My daughter is getting married in two weeks, and I’ve been feeling a tug to share some motherly pearls of wisdom as the big day approaches.
Having a failed marriage behind me, it seems hypocritical to be offering advice (other than don’t marry a duplicitous louse capable of deceiving you for the duration of your marriage, ahem). I know my daughter doesn’t need any no-shit-Sherlock nuggets like “marriage isn’t always 50/50” because she is smart and self-assured and I have no reason to doubt that will continue into her married life.
Still, I’m hoping she can benefit from a bit of what I’ve picked up in my experience. So, instead of marital counsel, I’m simply offering some real-world, been-there-done-that relationship wisdom: woman to woman. Taking a page out of Oprah’s “What I Know For Sure,” here’s what I’ve learned over time about…
Forgiving on a daily basis. Some people think it’s only the big hurts that require the act of forgiveness, but the truth is, it’s the little things that you need to forgive quickly and frequently. I’m talking about the irritants that get under your skin but in the big scheme of things, are merely tiny nuisances resulting from the daily friction of two humans cohabitating. Are there socks on the floor or nail clippings in the sink (again)? Did he eat the last of the leftovers you were saving for lunch? Before it sets you off, take a deep breath and forgive. By all means, mention how it makes you feel, but don’t let it get the best of you, escalate into a fight, or hold it over his head. So let it go, let it goooo. Here’s a tip: instead of focusing on the laundry list of why he bugs you, focus only on his BEST – what you love most about him.
Realizing that resentment has a snowball effect. While the dangers of something small growing into something big might sound contrary to the above, my point is actually about communication. Resentment stems from unmet expectations. If there’s something you want badly but aren’t getting – maybe it’s feeling appreciated, accepted or adored – it can leave you unfulfilled. This is where snowballing resentment picks up steam and leads to feeling hurt, drawing negative conclusions and finally, bitterness and lashing out. Before it reaches that stage, try to think about the source of your resentment and if any (unrealistic, perhaps?) expectations contributed to that snowball.
Owning your emotions. You are responsible for your own happiness. Read and re-read those words. It means that how you respond to situations is completely within your control. It’s no one’s job to make you happy and no one has the total power to make you sad or mad – so stop blaming others (ahem, your significant other) for the way you are feeling. Sometimes you’ll be sad just because you’re feeling sad, and sometimes it’s because you’ve read or heard something depressing, you’re worried about work or family or money, you’re stuck in a dark place in your head, or shark week is in its final approach and the despair, anxiety and chocolate cravings are welling up inside. None of that is your partner’s fault. All emotions have value (remember Inside Out?), but they aren’t merely triggered by another person but how we choose to respond to the situation. When you’re tempted to take your anger or frustration out on your significant other, stop and consider its source before you snap at him.
Putting your partner first* in the bedroom (*most of the time). As we get older, our relationships progress, our bodies change and our lives grow more complex. Sex evolves too, and because the stars will rarely align perfectly and spontaneously the way they used to, you have to make your physical relationship a priority. It won’t always be easy to fall into your lover’s arms, especially when he wants to make love and you are nowhere close to being in the mood, but it’s important to shut the world off and let yourself give in sometimes. Even when (especially when) you don’t feel like it. Here’s something that’s always resonated with me: as much as women need to feel loved to have sex, men need sex to feel loved. So on those days it’s difficult to turn off that busy, multitasking mind, get out of your head and instead, focus on your lover and the sensations of your own body. A few minutes of pleasure will do wonders for your relationship and your personal well being the other 23.5 hours of the day.
Not losing the “me” behind the “we”. Always cherish the things that make you special, including your unique interests. It’s great that you and your beloved share so many things in common and love spending time together, but keep personal space for the hobbies, activities and interests that rejuvenate your love for life. Never let anyone tell you that you’re selfish for wanting to take time for yourself. Separate interests make you more interesting individuals. The only caveat I would add is that your hobbies should bring you joy, enhance your life and your relationship. They should not cause a rift, veer into obsession, be an excuse to get away from one another and worst and most painful of all, used to cover up nefarious activity. Keep doing what you love, and it will help you not to lose sight of who you are. You’re worth it.
Finding your way back to your love story. After eight years together, my daughter and future son-in-law already understand relationships have its ups and downs. But there will be deeper ruts later on; times when you stall out and start to question whether you made the right choice or if you’re with the right person. Heck, you might wonder if you even like that person. That’s the time when you need to make a trip into your mental library and check out the Story of How We Met. Re-read its pages as a reminder of why you chose each other in the first place. There is a reason you have worked hard and invested so much to get to where you are today. Good memories will spark more positive things about one another and those little bricks that laid the groundwork for your relationship. Use it as a path to find your way back together and you’ll realize that you don’t fall in love only once, but in fact, you need to fall in love with each other over and over again.
Being vulnerable. My last and maybe most valuable piece of advice comes from what I’ve learned most not in marriage, but divorce and the years that have followed it. True intimacy with your partner comes only by being emotionally vulnerable. No two ways about it, being honest about the way you feel, your fears and your needs is the glue that will hold it all together. On the flip side, shame and secrets are silent saboteurs that close us off from one another and put up the walls that prevent us from closeness.
Looking back, my marriage always lacked true connection, and as a result of missing out on that level of intimacy, I wasted years feeling lonely, inadequate and unfulfilled. You deserve so much better than this. My advice is to work at being vulnerable as a way of connecting with each other. Be brave and put yourself out there first. Start by realizing that inside, we each want to belong and to feel worthy of love and acceptance. If you and your partner can meet somewhere in the middle with the understanding that we all come from the same place, you can create a safe space to open up and let love in.