You know what blows big time?
The other night I was sitting with my family, most of whom are very successfully married. We were going in a circle giving our best marriage advice to my little sister on the eve of her wedding. It’s somewhat of a family tradition.
But that’s not what blows. What really blows is that I realized I don’t have any good marriage advice to give. After all, I’ve never had a successful marriage out of the two marriages I did have.
And so, when it was my turn, I just made a joke about divorce and how you should always remember why you loved your spouse when you first met her so that when times get tough, you can find someone new that is just like she was.
There were a couple courtesy giggles, but overall my humor wasn’t welcome in such a beautifully building ring of profundity.
They finished round one, and for some reason started into another round. And that’s when I realized. Hey. I don’t have marriage advice to give, but I have plenty of “keep your marriage from ending” advice (two equivocally different things), and that might be almost as good.
It eventually came to me again, and what I said would have been such great advice if I were a tenth as good at saying things as I was at writing them.
And so, that night, I sat down and wrote out my “advice list” for my little sister. You know… things I wish I would have known or done differently so that I didn’t end up divorced (twice). After writing it, I thought maybe I’d share it with all of you, too.
I call it my “Ways I Blew My Marriage” list. Also, for the list’s sake, I am just going to refer to “her” instead of “them” even though they almost all were true in both marriages.
1. DON’T STOP HOLDING HER HAND
When I first dated the woman I ended up marrying, I always held her hand. In the car. While walking. At meals. At movies. It didn’t matter where. Over time, I stopped. I made up excuses like my hand was too hot or it made me sweat or I wasn’t comfortable with it in public. Truth was, I stopped holding hands because I stopped wanting to put in the effort to be close to my wife. No other reason.
IF I COULD HAVE A DO-OVER: I’d hold her hand in the car. I’d hold her hand on a star. I’d hold her hand in a box. I’d hold her hand with a fox. And I’d hold her hand everywhere else, too, even when we didn’t particularly like each other for the moment.
BONUS! When you hold hands in the winter, they don’t get cold. True story.
2. Don’t stop trying to be attractive.
Obviously when I was working to woo her, I would do myself up as attractively as I possibly could every time I saw her. I kept perfectly groomed. I always smelled good. I held in my farts until she wasn’t around. For some reason, marriage made me feel like I could stop doing all that. I would get all properly groomed, smelling good, and dressed up any time we went out somewhere or I went out by myself, but I rarely, if ever, cared about making myself attractive just for her.
IF I COULD HAVE A DO-OVER: I’d try and put my best foot forward throughout our entire marriage. I’d wait to fart until I was in the bathroom whenever possible. I’d make myself desirable so that she would desire me.
BONUS! when you trim your man hair, guess what. She returns the favor.
3. Don’t always point out her weaknesses.
For some reason, somewhere along the way, I always ended up feeling like it was my place to tell her where she was weak and where she could do better. I sure as heck didn’t do that while we were dating. No, when I dated her I only built her up, only told her how amazing she was, and easily looked past all of her flaws. After we got married though, she sometimes couldn’t even cook eggs without me telling her how she might be able to improve.
IF I COULD HAVE A DO-OVER: I wouldn’t say a damned thing about anything that I thought could use improvement. I’ve learned since my marriage ended that there is more than one right way to do most things, and that the imperfections of others are too beautiful to try and change.
BONUS! when you tell her what she’s doing right, she’ll tell you what you’re doing right. And she’ll also tell her friends. And her family. And the dentist. And even strangers on the street.
4. Don’t stop cooking for her.
I knew how to woo a girl, for sure. And the ticket was usually a night in, cooking a nice meal and having a romantic evening. So why is it then, that I didn’t do that for her after we got married? Sure, I’d throw some canned soup in the microwave or fry up some chimichangas once in a while, but I rarely if ever went out of my way to sweep her off her feet after we were married by steaming crab legs, or making fancy pasta, or setting up a candlelit table.
IF I COULD HAVE A DO-OVER: I’d make it a priority to cook for her, and only her, something awesome at least every month. And I’d remember that meat in a can is never awesome.
BONUS! candlelit dinners often lead to candlelit bow chica bow-wow.
