3 years ago today I was throwing a baseball in my yard with my best man Kurt, trying to keep my nerves in check before walking down the aisle a few hours later. That morning I had broken marriage protocol by seeing the bride before the ceremony – in fact she was the first thing I saw the morning of my wedding. Superstition says the bride and groom should be apart leading up to the ceremony, so Kate was set to sleep in the honeymoon suite of the Sagamore Hotel alone while I was to crash in my childhood bedroom at my parents house. The problem is I was so excited about getting married that I wanted to be with my best friend…but my best friend was sleeping alone in the honeymoon suite waiting to marry me the next day. I don’t think superstitious things like this have any effect on a marriage so I spent the night before my wedding with my bride-to-be cuddled up in my arms and I held her close against me as the ideals of marriage danced like sugarplums in my head.
When a couple has been married for 50 years everyone asks, “what’s the secret?” To my knowledge the answer from a 50 year veteran is usually something trivial like “Taking out the garbage.” However, if you delve deeper into the question they’ll tell you the secret is the first couple of years, so today I am going to share a few secrets to a successful marriage after 3 years – a time when many marriages are under the most strain.
So its been 3 years and the honeymoon stage has worn off. Saying “my wife” or “my husband” no longer gives you goosebumps and weekday nights have achieved a predictable routine of conversation, TV, dinner, and bed. There might be kids, you may have moved, but you’ve survived some big arguments and had your patience tested more than a few times. Welcome to the young adult marriage! For me, I’m happier than I have ever been and each month and year feels better than the last – both in life and marriage…what’s the secret? Here’s a few keys to my marriage:
Marriage is a commitment not only to your partner but also to yourself. Being married does not mean you are now committed to someone – you must be committed to them first in order to be ready to marry them. If you are out on the prowl at your bachelor party looking for your last hurrah you are not ready. I married Kate because she is my best friend and I knew I would spend the rest of my life enjoying her company. The ring on my finger and the vows we took are a reminder of a life-long choice that I respect Kate to give her the partnership she deserves and always do my best to make our married relationship work. We entered the contract of marriage aware that there would be times that marriage would be hard, frustrating, and even scary…but we vowed to always work at it and make it work. When an issue arises we will not shy from it, we will face it head on and work with it like adults. Living with it is not acceptable…dealing with it is. I am in this for life…and life is good.
At some point “I love you sweetie” will be replaced with “stop manipulating me sweetie” and you’ll want to just be left alone for a few minutes…or a year. Fighting over the dishwasher? Oh yeah…you can bet on it! It’s like a lifelong episode of MTV’s The Real World after the roommates have stopped getting to know each other and now pick on each other’s pet peeves. It will happen, and it is where most new marriages go south. Arguing is a form of communication and it is okay. You can fight…just make sure you are fighting fair…so no comments like “your arms look fat.” Fight about the issues, take a break from each other to calm down, then discuss. Relationships are not perfect but any happy relationship stems from great communication. I will converse with Kate till I die…some would argue I will converse more as I like to hear myself talk…but we’ll converse nonetheless. There are no dark secrets in our lives because we share the good and the bad. Open communication allows your partner to understand what you are going through (though they may not agree with it) and bolsters the most crucial element of the relationship: Trust.
“I’d live in a cardboard box and eat sand just to spend every day married to you.” Sure you would buddy, but in the real world its nice to not eat Mac & Cheese every night and pool your change together for the electric bill. Finances can be the hot topic of communication because nothing is more frustrating than not being able to afford the things you need. If you both are broke now you are both a little less broke…but you’re still broke. Men want to provide for their families and feel depressed and inadequate (often) if they are unable to. Women want partnership and equal opportunities for both spouses to contribute to the relationship financially. Of course that is a massive generalization but in that model…the women are right. You are partners, especially in the beginning, and like with communication you both need to contribute. Today I work and support my wife and son, my wife teaches and paints and supports her career, and we both agree that any time we need to change that structure we can. Maybe I’ll be Mr. Mom next time around? Kate was the provider when we lived in Brooklyn. Set aside financial pride and play for the home team and I promise you will win.
Life changes. What was important to you then is trivial now and the same may go for the vows and ideals you gave at your wedding ceremony all those years ago. Kate and I write new vows every year and set goals for the next year of marriage. Things like “I’ll take out the garbage, Let’s play tennis twice a month,” and “I vow to work harder at communicating my anger into calmer discussions.” You’ve changed…so should your vows. Don’t settle for stagnant lives where you throw your arms up in the air and say “this is my marriage.” This is the marriage you and your partner have made for yourselves. You have to keep working at it. Marriage is work…but it is the most rewarding work I have found.
Today I woke up just like I did on the morning of my marriage, with my best friend cuddled up in my arms. I couldn’t be happier…or could I? I then fetched our 7 month old son Max, Kate got coffee for two, and the three of us started our day together with hugs, cuddles, kisses, and laughter. Max is the sweetener to the coffee that is my marriage…he makes everything better than it already was. I see so much Kate in him and that makes me love him all the more. Kids will not fix a bad marriage – in fact they will hinder it more down the road. However, if your marriage is sound (like how you must be committed to be ready to be married) you will be ready for kids and they will add so much to your life and your relationship.
Tonight however, is about just me and Kate. A little pampering at the spa, dinner for two by the water, new vows, and an evening staring into the eyes that captured my heart all those years ago…and still do. I love you more every day Kate and you are my best friend. I love our little family and want to continue growing it. You and Max are the best things that ever happened to me and you bring out the happiness inside me. I will always love you, I will always fight for you, I will always support you, and I will always be there when you need me. Your husband of 3 years, friend of a decade, and partner for life;
-Ryan (a.k.a. “Da da” as of last night when Max said it for the first time in connection with me and took 6 steps, our little boy is growing up so fast!)