Married women - give a newlywed man your best marriage advice
March 21, 2013 5:05 PM   Subscribe

I'm a 34-year-old man, married for six months to my 33-year-old wife. Everything is perfect right now, but I realize that things can change. Life happens. Obviously, I want it to stay as happy as possible for as long as we're together. So what I'd like are tips on how to maintain it from the female point of view. If you have a number of years of successful marriage under your belt, what has your husband done right all this time?

To give you a sense of where my wife and I are at: We've been together for two years. We have a strong, mature, respectful marriage. We're crazy happy and in love and it's disgusting. We got married because of love, nothing more. Neither of us was searching out a marriage partner and we were both content to remain unmarried unless we found the perfect partner, so we 're quite fortunate. We have the same job, so professionally there doesn't seem to be any potential for trouble. We love our jobs, but we're both of the mind that it's just a paycheque and neither of us wants it to become all-consuming. And most importantly, neither of us wants kids. On that point, I know that things can change and we're both open to the possibility of one of us changing our mind in a few years and if that happens we've agreed to be completely honest about it. But for now, we like spending our money on ourselves and sleeping in on weekends. We don't have any money problems (our only debt is our mortgage, and it's very much under control) and to the extent that we ever fight, it's always about something stupid and minor and we always make up.

So things are all excellent and happy and blissful and blah blah blah. But I know that things change. So please, hit me with ways that I can ensure that this marriage stays as strong as possible for as many years as possible.
posted by fso to Human Relations (35 answers total) 80 users marked this as a favorite
Be really, really, really nice to each other. Always assume the best of intentions. Never compare what/how much she's doing to what/how much you're doing. Learn to communicate openly and tell each other your needs.

I don't think marriage HAS to be hard -- sometimes, yeah, it sucks when you both really want things that can't be reconciled. But it sounds like you should just keep doing what you're doing and you'll be fine.
posted by chickenmagazine at 5:12 PM on March 21, 2013 [18 favorites]

Once in a while, do something just because your spouse wants you to do it even though you don't understand. She should do this too.
posted by BibiRose at 5:33 PM on March 21, 2013 [11 favorites]

The most valuable lesson I ever got from my parents (who were each second-timers) was to be careful what you say when you're angry. You can say things that are terribly unintentionally cutting with the best of intentions: a lesson I learned in spades with my ex.

I also never rat out my spouse to friends in any way that's even slightly cruel. Say positive things and keep your dirty laundry, whatever it may be, to yourself. This was so important to me after my experiences with my ex that we wrote it into our vows when I remarried.

Also, seconding what chickenmagazine said about not competing. My experience with that is also very negative.

(I've been remarried for almost 13 years.)
posted by immlass at 5:35 PM on March 21, 2013 [15 favorites]

Don't seethe. Almost all of the fighty couples I see around me fight more because of tiny resentments that build over time, moreso than actual differences in opinion. Don't let that shit build up. Talk about things that bother you as they're happening, and always assume the best of your wife - that she loves you, would never try to hurt you, and is always doing her best.

I've been in a happy relationship for 19 years this weekend, and while it's always been good, it's really been great since I started only caring about the stuff that really, really matters. In general, our relationship is so great because it's based upon honesty, respect, communication, and letting the other person just be who they are.
posted by something something at 5:35 PM on March 21, 2013 [8 favorites]

The female POV isn't really different from the male POV, in terms of married happiness. Be decent, be honest, face conflict and crisis with as much courage as you can muster. Din't let problems fester, but also learn to forgive when it's not worth fighting over.

Schedule dates when things get busy and you both feel dull and lonely.
posted by emjaybee at 5:47 PM on March 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

Sex twice a week.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:49 PM on March 21, 2013 [5 favorites]

Be kind to one another. Your commitment to the marriage will help a lot. Ask her what she likes. If she likes romance, and you don't think of it, put important dates and a few random dates in your calendar to bring flowers, bottle of champagne, card, etc., home. Support her when times are tough, lean on her when you need to, appreciate her, and Listen.