5. Don’t yell at your spouse.
I’m not talking about the angry kind of yelling. I’m talking about the lazy kind of yelling. The kind of yelling you do when you don’t want to get up from your television show or you don’t want to go ALL THE WAY UPSTAIRS to ask her if she’s seen your keys. It really doesn’t take that much effort to go find her, and yelling (by nature) sounds demanding and authoritative.
IF I COULD HAVE A DO-OVER: I’d try to go find her anytime I needed something or wanted to know something, and I’d have both gratitude and manners when I did. I always hated when she would yell to me, so why did I always feel it was okay to yell to her?
BONUS! sometimes you catch her doing something cute that you would have missed otherwise.
6. Don’t call names.
I always felt I was the king of not calling names, but I wasn’t. I may not have called her stupid, or idiot, or any of the other names she’d sometimes call me, but I would tell her she was stubborn, or that she was impossible, or that she was so hard to deal with. Names are names, and calling them will drive bigger wedges in communication than just about anything else.
IF I COULD HAVE A DO-OVER: Any time it got to the point that I wanted to call names, I’d call a time-out and come back to it later. Or better yet, I’d call her names, but they’d be names like “super sexy” or “hotness.” Even in the heat of the moment.
BONUS! she’ll call you names in better places. Like the bedroom.
7. Don’t be stingy with your money.
As the main bread earner, I was always so stingy with the money. I’d whine about the cost of her shampoo or that she didn’t order water at restaurants, or that she’d spend so much money on things like pedicures or hair dye jobs. But seriously. I always had just as many if not more things that I spent my money on, and in the end, the money was spent, we were just fine, and the only thing my *****ing and moaning did was bring undo stress to our relationship.
IF I COULD HAVE A DO-OVER: I’d tell her I trusted her to buy whatever she wanted, whenever she felt like she needed it. And then, I’d actually trust her to do it.
BONUS! sometimes she will make bad purchase decisions, which leads to makeup purchase decisions. Like that new gadget you’ve had your eyes on.
8. Don’t argue in front of the kids.
There was never any argument that was so important or pressing that we couldn’t wait to have it until the kids weren’t there. I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist or super-shrink to know why fighting in front of the kids is a dangerous and selfish way of doing things.
IF I COULD HAVE A DO-OVER: I would never, ever, not even once fight in front of the kids, no matter how big or how small the issue was. I’d maybe make a code word that meant, “not with the kids here.”
BONUS! when you wait to fight, usually you both realize how stupid or unimportant the fight was and the fight never happens.
9. Don’t encourage each other to skip working out.
I always thought it was love to tell my spouse, “I don’t care if you don’t take care of yourself. I don’t care if you don’t exercise. I don’t care if you let yourself go.” But that was lying, and it was lying when she said it to me because the truth is, we did care and I wish that we would have always told each other how sexy and attractive the other was any time we’d go workout or do something to become healthier.
IF I COULD HAVE A DO-OVER: I’d ask her to tell me that she cared. I’d ask her to encourage me to go to the gym. I’d ask her to remind me of my goals and tell me I’m strong enough to keep them.
BONUS! exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. And happy people don’t kill other people. (Name that movie!)
10. Don’t poop with the bathroom door open.
I don’t know why, but at some point I started thinking it was okay to poop with the bathroom door open, and so did she. First of all, it’s gross. Second of all, it stinks everything up. Third of all, there is literally no way to make pooping attractive, which means that every time she saw me do it, she, at least in some little way, would have thought I was less attractive.
IF I COULD HAVE A DO-OVER: I’d shut the damn door and poop in private.
BONUS! when she does think of your naked body, she’s not going to be thinking about it in a grunting/squatting position.
11. Don’t stop kissing her.
It always got to a point when I’d more or less stop kissing her. Usually it was because things were stressful and there was tension in our relationship, and so I’d make it worse by refusing to kiss her. This of course would lead to her feeling rejected. Which would of course lead to arguments about it. Other times I had my own issues with germs and whatnot.
IF I COULD HAVE A DO-OVER: I’d kiss her in the morning when she looked like people do in the morning. I’d kiss her at night when she’s had a long day. I’d kiss her any time I felt like she secretly wanted a kiss. And, I’d kiss her even when my germ issues kicked in.
BONUS! she feels loved when you kiss her. That’s bonus enough.
