I’ve messed up my share of things during the nearly five decades of my life. But for the past 19 years, I’ve been fortunate enough to have — with the help of my amazing spouse — created quite a wonderful marriage. I started by marrying a really great person, and together, we’ve taught each other how to be excellent partners. And while I’d never be so brazen as to offer real “advice,” here are a few things that have contributed to the success of our union:
Show you care in small ways. My husband doesn’t give me diamonds. I’ve never woken up to a car with a bow on it in my driveway. And he’s never filled a room with flowers for me. But he unloads the dishwasher. He puts away the laundry. He knows I like the bed made, so he makes it. I know that today, in the age of gender-responsibility-equality, this doesn’t make him special. He’s supposed to do these things. However, he works 8-10 hour days, and as a freelance writer, I’m at home most of the time and probably work max 20 hours a week. I have more time to do the housework, take care of the kids, grocery shop, etc. But he’s never once mentioned that to me. He just does what needs to be done to make our life work. It’s pretty simple.
If you don’t like how your partner does something, do it yourself. This is one of our rules. In fact, he hates the way I load a dishwasher. He can fit twice as much stuff in as I can. But, of course, I load the dishwasher anyway, because I’m not going to leave dishes in the sink. Instead of complaining or pointing out to me how badly the dishwasher is loaded, he quietly reloads it before it’s time to wash. Because he knows no conversation that starts with “let me show you how to do this” or “I really hate the way you load a dishwasher” is going to turn out well. Not a chance. Much better to take five minutes to reload than endure an evening of unpleasantness, right?
Always see the positive. My husband is slow. He likes to call it thoughtful, or methodical. But I call it what it is: slow. He takes forever to do anything, and I’ve never once seen him in a hurry. Needless to say, this can be annoying. Particularly when we need to get somewhere, or we’re contemplating making an offer on a house. However, whenever I find myself in those moments of sheer frustration with his sloth-like pace, I think to myself: well, if this is the worst thing about him, I’ve got it pretty good, don’t I?
Assume good intentions. We all make thoughtless comments. We all leave the refrigerator door open too long when we know it drives our spouse completely nuts. But chances are we aren’t doing it to intentionally annoy or hurt them. Unless you have reason to believe otherwise, always assume your partner is just distracted, tired, or stressed. Try, try, try not to take these minor offenses personally, because they rarely — if ever — are.
Eat lunch together, or something equivalent. My husband works just a few miles from our house, and we try to eat lunch together every day. It costs a lot, I’ll admit. Last time we looked at our budget, we were spending roughly $400 a month on lunch. But it’s money well spent. Because it’s one hour, every day, when it’s just the two of us. No kids. No housework. No distractions. Just us. Talking. I realize we’re uniquely fortunate to be able to do this. But even if you cannot, try to carve out a few regularly scheduled hours each week when it’s just the two of you. I promise, it’s worth it.
Be willing to “lose.” We all want to win. It’s just human nature. But sometimes, particularly with your partner, losing is okay. When you think about it, is who knows the best shortcut to the beach really something to go to war about? Or what’s the best way to paint a wall? These are little things, and hardly worth going to the mat about. Yes, I still think I know a better route to the beach, but who cares? I’d much rather have a pleasant ride, regardless of which road we’re on.
Truth is, a marriage isn’t made up of grand events or milestones. It’s made up of a bunch of mundane, daily moments. Carpool line. Paying bills. Mowing the lawn. In my mind, a good spouse is one who makes all those little moments a lot better. Because a bunch of good little moments strung together magically turn into a wonderful, love-filled lifetime.