John Gottman has done a lot of research, and has recommendations on what makes a marriage successful. or not.

or not:
posted by theora55 at 5:50 PM on March 21, 2013 [10 favorites]

Do not attribute to malice anything that could be just as easily stupidity.

Stay connected to each other, be it with sex, silly in jokes, times just hanging out together going for a walk and watching movies.

Always have your partners back, at least in public. You can tell them what an idiot they were when they get home, but you should always be the person that has their back in public.
posted by wwax at 6:01 PM on March 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

Every once in awhile, when it's not your turn, do the dishes for your spouse. I learned that on metafilter, and I think it's really, really great advice.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:03 PM on March 21, 2013 [6 favorites]

Laugh together. A lot.

Take the time each day to talk to each other and just listen. No matter what chaos is going on around you, take that time to connect with each other. Even 10 minutes can go a long way.

Remember how incredibly fortunate you are to have found and married this person - don't take them for granted.
posted by Leezie at 6:05 PM on March 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

Male about the same age, married 11+ years.

Understand there are things you won't understand about your spouse. The important thing is to simply take those things at face value and respect them.

Never, ever mention divorce in an argument.

Apologize for your bad behavior. Your spouse will probably end up doing the same.

Sometimes you have to feign interest in what your spouse is saying. It's not just about being polite here.

Thank your spouse for the ordinary things she does for you, e.g. making supper.

You may find someone more attractive than your spouse over time. (There are lots of people in the world.) Remember the closeness you have with your spouse, her great and endearing traits. Think: Who is to say you'd have that with this other woman? Who is to say you'd even be able to stand living with her?

Get out of the house, and date your spouse. This gets hard with kids, and occasionally you have to make an effort.

Think of marriage as an ocean voyage. Recalibrate, patch cracks if they appear. Remember: You never abandon ship unless all's lost.
posted by whitebird at 6:08 PM on March 21, 2013 [30 favorites]

Don't assume there is a system. Pay attention to what the other person is saying. Be nice. If it doesn't matter, it doesn't matter. If you are wrong, just admit it. If you are right, shut the hell up. Sore losers are one thing, but winners who rub it in are the worst.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 6:12 PM on March 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

I thought this was good advice. Married for4.5 years now.
posted by bananafish at 6:13 PM on March 21, 2013 [7 favorites]

1. Freely say, "You're right; I never thought of it that way."

2. Realize that your wife is your primary family now, not your parents. You should have her back in all cases. SHE takes precedence over your mother, in all cases.
posted by BostonTerrier at 6:45 PM on March 21, 2013 [18 favorites]

Compliment and complement each other.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:34 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Say thank you for everything, from doing the dishes to bringing home takeout.
Remember to do small things for her, like doing the dishes or bringing home takeout.
If something bothers you, talk about it before it builds up and becomes an angry thing.
Neither of you are psychic: state your expectations.
Never, ever say "FINE."
If you do get angry, don't hold on to it. Being happy is more important than being right: make your point and let it go.
Sex is important, but no sex is not the end of the world. Mutual comfort, respect and trust all beat out sex in the long run.
Don't let money trouble kick you in the happy.

Ten+ years together and ridiculously happy.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 9:07 PM on March 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Stay interesting and interested.
posted by Lynsey at 9:18 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Accept the ebb and flow of all things, including marriage, sex, career, money, energy, attraction. Nothing is more likely to kill those things dead than panicking during an ebb and trying to force a flow while flailing at your partner and predicting dire things.

Even so, if there is a problem address it before it's a crisis. Optimism is lovely but it doesn't actually fix anything.

Listen to what she's saying, and what she isn't saying, and what she is saying with her actions as well.

Never assume that because you're egalitarian that she isn't suffering under sexist BS about the relationship.

She is your primary family now (admittedly this isn't what is in practice in my relationship but it is a huge point of contention that is only mitigated by the fact that his brother does genuinely love me and we hang out - when that wasn't the case it was awful).
posted by geek anachronism at 10:35 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Something I don't hear very often is: don't denigrate marriage, or your wife, in public. I see a lot of people doing this in the name of humour, making jokes about the ball and chain, She Who Must Be Obeyed, blow jobs going out the window when the wedding band went on the finger, etc. It's not funny, and it's a sort of entry pass into a really distasteful boys club.

