Today is my fifteenth wedding anniversary. I really love Dan, and I am proud of how awesome our marriage is. We certainly haven’t killed each other yet. Hell, we haven’t even maimed each other. We have not always been perfect, but we have made two cool kids, and we have always kept it interesting. For two people as weird and intense as Dan and I are, staying together this long is a big accomplishment. I know some people are surprised.
Here we are going in to our reception. I had a big bow on the back of my dress. This is where we met.
When Dan and I got married, we were 25 years old. Now, we’re staring down the barrel of 40. Looking back I’m surprised we didn’t, as 25 year olds, self-destruct just for the heck of it. Now that we are older, we are perhaps surprisingly also wiser. Here are the things we have learned over the years, that helped us stay married and even happy for fifteen years. (Beyond that, you’re on your own. I can’t promise another 15.) Our list does not resemble the one you will find in Cosmo or Ladies’ Home Journal. We have never had a regular date night, nor do we prioritize “communication” or play sex games or see a therapist. He doesn’t bring me flowers every Thursday, I don’t cook his favorite food very often. But we do have some other ideas.
1. Go to bed mad.
The old maxim that you shouldn’t go to bed mad is stupid. Sometimes you need to just go to freakin’ bed. “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath” is prefaced in the Bible by the phrase “Be angry and sin not.” So, who’s to say it doesn’t mean “Stay angry, bitches. Don’t let the sun go down on that awesome fierce wrath of yours.” Seriously. Whoever interpreted this to mean that you should stay up after midnight, tear-stained and petulant, trying to iron out some kind of overtired and breathy accord — was stupid. Shut up, go to bed, let your husband get some sleep. In the morning, eat some pancakes. Everything will seem better, I swear.
2. Laugh if you can.
In any fight, there is one person who is really mad, and one person who isn’t that mad. That person should deflect the fight. Make a joke, do something stupid or corny, make the other person laugh. If the fight is very serious for you and you feel like you really want to plant your flag and die on this hill, fine. Do it. But if you’re fighting for entertainment, or because you’re just reacting, then you be the one to deflect. Fights are bad. Deflecting a fight whenever possible is a good idea. When you’re the one who’s being pissy and raw, and the other person helps you get out of it and brings about peace, that feels fantastic. This was a hard lesson to learn, for me. Letting Dan deflect a fight is the best thing, now. He does it really well.
3. Don’t criticize. Ever.
Here is a fact: Whatever critical thing that you are about to say to your wife is already being loudly articulated in her head. And if it’s true, she already feels like crap about it. Assuming you married someone intelligent enough to like you and sane enough to let you put a ring on it, trust that they are self-aware enough to know when they screwed up. It may feel good to you in that moment to say the critical thing, let it go ringing through the air in all its sonorous correctness, but it will feel awful to hear it. The only, only way it’s beneficial to give your wife criticism of any kind is if you’re absolutely positive she is completely unaware. And you better find the nicest, kindest way possible to tell her. And even then, good luck convincing her. Their recognition of the thing you are helpfully trying to point out will be INHIBITED, not facilitated, by your criticism. And then you’re the asshole. So be careful.
4. Be the mirror.
Your husband is the mirror in which you see yourself. And the things you say to him give him an image of himself too, which he will believe. You want him to believe it, so make it good. Be a mirror that reflects something positive: you’re smart, you’re successful, you’re fantastic in the sack, you’re a great provider, you’re the best. Can you MAKE him any of these things just by telling him he is? I don’t know, but consider this: the alternative really sucks. The things my husband says to me are 1000 times more convincing than anyone else’s opinion on earth. Don’t think he won’t believe you because you’re married and you’re contractually obligated to say nice things. He’ll believe the shitty, insulting things you say, and the gloriously positive things. Listen to Nico, girls:
5. Be proud and brag.
Let your spouse hear you talking about them in glowing terms to other people. Be foolish. Be obvious. It will mean everything. You will stay married forever.
6. Do your own thing.
Dan races bicycles. I write books. I don’t race bicycles or have any desire to race bicycles. He doesn’t write books, nor does he even read the books that I write. Seriously. And I don’t care. My opinion is that he’s the fastest, coolest most awesome bike racer ever. His opinion is that I’m the bestest, coolest writer ever. We don’t have to know all about cycling or writing in order to form these opinions — in fact knowledge of literature or actually reading my book might damage Dan’s opinion of me as “best writer since the dawn of time.” We can still support each other without being all up in the other person’s stuff. Doing your own thing, having your own friends, being completely insanely passionate about something that the other person has no idea, really, about, is awesome. It allows your spouse to be your cheerleader, uncomplicated by knowledge or personal investment. And it means you’ll always have stuff to talk about, because you’re not overlapping all the time. You don’t have to read the same books either. You don’t have to have the same friends.
7. Have kids.
Kids stop you from being as crazy as you want to be. Because when you have kids, you can’t be that crazy.
For example, when I had kids, I stopped smoking. Left to right = Susannah, Joshilyn, Dan, Me.
