After 13 years of marriage, I have learned that a lot of the old school advice about marital bliss is basically bullshit. For example, the way to my man’s heart, as it turns out, is not through his stomach but through me shoving an ice-cold drink in his hand and telling him to go mow the lawn for four hours. That is his happy time and I don’t judge. You know what else is bad advice? When couples are told to never go to bed angry. To that I say, fluff your pillow and rage sleep because your marriage may depend on it.
My husband and I have had more dumb arguments late into the night over everything from money to sex to polarizing ideas about who gets to control the TV remote. From the beginning of our marriage, we operated under that precious notion that if we kiss and makeup before bed then the next day would be bliss. Or something like that. But what really happens is that one of us ends up feeling bitter while the other one feels like the victor.
At some point, we stopped trying to keep the bliss and on occasion one of us would be marooned on the couch for a night of unhappy dreams. And for us, that means a happy marriage.
It turns out that when we back away from fighting and go to our separate corners to cool off, we can each vent with some flaming hot rage thought bubbles to get all the anger out first. Because, when I call my husband a jackass in my head, I’m not saying it to his face and his feelings aren’t being hurt. While we are busy cooling our vitriolic arguments, kinder and saner words start to form. Compassion takes hold and I can see my husband’s argument in a rational way.
The next day – or sometimes several days later, because let’s get real, marital spats sometimes take a while to settle down – we talk like civilized adults and work out problems out no matter how small or complicated they may have seemed when our emotions got in the way.
Marriage is hard. Sometimes I look at my husband I think that I will surely suffocate before we reach old age. And sometimes I feel like I am 26 again and falling in love all over again. The one rule that I have adopted in this big adventure is that there are never any rules that make sense forever. Our lives changed when we got a mortgage, then it changed again when we had kids, and now that we are entering our 40’s more changes are coming. Going to bed happy because we settled a stupid argument just doesn’t always register on our scale of what’s important anymore.
When my children are grown and should they choose to settle down with a partner, I plan to tell them that always being honest and kind is more important than always keeping the peace. Growth spurts and real wisdom don’t come from keeping the peace, they come from the experience of figuring out how to live with a person who doesn’t always think and feel the same way you do. Finding ways to co-exist can mean getting really creative and tossing out that antiquated advice crap.
As our 14th anniversary comes into view, I feel blessed and lucky that my husband and I are still solid. But we are not the same people who fell in love a decade and a half ago. The kinds of arguments we have now had less to do with personal comforts like who sleeps on what side of the bed (I won that one many years ago) and more about the problems of raising kids, being good neighbors, and worrying over our future.
Marriage advice comes from a well-meaning place of love and good intent but sometimes the advice itself is just no damn good. My husband and I will keep making up the rules as we go because we love each other and we want to keep building a life together. And that’s about as solid as it can get.