Get help, early and with enthusiasm, if you need it. It's okay to not come to marriage with all of the communication skills you need. It isn't okay to not go get them, and you do not need to be in crisis to do so.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:39 PM on March 21, 2013 [26 favorites]

Make sure to share household duties truly equally and if it something that becomes an issue, invest in someone to come do it for you (such as gardeners, maids and dog walkers). Really think about what goes into making your household run, all the moving parts, and take ownership of half of the work. Do not make excuses about not knowing how to clean something or do housework. Treat your wife as an equal partner when it comes to house work.
posted by dottiechang at 1:47 AM on March 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

Seconding dottiechang and I'd go even further. Do more than what you think are 50% of the household work. Women are socialized to take care of many things that might not be visible or acknowledged, like tidying up as they walk about the house, wiping surfaces, planning and keeping track of what needs to be done, bought, fixed, whose birthday is coming up and what presents to get, etc. Wifework still is a thing.
posted by meijusa at 2:17 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Buy a dishwasher.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 3:22 AM on March 22, 2013 [7 favorites]

Ignore precedent, especially in the future tense (e.g., "If I let her get away with this, then she'll always...") and when it comes to kids ("You have always said you didn't want kids...").

Ask yourself during arguments, "Is my ego more important than my marriage?"

The most important anniversary is the next one, and that will always be the case. Don't slack off because 7 isn't an interesting number or whatever.

The past is immutable, so it makes no sense to hold on to it as though she (or you) could change it if she only tried harder.

Sit down (with a bottle of wine, if necessary) and discuss every, every sexual fantasy or peccadillo you each have. It will surprise and arouse you. Be prepared to hear and say "No. Absolutely not. Not ever. Dear gods, no." without hearing "You disgusting pervert. I want you out of my house."
posted by Etrigan at 4:20 AM on March 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

Sit down each month and talk about your finances. Budget your joint cash flow. Discuss every purchase over $x amount with each other. Set goals you both want to reach and save towards them.

Each of you should try to notice the things your partner does for you in everyday life (anything from unloading the dishwasher to buying your favorite kind of chip dip) and acknowledge that you notice and appreciate those efforts.
posted by dirtmonster at 4:38 AM on March 22, 2013

Never laugh AT her. Laugh WITH her.

Have her back. Sometimes it will seem like it's you and her against the world.

Remember that being married means you can't date (other people) any more.

There will probably be ebb and flow. Look forward to the flow after an ebb to be the greatest time ever.
posted by auntie maim at 5:17 AM on March 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

- Value your wife and relationship over being "right". Sometimes this means that sometimes you need to decide that it isn't worth continuing to argue over just for the sake of having them agree with you. Sometimes this means that means allowing your wife to hold beliefs that you "know" to be wrong. Sometimes that means accepting the blame for things that you know aren't entirely your fault. You need to learn how to tell the difference between an argument that matters and an argument that doesn't matter.
- Don't see arguments as something to be won. Arguments are a normal and healthy (as long as you argue in a healthy way) and are there to help you and your wife be more clear on what you each expect and need and understand. It isn't about winning, it is about understanding each other. Fights can go on WAY longer than they should just because both people want to "win" the argument. When a conflict comes up both your goal and your wife's goal should be to understand the other person's perspective. You don't have to agree with it, but you need to at least understand.
- Be gracious and thankful. Thank each other for all the small mundane every day things that you take for granted. Thank each other for the stuff they maybe don't mind doing but still take time and effort. By saying "thank you" often you not only are saying you appreciate what you've done, but you're aknowledging the things they are doing. Sometimes just having the other person recognise the things that you're doing means a whole lot.
- Physical contact and affection should be every day things. I'm not saying sex, I'm saying hugs and kisses on the cheek and holding hands and having your arm around her and snuggling in bed. Physical closeness is a big part of emotional closeness, it helps to create and cement in those feelings of intimacy and closeness.
- If something is bothering you, speak up before it becomes this big festering issue. [1]
- Speak kindly about each other to other people. The joking spouse bashing that a lot of people engage in is really unhealthy. You want to think of your spouse in a positive way, not negative. Speaking of your spouse in a negative way, however jokingly, creates negative associations and negative feelings for them.
- Have monthly "check-in" discussions. [2] Sit down together and discuss everything. Make sure you are both okay with division of household chores, talk about your sex life and make sure you are both good with the frequency and see if there is anything either of you would like to try or do more/less of, talk about each of your levels of happiness in the relationship, discuss any things that either of you wished to work on, etc. Make a point of having the discussions, and make a point of having a "Full Honesty" rule during them. You MUST be honest, even if you think it might hurt the other person's feelings, and you MUST try to hear what the other is saying even if it is hurting your feelings a bit.
- Have sex. A lot. And while you're at it, make out a lot. Act like teenagers. Take pleasure in each other's bodies. Cop a feel and send dirty texts and whisper what you want to do to each other when you get home.
- If ever a time comes where someone or something is becoming more important to you than your wife, it is time to step back from that person and start focusing on your wife and your marriage again. This can mean another woman, but this can also mean a friend whose interests and feelings you put before your wife's. It can also be a hobby or interest that you spend more time and effort on than your wife. If a hobby is leaving your spouse feeling neglected and alone more than they'd like, it may be time to reassess. This happens a LOT and it is something you need to nip in the bud early on.

