At the wedding supper or the rehearsal dinner, older married guests are sometimes asked to tell the couple their secret to a long and happy marriage. I have heard many answers, and here are my two favorites.
The secret to a happy marriage is. . . always wear comfortable shoes!
The secret is, go into it with both eyes open. And for the rest of your life, keep one eye shut.
I like the first for its immediate practicality, and the second because it’s a way of saying, “always give your beloved the benefit of the doubt.”
But another practical secret is, learn how to fight. The last thing any engaged couple wants to think about is fighting. But what if you were given the tools to fight fairly, to argue things out in an agreeable fashion so that both of you grew closer together as a team? Wouldn't you want to spend some time thinking about it?
My first husband and I never disagreed. We never fought. At the time I thought it was because we were perfectly aligned, but in retrospect, I stuffed parts of myself away so they wouldn’t upset him, or upset the delicate balance we had attained. When these hidden parts naturally began to assert themselves, the balance between us was severely upset, and he was (rightly) kind of shocked at what was happening. By the time we had our first real disagreement, the marriage had already been burdened with too much assumption, and too much resentment. I didn’t have tools to fight fairly, and neither did he. Everything fell apart and couldn’t be repaired.
While dating my current husband, we chanced on a free workshop in communication as a married couple, and went to it. Boy, am I glad we did.
The workshop presenters worked from this excellent book, Fighting for Your Marriage. This book is easy to read and covers not only conflict but also spirituality, sensuality, and forgiveness. Any couple can make good use of the wisdom of its authors.
My favorite technique from this book is how to give each other time to fully talk without interrupting to blame or problem-solve. The authors actually hand out a piece of linoleum in their workshops so that the Speaker literally “holds the floor,” but we can use anything, such as a pen or a book. After the Speaker is through, s/he hands the floor to the Listener, who then gets a chance to speak. In this kind of discussion, no-one rushes to find a solution until each person has said everything burdening their mind and heart. It is remarkable how much helpful information reveals itself when two people fully articulate a challenging issue.
I don’t regret a single moment from my first marriage, which lasted nearly thirteen years. I'm especially grateful for the gift of my daughter from that union. But the marriage we built was riddled with assumptions and problems, and when it was tested, it collapsed in a terribly painful way.
I never expected to fall in love again, but I did. This time, I resolved to do my part differently from the start.
The first marriage’s courtship and engagement period: six weeks. Lots of great conversations in bars, large parties with friends, and many joints shared on the benches in North Beach’s Washington Square.
The second courtship took two years, then an engagement of six months. I was sober. We, too, had great conversations together while walking, in cafes, going on adventures, doing stuff around the house. A friend mentioned a book that turned out to be a pre-wedding gem, because it got us actually talking about us, about stuff that would naturally come up the longer we lived together.
That book is Ten Great Dates Before You Say I Do (Zondervan, 2003). While the authors approached it with a distinctly Christian perspective, the information and process can be valuable to everyone. I’m recommending this book to you.
Many couples do premarital counseling. These talking dates are a way to dive into the same kinds of issues. My betrothed and I went out on ten Thursday night dates after separately doing a page or two of homework.
The homework helped us to sort out our expectations and differences. We talked about where we each came from, our talking style, the ways in which we showed love. (I’m really glad about that last one, because I know that his changing the oil in my car is pretty darned romantic, as is my folding his laundry.)
We talked about really awkward, difficult things like money issues and debts, and sex. We talked about how we’d try to solve problems together, and endure crises and old age together. How we’d handle the housework, our nearly grown children, and our different faiths. Our similar and sometimes very different ideas of fun vacations.
The ten years we’ve been married have slipped by so fast in an atmosphere of trust and enjoyment. Those Thursday dates had a lot to do with it.
Here are some thoughts about weddings, writing, and the world. Enjoy.