Monday, May 27, 2013

Here's what I've learned about marriage

Next week, my wife and I will have been married 21 years.

You would think that, somewhere along the way, I may have picked up a useful tip or two.

I'm not sure I have. But it seems like a good topic for a blog post, so I'm going to give it a shot.

In no particular order:

(1) If you make it all about you, there are going to be problems

Marriage is the ultimate give-and-take situation. Your emphasis needs to be on "give."

Inevitably there are going to be times when your needs aren't being met, or at least when you think they're not being met, which for practical purposes is the same thing. It may sound counter-intuitive, but in these situations you need to concentrate on putting the other person first.

I know, I know. Right about now you're thinking, "Yeah, but what about me?" And right there is your problem. You're going to have to have a little faith. I don't know how it works, but whenever I think of what Terry wants first, I inevitably end up getting what I want, as well. Works virtually every time.

Trust me on this one. It's spouse first and you second (or, if you have kids, you third).

(2) If you don't make it all about you, there are going to be problems

See what I did there? This is the essence of one of the great conundrums of marriage.

On one hand, as I said, you need to seek first to serve rather than be served. But...

If you're continually playing the role of the martyr, the effect tends to wear off.

See, ideally, if you put your spouse first, they will reciprocate. You can spend a very happy several decades together if the pattern is mutual servanthood.

But if the servanthood is one-sided, the person doing the serving is inevitably going to become bitter and resentful. It will happen even to the best of us.

So you do have to assert yourself. Speak up. Don't make your partner guess. Let them know where you see problems in the relationship and talk it out. Don't expect the other person to read your mind.

(3) Understand something very important that holds true for almost any relationship...

My dear sister Judi (whom I miss dearly) once said something I didn't understand at the time, but that I later realized was very profound.

She told me, "The things that attracted you to your partner in the first place are the exact things that will irritate you and drive you crazy later on."

There is much truth to this.

I haven't asked Terry in what specific ways this applies to her as my wife, but I imagine it's my quirky forgetfulness and completely oblivious approach to life that make her nuts. Initially these may have seemed cute, almost endearing.

But now, two or three decades down the road? Let's just say the woman is a saint for continuing to live under the same roof as me.

(4) If you're like most couples, you will never have the same body temperature at the same time

Look, I don't understand how this works, nor can I grasp why it's so universal. But at any given time, one of you will think the house is too hot while the other will be running to turn up the thermostat because they think it's freezing.

And generally speaking, from my experience, men are usually hot while women are usually cold. There are exceptions, but that's the pattern.

If you watch Terry and me sleep, you will think we're living in different dimensions. She'll be snuggled under a pile of covers while I'm laying on top of the sheets sweating. And we're three feet away from each other.

Barring the very unlikely occurrence of differing climatic patterns within our bedroom, I will simply chalk this up to inextricably variable body temperatures. There's no solving it, there's only dealing with it.

And while I may be biased here, it seems to me the cold person should be the one who deals with it. If I'm too hot and I'm already laying in bed uncovered, what more am I going to do? Stripping down naked probably won't make that much of a difference.

But the cold person can pile on successive layers of blankets until they're warm, which would suggest that we should simply lower the temperature in the bedroom until the warm person is happy.

Unless of course I'm trying to adhere to my own Rule #1. In which case I'll just sleep on a block of ice while she blissfully snoozes next to me in our blazing-hot bedroom. What can I say? I love her.

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