[1] - In my house I, for whatever reason, always forget to close the kitchen cupboard that stores the bowls and plates. Always. It is a small tiny thing but it irritates the hell out of my partner. You know what he did? He told me very kindly and a little jokingly how much that cupboard door being open was driving him nuts and could I please try to remember to close it. Guess what? I'm trying harder to remember to close it.

[2] - These talks are absolutely key in my relationship. Whenever we have them something always comes out where one of us had an issue to be resolved or an area where we felt we could improve in our relationship. Never once have these talks ended up fighty. They actually tend to bring us closer and result in awesome sex right afterwards because we are both feeling very heard and understood. It is great.

posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 5:27 AM on March 22, 2013 [5 favorites]

You know your wife, but I would stay away from phrases like " long as we're together." What does that mean? Are you assuming your souls will separate billions of years hence during the Big Rip or are you holding out the possibility of buying a bunker in Utah and becoming a survivalist (assuming she's not into that). Either way, best to stay away from the implication that there is an expiration date because, why are you even thinking about that now?
posted by rocketpup at 6:48 AM on March 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

Seconding appreciating all the things your partner does. Rather than work up resentment about having to do X and Y, be glad that partner always takes on B and C! If both of you feel like you're not quite holding up your end of the teamwork, then you're probably doing ok. :)
posted by acm at 8:25 AM on March 22, 2013

Love tokens don't have to be fancy or expensive. On our way home from work, one of us will always pick up a couple of coffees and two muffins, and getting and sharing these has become a real love moment, silly as it seems. It's just showing that you're thinking about the other person and want to make them happy.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 8:46 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I agree with L'Estrange Fruit. Love gestures/tokens can be anything that has meaning for the other person, and often the smaller things mean more because the smaller things often are very person specific. He buys me an expensive [something]. I love it but just about any person would have loved to recieve it. He brings me a bottle of fresca and a new set of flannel pillowcases... those are things that show me he knows me and pays attention to what I enjoy.

For example, my partner makes me my tea every single morning. On week days I go to the gym before work every day and when I arrive at my desk my travel mug with my tea is always there waiting for me, sometimes stuck with little post-it love notes (this week he left one that read "I think you are sexy!"). It is a small thing for him, it takes very little time to make my tea in the morning, and he has to walk by my office to get to his, but still! Having him make my tea for me every day means bucket loads. And that sometimes if I had a bad day the day before he makes my morning tea "special" by making my favourite chai tea instead.... It is just wonderful and thoughtful. And every single day I thank him for it and say my tea is delicious and how much I appreciate that he makes it for me. He says that he likes to do it for me, that he loves how happy it makes me, and he even does it on the weekends too. We get up and the first thing he does is prepare our "hot drinks". Coffee for him, tea for me. And he brings me my tea to where ever I am sitting in the house.