12. Don’t stop having fun together.
Age shouldn’t matter. Physical ability shouldn’t matter. Couples should never stop having fun with each other, and I really wish I wouldn’t have gotten into so many ruts in which we didn’t really go out and do anything. And, I’ve been around the block enough times to know that when the fun is missing, and the social part of life is missing, so also goes missing the ability to be fully content with each other.
IF I COULD HAVE A DO-OVER: I’d make a rule with her that we’d never stay home two weekends in a row.
BONUS! awesome stories and awesome memories come from doing awesome things. And so do cherished embarrassing moments.
13. Don’t pressure each other.
Pressuring each other about anything is always a recipe for resentment. I always felt so pressured to make more money. I always felt so pressured to not slip in my religion. I always felt so pressured to feel certain ways about things when I felt the opposite. And I usually carried a lot of resentment. Looking back, I can think of just as many times that I pressured her, so I know it was a two-way street.
IF I COULD HAVE A DO-OVER: I’d make it a point to celebrate the different views, opinions, and ways that she had of doing things. I’d find the beauty in differentiation, not the threat.
BONUS! authentic happiness becomes a real possibility. And so do authentic foot rubs.
14. Don’t label each other with negative labels.
Sometimes the easiest phrases to say in my marriage started with one of three things. Either, “you should have,” “you aren’t,” or “you didn’t.” Inevitably after each of those seemed to come something negative. And since when have negative labels ever helped anyone? They certainly never helped her. Or me. Instead, they seemed to make the action that sparked the label worsen in big ways.
IF I COULD HAVE A DO-OVER: I would learn to stop myself before saying any of those phrases, and then I’d switch them out for positive labels. Instead of “you should,” I’d say “you are great at.” Instead of saying “you aren’t,” I’d say “you are.” Instead of saying “you didn’t,” I’d say, “you did.” And then I’d follow it up with something positive.
BONUS! the noblest struggles become far more conquerable. And you don’t think or believe that you’re a schmuck, which is always nice.
15. Don’t skip out on things that are important to her.
It was so easy in marriage to veto so many of the things she enjoyed doing. My reasoning, “we can find things we both enjoy.” That’s lame. There will always be things she enjoys that I will never enjoy, and that’s no reason not to support her in them. Sometimes the only thing she needs is to know that I’m there.
IF I COULD HAVE A DO-OVER: I’d attend many more of the events that she invited me to. I would actively participate and not tell all the reasons why I’d do it differently or how it could be better or more fun or time better spent.
BONUS! go to something she knows you don’t enjoy and the gratitude gets piled on later that night, like whipped cream on a cheesecake.
16. Don’t emotionally distance yourself after a fight.
I never got to experience the power of make-up sex because any time my wife was mean or we got in a fight, I’d completely distance myself from her, usually for several days. Communication would shut down and I’d avoid contact at all cost. This never let things get worked out, and eventually after it had happened enough times I’d explode unnecessarily.
IF I COULD HAVE A DO-OVER: I’d let myself communicate my emotions and feelings more often, and I’d make sure that she knew I still loved her any time we had an ugly bout. Sure, we’d give each other some distance. But not days of distance.
BONUS! Fantastic make-up sex. Or at least that’s the theory.
I had lots more written out, but the list started getting super long so I’ll stop right there and maybe do a part 2. It’s amazing when you’ve had relationships end, just how much you learn and know you could have done differently, isn’t it?
My sister and her new husband will be amazing. Hopefully she’ll always be giving amazing marriage advice in the future and never have to hand out the “keep your marriage from ending” advice like I get to.
Dan Pearce, Single Dad Laughing
I couldn't agree more.My parents never fought in front of us. They always presented a united front and they discussed their issues behind closed doors. I appreciate that. I was a sensitive, anxiety prone child and I think if I saw them argue in front of me, I would have needlessly worried myself about the state of their marriage.
My parents fought, but I never consider it unsafe to be around them. I did learn that when I got married, it was normal to have disagreements and be mad at my spouse. My wife did not pick that up, and was very upset when we got ticked at each other. It took her awhile to realize that just because we love each other does not mean we won't fight.I couldn't agree more.
My parents never fought in front of us 6 children. My Father was the calmest (& smartest) man I have ever known. My childhood was hard (money issues, depressed Mother) but we all felt "safe" around our parents.