8. Get really good at sex.
You’ve got all the time in the world to get really really good, not just at sex in general, but at having sex with your one particular husband. You should make it your life’s mission to become the perfect sex machine exactly for him. And he for you. There is no reason to hold back, or be embarrassed, or not ask questions, and get everything working properly. There’s absolutely no excuse for letting years drag on without becoming fully skilled, gifted sex partners for each other. It makes everything so much better. Does talking about this make you uncomfortable? How uncomfortable would it make you to know that your spouse is secretly, silently “just okay” with your sexual performance? Yeah. You want to last fifteen years, remember? That’s a long time to be mildly happy.
Live in different houses. In different parts of the country. Travel. Make it so that you can look back and divide up your life into the years you spent in different cities, or different houses. If you’re feeling stuck geographically or physically, you can confuse yourself into thinking you’re stuck romantically. See your husband in different places, in different contexts, in different countries even. Try it. Take him to a mountaintop and give him another look. Pretty sexy. Take him to a new city and check out his profile. Along the same lines, don’t be afraid to change personally, or let your wife change as a person. Don’t worry about “growing apart.” Be brave and evolve. Become completely different. Don’t gather moss. Stagnation is unattractive.
10. Stop thinking temporarily.
Marriage is not conditional. It is permanent. Your husband will be with you until you die. That is a given. It sounds obvious, but really making it a given is hard. You tend to think in “ifs” and “thens” even when you’ve publicly committed to forever. If he does this, I won’t tolerate it. If I do this, he’ll leave me. If I get fat. If I change jobs. If he says mean things. If he doesn’t pay more attention. It’s natural, especially in the beginning of your marriage, to keep those doubts in your head. But the sooner you can get go of the idea that marriage is temporary, and will end if certain awful conditions are met, the sooner you will let go of all kinds of conflict and stress. Yes, you may find yourself in a horrible situation where it’s absolutely necessary to get a divorce. But going into it with divorce in the back of your mind, even in the way way way back of your mind, is going to cause a lot of unnecessary angst. Accept that you’re going to stay with him. He’s going to stay with you. Inhabit that and figure out how to make THAT work, instead of living with the “what if”s and “in case of”s.
11. Do not put yourself in trouble’s way.
Leave your ex boyfriends and girlfriends alone. I’m sure you’re very trustworthy. Aren’t we all? The thing is, there’s absolutely no reason to test it. Your husband and your marriage are more valuable than any friendship. Any friendship that troubles the marriage should be over immediately. Protect it with knives and teeth, not because it’s fragile but because it’s precious. Don’t ass around with a “hall pass” or a “harmless flirtation.” Adultery isn’t an event, it’s a process with an event at the end. Don’t put your feet on a path that could lead someplace bad.
12. Make a husband pact with your friends.
The husband pact says this: I promise to listen to you complain about your husband even in the most dire terms, without it affecting my good opinion of him. I will agree with your harshest criticism, accept your gloomiest predictions. I will nod and furrow my brow and sigh when you describe him as a hideous ogre. Then when your fight is over and love shines again like a beautiful sunbeam in your life, I promise to forget everything you said and regard him as the most charming of princes once more. The husband pact is very useful because you want to be able to vent to your friend without having her actually start hating your husband. Because you don’t really mean all those things you say. And she, the swearer of the pact, knows this.
13. Bitch to his mother, not yours.
This is one I did read somewhere in a magazine, and it’s totally true. His mother will forgive him. Yours never will. If you’re a man, bitch to your friends. They expect it.
14. Be loyal.
All the crap you read in magazines about honesty, sense of humor, communication, sensitivity, date nights, couples weekends, blah blah blah can be trumped by one word: loyalty. You and your spouse are a team of two. It is you against the world. No one else is allowed on the team, and no one else will ever understand the team’s rules. This is okay. The team is not adversarial, the team does not tear its members down, the team does not sabotage the team’s success. Teammates work constantly to help and better their teammates. Loyalty means you put the other person in your marriage first all the time, and you let them put you first. Loyalty means subverting your whims or desires of the moment to better meet your spouse’s whims or desires, with the full understanding and expectation that they will be doing the same. This is the heart of everything, and it is a tricky balance. Sometimes it sways one way and some the other. Sometimes he gets to be crazy, sometimes it’s your turn. Sometimes she’s in the spotlight, sometimes you. Ups and downs, ultimately, don’t matter because the team endures.
15. Trust the person you married.
Believe me when I tell you: I love this dude.
For two people who are trying to help each other, it can almost be harder to let the other person help you than it is to be the one who’s helping. It can be harder to let the other person deflect the fight than to be the one deflecting. It can be harder to believe that your husband is fully committed to a lifetime of marriage than to commit yourself. Harder to change yourself than to let the other person change. Harder to be loved than to love. Weird, but true. I’m saying this to everyone who’s newly married, and to myself: trust that person. Love them completely and let them love you. If it all goes to seed, it’s going to hurt either way. Better to have gone into it full throttle. Full throttle marriage is a thrilling ride.