Our hot drink ritual means we start every day with lovey, thankful, appreciative and appreciated feelings for each other.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 9:26 AM on March 22, 2013 [5 favorites]

Always appreciate your partner. When you're tempted to rush to judgment about some flaw or another, remember you're not perfect, either.
posted by walla at 12:51 PM on March 22, 2013

Thanks, everyone!! These are fantastic and make me feel even better about how we're going about things in our marriage.
posted by fso at 1:12 PM on March 23, 2013

I'm not sure how well I'll be able to express this, but: you will come to learn the things your wife doesn't like about herself and the areas where she has shame. Find a way to love these things and be willing to step up and defend them against people who criticize them — including her, when she's down on herself. If this helps her get to a place where she's able to make changes and stop doing the things that prompt the self-criticism and self-hate, great! And if it doesn't, at least she will come to know that there is one person in the world who will never ever ever beat her up about [Shameful Issue X]. And that in itself is a good thing.

June 27 will be our 15th anniversary, FWIW.

And, as I laugh at myself for having to pull off my wedding ring to check the exact date (wait, was it the 27th or the 28th?), don't get hung up over trivial things like dates. You can't do romantic Valentine's Day due to somebody's work schedule? Not a problem, do it a few days later. One of you has to be out of town on your anniversary? Time-shift the romantic observation thereof, don't skip it. Note: this doesn't apply for one-time-only things like graduations, award ceremonies, school plays or things like that; those you should make a strong effort to be present for.
posted by Lexica at 6:00 PM on March 23, 2013 [4 favorites]

Recognise when you are starting to resent them, and do something about it.
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 3:18 PM on March 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have been with my husband for 10 years and we are absurdly happy. Here are things I notice about us that I don't notice in couples that seem unhappy, and sometimes notice in other happy couples.

- We let each other be silly and childlike when it's just us. There is another happy couple we're close to that seems similar in this regard. My husband and I have our own language and a bunch of odd manners of speaking we only use with each other. It feels very liberating and facilitates a sense of closeness when we get home and can talk in our weird ways.

- When we speak of each other to other people, it's only to say positive things. (I can't tell you how sweet it is when I meet female friends and coworkers of my husband and they beam at me and tell me he always talks about me and it's sooo cute! It makes me feel great.)

- We will admit when we're being irrational about something. This is huge for communicating with everyone, not just spouses. The biggest applications of this are in the forms of, "I'm sorry I'm being stupid about this, I didn't make sense and that must be frustrating for you and it's not your fault" and "I know it's irrational but I really want to _____ anyway." The latter almost always means the other of us acquieces, and gladly, oddly enough, because then it feels like a cute whim you're helping indulge or something. We're both logical people, but we both recognize that emotions aren't always logical; we don't like to be reasoned into stuff that doesn't make sense, but we don't mind doing it if there's no pretense of it being sensible.

- Always assume good faith. If someone cannot do this in a relationship (because of paranoia or because their partner is cruel), it makes me concerned they're not a good match, or that one or both of the couple has individual issues that make them unfit for a relationship.

Also, make good faith easy to maintain. When you know what you're going to say could be interpreted wrong, state upfront you don't mean that, you mean whatever you mean. When you don't know if she means something in a bad way, ask her. As time goes on and hopefully no one is intentionally cruel, you will get to the point where you may both can phrase things poorly but there is never any misunderstanding what was actually meant.

- Constantly compliment each other and say "I love you" and mention how happy you are. Well, it works for us anyway. I will literally say, "Aren't we happy!" a couple times a day whenever it strikes me, or my husband will say, "What a good life we have." We both appreciate aloud whatever things we're grateful for, daily. My husband always thanks me a few times every time I cook, which is at least twice a day, to the extent that any time I put anything (food or otherwise) on the table, my parrot immediately says, "Ohhh, thank you Nattie," in a cooing tone, usually followed by, "I love you Nattie."

