Since I’m new to this and I have no idea who might end up reading, I’ll tell you that I’ve been married for a while. We’ve been through our typical and not-so-typical ups and downs, but we’re still here. I know “relationship stuff” has been done about 1.658 millions of times….but I haven’t written about it. What I decided to cover, based on my marriage, other people’s marriages, and other relationships I have both been in and observed, is somewhere between 5-1o general principles to watch out for that, to varying degrees, tend to make or break relationship success. These are no particular order, and I am by no stretch of the imagination claiming to be either an expert or always successful at each of these. You will also probably notice that many of them, just as with different areas of life, will tend to overlap.
OK, now that I have my disclaimers firmly in place, here they are (in no particular order, of course):
1) Relationships should be about making each other better, not (just) making each other happy: if each party is in it, as is too often the case, for how the other person makes them feel, they are bound to be sorely disappointed because, let’s face it, people aren’t always at their best….and they (we) do change (or don’t…more on this later). Plus, the reality is that we tend to send our “representatives” when we first get into relationships and the length of time it takes for the “real me” or “real you” to show up varies with each relationship and each individual. However, if two people really, truly want each other to be the best they can be, there’s room for growth.
2) It is, how do you saaaayyy—massively better if both parties have a life plan, know what it is, share it, and are honest about what they expect. Of course, this is not always realistic…but to whatever extent possible, it’s generally a good idea if you can get in sync on this ASAP. If one person aspires to own a 9-bedroom mansion complete with jacuzzi and pet tiger within 4 1/2 years and the other wants to be a gym teacher at an inner-city school for blind kids, that conversation needs to be had. Like yesterday.
3) Be friends. Respect, laugh, play fair, communicate –because the “passion” (read: lustful hormones) that feels like love, at first, will not be there at all times. Especially after kids.
4) Recognize that both of you are “works in progress.” Everyone has little things that need fixing, that don’t make sense to anyone else but them, but which make them who they are at that moment. I believe everyone is crazy to some extent–the only question, therefore, is “does my crazy work with your crazy?”
5) Be ready for change (especially men in relation to their women) –or be clear about what you want but don’t expect someone to be able to turn himself upside down (this relates more to women’s expectations of their men). I read in an e-mail a long time ago, one of those joints that had like 2,387 forwards in front of it, this one little gem that has proven to be more true than not: “Men get married expecting that women won’t change, and they do; women get married expecting that men will change, and they don’t.”
6) Women and men need to understand the variant communication styles we use and that there are bound to be mis-cues based on these inherent differences. BUT Men should probably realistically learn how to anticipate that women expect us to “read their minds” (as we tend to say) –this is unlikely to change after 200,000 years of human society. It makes them happy when we anticipate their needs and desires because it means we’re paying attention and we care, even if it feels to us somewhere between inconvenient and annoying or even frustrating as hell.
A relatively benign example of this: A few years ago, my wife and I were driving back from somewhere and she asked me “Are you sure you don’t want to go to Blockbuster on the way home?” Had she even mentioned making this side trip prior to that point? I really couldn’t recall. And since I was tired, my simple answer to the question that was actually posed was “yes.” But…knowing what I know…I took the opportunity for a “teachable moment” and asked her to put “put that in Male.” She paused for a moment and then stated “Let’s go to Blockbuster before we go home.” Which we did…although I think I fell asleep during the movie.
7) Keep your own interests–AND develop “that thing” (going to the movies, cooking on Sunday afternoon, bowling, salsa dancing every other Wednesday–whatever) you do together. Both are equally important.
8 ) Have a mutual spiritual foundation of some sort (this, if any of them, probably should be #1). Not going to go into detail…but it will be very necessary. Especially related to item #1, but affects everything.
So there you have it. Not meant to be comprehensive at all, but a general guide. Please check in and discuss what works for you or what other thoughts you have.