Marriage: How I Stay Married

Okay.  Whew.

Let me just start by saying that I've been divorced before.  (Engaged at 16, married at 18, separated at 19, divorced at 21.  Did you catch all of that?)  My husband has been divorced before.  Heck, my own parents have - technically speaking - seven separate divorces between them.  (Okay, so they were married twice to each other, so maybe that doesn't count.)  All of my grandparents were divorced.  Even a great-grandparent of mine divorced his first wife.  Let's just say that I am very familiar with divorce.

Yet I love being married!  I believe in marriage.  I remember wanting to be married since I was a kid. In fact, I think that marriage is so awesome that I would wish it for everyone who would want it.  It's a precious gift to be so entwined and committed to another human being in a really genuine - and sometimes an emotionally, financially, and socially messy - way.  It's a gift to grow a family with someone, to grow old with someone, and to be united with someone whom you can count on (as much as you can count on anything in life) to love and cherish you forever.

But the question remains: now that I have found the most wonderful person to spend the rest of my life with, how do I keep that alive?  How do I prevent my marriage from becoming another statistic? 

As if I had all the answers to this.  (You're asking me, who's been divorced?  Ha!)  Well, here's how I do it... I do only what I know how to do.

1. Being grateful for my spouse. 

Rather than complaining about all of the stuff my spouse does or doesn't do, I've tried to accentuate the positive and see what he does do incredibly well.  It's not only the big things ("He's a great dad," "He's responsible with money and works hard," "He's very honest,"), but the little things ("He brings me coffee in bed every morning," "He does chores without being asked,"), or the not-often-noticed things ("He is law-abiding," "He respects women," "He doesn't get jealous," "He never criticizes my looks," and so forth).  Making a laundry list of my husband's good qualities makes me realize how awesome he is.  No, it doesn't mean that everything is perfect or that I should ignore the mistakes, but that, as a whole, I am extremely lucky.

2. Ignoring the small stuff.

So, my husband still leaves clothes lying around, and I am the one always putting away the laundry.  I also am always the one who cleans the bathroom, sweeps the floor, and organizes the closets.  Other than asking/reminding (not "nagging") him to do certain things, I can only shrug.  After all, I am the one who leaves him to cook a decent dinner, to wake up with the children in the morning, to clear out the jungle-like backyard, and to pick up wherever I left off, whether it's with washing the dishes or washing the kids.  If he can ignore the small stuff, then so can I.  The underlying message is: pick your battles.

3. Holding both of us to a high standard.

When I say this, I am not referring to the little things (see above).  I do mean a high standard when it comes to the big things, like being honest and respectful and loyal to one another.  Some things don't deserve compromise.  I wouldn't expect more of him than I would of myself. I think it's a sign of deep respect when you trust someone so much that you would expect the best.  Going along with this high standard: we have to insist on trusting each other to do the right thing, even when no one is looking.

4. Making my spouse my best friend.

Yeah, I know it's a dumb cliche, but bear with me.  I think that my husband is pretty darn neat.  I would admire him even if we weren't a couple.  He's smart, responsible, and kind.  He listens to everything I have to say, even if (I am sure) some of it must annoy him to death.  We communicate pretty openly; this leads to arguments, sometimes, but it also means that we also know where we stand with each other.  There is no guessing, no manipulating, no game-playing with us.  I actually really want to spend my free time with him, though not to the exclusion of other things that I enjoy.  In other words, he is my best friend.  That works well for us! 

The rules we break:

1. Not going to bed angry.

Whoops.  Yeah, that's happened.  We'll have a late-night argument.  He'll go to sleep, and I'll stay awake and pout in another room.  I am not suggesting that this is a productive or mature way of handling things on my part, but sometimes, sleep is really what people need.  The only thing worse than arguing is arguing when you are cranky and full of the burden of the long day.  When you can sleep on it and wait until morning to "finish" the argument, you might then realize how silly it was in the first place.

2. Putting your spouse above your children.

This is controversial because I have many friends who would disagree with me: they say that it's always important to put your spouse first, because after all, you will be with your spouse for a lifetime (and made a vow for that), and if you don't preserve your marriage, it could hurt the family anyway.  However, my position is that children should come first, period.  They didn't ask to be born, and they have very little choice in the decisions we make for them.  They are more vulnerable, and thus, we must always put their needs ahead of ours.  Fortunately, my spouse agrees on this, and never asks me to put him ahead of our children. Yes, my spouse and I still honor each other, but for us, it works best if we remember who needs us the most.

3. Being stereotypically "romantic" to keep the spark alive.

I guess it depends on what one defines as romantic.  If "romantic" means buying gifts for each other or dressing in sexy clothes or going for a weekend away, then we are horrible at being romantic.  Besides my engagement ring, I can't think of a single piece of jewelry that my husband has ever purchased for me, or any gift, for that matter.  However, what I define as romantic includes a good sense of humor, intelligent conversation over a cup of tea, being an awesome parent, and so forth.  Further, he designed and sewed (by hand) our wedding clothes himself, so I have to give him major props.  He also wrote me some really romantic poetry when we were dating.  (It was well-written!  Be still, my heart!)

4. Considering divorce as an option if things don't work out.

Honestly, even in those moments when I am really angry to the point of wanting to break something (rare, but it happens), I've never for a moment thought about divorce.  Really, I haven't.  We've never brought up possibly ending our relationship. Why even threaten something that we wouldn't want?  Things can't possibly be that bad. 

Yes, in some relationships, things have gotten that bad, and for those, it is appropriate (or even necessary) to consider divorce as a possible or preferable option.  (I am thinking of things like abuse, unrepentant adultery, major personality or criminal problems... you get the picture.)  But to divorce a good person who is my best friend?  I can't even wrap my head around that possibility.  In some ways, perhaps the past divorces have actually protected us... we don't ever want to go through that again.  Good marriage is too precious.

So, this is how we stay married: we love and honor our best friend.  We do the Golden Rule thing (or at least, we try).  We remember why we got married in the first place.  We make the best of things.  We listen to each other.  We stop trying to win the game, and just enjoy playing it.  We keep trying.