- Never denigrate the other person for being upset, even if it's over something stupid, even if you don't want to listen to negative-sounding things that moment. Always have utmost empathy! If my husband gets frustrated at a video game and starts whining, I say, "I'm sorry, that really sucks," in a super soothing voice, and he does the same for me. (If I say anything in an irritated tone, my parrot coos, "Oh I'm so sorry Nattie!") It's awesome how quickly this makes someone feel better. Sometimes my husband beams and says, "Thank you for sympathy!" in a happy tone instantly. If there is a target for the other's irritation, we often say that the target is "the worst," even and especially if it's overblown. Sometimes we will also say, "Poor spouse, you're just trying to [activity] and [annoying thing] is ruining your life!" It's kind of a humorous way to make someone feel they have someone on their side who sees the situation as they see it, who acknowledges how unfairly put-upon they are. (Of course, in the wrong tone this could seem really snarky and mean. You have to actually feel sympathy!) Sometimes I will wail, "It's hateful!" and my husband will wail it back. Or if he is mad at something I will say, "I HATE IT!" and he will say, "Whoa thanks!"

I think a lot of good about marriage is just always feeling that someone is on your side, and we reinforce that a lot.

The thing about that, though, is it means you have to be someone whose side your partner would *want* to be on. This is how you will both become better people as you get older. As my husband and I have gotten older, we have both become gentler and kinder and more rational and more secure. And honestly, the thing about a good relationship is that it gives you a foundation to make that easier: it's a lot easier to be gentler and kinder and more rational when you have someone who fundamentally loves you and a lot of insecurities fade away and you don't act like a jerk anymore. When you're in a good relationship you start to understand other people's feelings in general much better, and you begin to see how lots of negative behavior stems from insecurities that can be addressed, and you start to understand how not to trigger those insecurities in other people. It all builds on itself. So you might say to yourself, hey, I was petty in this situation and it made it difficult for my wife to be on my side and I don't like that feeling for me or for her. And next time you not only won't be as petty, you might realize what made you feel petty, and so it makes it easier for you to help your wife when she is being petty, and then to keep her from feeling petty in the first place. And then you'll see that behavior in other people and feel more empathy for them, and it will make you a kinder person, and so on.

But basically, remember that with marriage, you are signing up to mostly be on each other's sides, and then do your best to be sure that you both always feel someone is on your side.

That also means being honest when you can't be on their side: you tell them why while reassuring them that you love them very much, and it's because you care about them that you can't take the position they want you to take. For example, years ago my husband couldn't entirely take my side when I was upset at someone else because he thought their unkind actions were justified based on my unkind actions, and he was right. But he didn't phrase this like "you crazy," instead he said he didn't like seeing me unhappy and I would act how I did and end up miserable. That is really the sort of thing you can only hear from someone who you know truly loves you; you feel defensive regardless, but it's way too threatening from someone you aren't certain loves or even likes you (instead you get caught up on whether they like you or not), and it would get nothing but denial if it came from someone who doesn't like you. So hopefully it is only situations like that where you can't exactly be on their side, but you're more on their side than they even are.

Plus, I should mention that I see a lot of harm done from people being on their spouse's side when the spouse basically has a personality disorder that is making their life miserable. Being on someone's side does not mean enabling bad behavior. It means caring about their happiness above all, and that usually means being willing to be honest with them even if it entails enduring a difficult conversation. When I think about the best proof I have that my husband loves me, it's remembering things like that, where he had nothing to personally gain and a lot to lose, and he brought up the touchy topic and was honest and sat through my defensive reactions and embarrassed grieving of my own behavior because he cares about me. I handle stuff like that much better now, but I think with everyone it comes with practice, and a lot of people don't ever get that practice because most people consider the likely reaction and shirk from the idea. I think my husband and I would both be stuck with some stupid traits if not for the other being honest when it mattered, and we would both be unhappy and not realize we do not have to be unhappy. Don't let each other be stuck in unhappiness because the other is too afraid to speak up.

Granted, some couples are far too critical of each other, and have completely superficial and off-base self-serving analyses of why the other is unhappy ("You wouldn't be so depressed if you weren't so lazy!"), but people like that tend to always think they're doing exactly the right thing anyway, so I have to hope this is only read in the spirit it's intended.
posted by Nattie at 3:27 AM on March 25, 2013 [9 favorites]

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