a lot more longevity in those things than your perky boobs and a full head of hair (besides, as a wise man once said, if you have good thoughts, they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.) 7. Know when to say you’re sorry. We’ve all got it in us to be selfish at times, to say mean things, or to be insensitive or bad tempered or unreasonable. We can all be a bit of a dick. But don’t be even more of a dick by refusing to apologise when you know you’ve been a dick. Because there are only three outcomes when this happens: a) Nobody apologises, but it hangs there between you like an awkward elephant in the room and it makes one or both people feel really sad or resentful about it. b) Nobody apologises and you stay mad at each other forever, silently seething. Or c) The other person apologises for something they didn’t even do, just because they feel that somebody HAS to apologise in order to move on with life. But you all know that they shouldn’t be the ones apologising, because they weren’t the ones being a dick in the first place. That’s not cool at all. In short: just don’t be a dick. 8. Before speaking, think: Is it true, is it necessary, is it kind? If it’s none of these things, take a deep breath, be the bigger person and keep it to yourself. (Even if, for example, one of you is mopping the floor and there’s so much excess water that no one is going to be able to walk through the kitchen for about three years without getting their socks wet, but you know that the other person is only trying to be helpful. In this situation, it might be in the interests of everyone to just walk away, put your slippers on, and let them get on with it without criticising. For example.) 9. The free days out are the best days out. A trip to the beach, a stroll through the woods, a hike up a mountain, a picnic in the park on a sunny day. You don’t have to spend a fortune for things to feel magical. Just go outside, unplug from technology, talk. 10. It’s not all about you. My worst habit as a wife / general human being is to feel that I am at the centre of everything. Cue: defensive responses of, “It’s not MY fault / I didn’t DO anything / don’t take it out on ME” whenever my husband is in a bad mood. I’m working on this. I’m learning that just because someone’s annoyed AROUND you, it doesn’t mean they’re annoyed AT you, and you definitely shouldn’t let it disrupt your zen (see number 8 for tips on how not to exacerbate these situations). 11. Spend time apart. Go and do stuff on your own. Talk to other people, see things, meet up with friends, learn something new. Have something that’s just yours. You will both feel richer for it, and your conversations will be infinitely more interesting when the other person can’t respond with, “I know. I was there.” 12. Play to your strengths. I am really good at packing picnics, planning travel itineraries and creating handmade cards for noteworthy occasions, but less good at making financial decisions. Rene is excellent at the latter, as well as navigating, planning birthday surprises and cleaning grime off the back of the toilet, but less good at mopping the floors (see number 8 again). Together, we’ve got everything covered. 13. Be affectionate! Just twenty seconds of wanted, physical human contact releases a surge in the happy hormone oxytocin. That’s why those, tight enveloping hugs with a loved one and a reassuring hand squeeze feel so bloody amazing: you might as well be taking drugs (but, y’know, drugs that definitely won’t have a detrimental effect on anyone’s health). Oxytocin also increases trust and empathy and reduces stress and fear, so snuggle away, people! Snuggle away! It’s the secret to a long and happy life together. I’m sure I’ve missed a few. Would anyone care to add their own?