There are so many things I wish my mother had told me about marriage before I walked down the aisle.
After all, she had been through it and had had a hellacious time. She got married at 25, had me and then my brother and sister, and was divorced by 39.
I was the oldest and I watched my parent’s marriage fall apart but I truly never understood what had happened to them.
Now here I am, divorced and contemplating another marriage. But, unlike the first time, I am not new at marriage. I have experience and wisdom and know what I need to do differently to make this marriage work.
No one hands us a manual when we get married so it’s important that the information is passed down generationally. To that end, here are 5 things I wish my mother had told me about marriage that I know today. Let me share them with you so that you go into your marriage with your eyes wide open.
#1 – Make it about love, not about timing.
I always tell my daughter that when she wants to get married, we will throw her a party and buy her an amazing dress. After the party, if she still wants to get married, I will give her my blessing.
I got married when I was 28. My ex and I had been together for 5 years and we were happy. We knew each other well, shared the same hobbies and had just moved from San Francisco to Maine. All of our friends were getting married and having babies and so we decided it was time to do the same.
He proposed and I accepted and naively believed that we could love each other forever, even if I wasn’t madly in love with him. We had a really fun wedding and a great honeymoon. It was all lovely.
18 years later, our marriage was in tatters. We were still friends, excellent parents and good business partners, but our marriage was DOA. I talked to my therapist about it and he said that, for people who aren’t madly in love when they marry, bringing a marriage back from the dead is very hard to do.
I do believe that there is more to successful marriage than just love. Love is an important part of it but so is respect, trust and kindness. For a marriage to stay healthy as the years go on, it is important to maintain the love amid the craziness of the world around us.
So, before you walk down the aisle, make sure it’s not about timing, not because you have always wanted to get married by 30 and have kids by 32. Instead do it because the person you are going to marry rocks your world.
#2 – Don’t be passive aggressive.
One thing that I REALLY wish my mom had told me about marriage was the importance of not being passive aggressive. The importance of being direct about what you are thinking and what you are feeling and what you need, cannot be overstated.
Instead of telling my ex what is it was that I needed, I would make snide comments and belittle him. How good do you think that made him feel?
I know now that one of the reasons I did this was because I really didn’t know what I needed but also because I didn’t have the communication skills that would have allowed me to talk to him. As a result, passive aggressiveness was my number one mode of communication. And it got me absolutely nowhere.
Over the years, this passive aggressive behavior caused a huge rift in our relationship. He would tiptoe around me, trying to figure out what to do so that I wouldn’t snap at him. I know that living with me was hell.
So, as you go into a marriage, I would encourage you to develop communication skills immediately. Being passive aggressive in your marriage will only destroy it.
#3 – Make your husband a priority.
For those of you who are mothers already, I am sure when I say this you say ‘no way.’ And I can appreciate that. My kids always come first.
What I am not saying is that you have to prioritize your husband over the kids. What I am saying is that they need to the next one. Not your job or your mom or your friends – your partner.
My dad always said that he was 6th in our household. That he came behind the kids and the dogs. It wasn’t that way when he got married so it only left him lonely and confused. And I know that it’s one of the reasons that his second wife didn’t get to have any kids – because he wanted to be a priority.
Why is making them a priority important? Because it keeps the relationship strong. Because they know that you have their back and will make time for you and that you can trust them and respect them. It’s way easier to keep a marriage healthy than try to fix it once it’s gone bad.
Ironically, men do often keep their wives as a priority so its on us girls to step up and do the same.
#4 – History repeats itself.
A client of mine had her family torn apart by her father‘s infidelity. As she grew up and went through therapy, she realized what a profound effect the infidelity had on her emotional health and she promised herself she would never do that in her marriage.
After 10 years of marriage, she was feeling alone, ignored and not prioritized in her marriage. Along came a man who made her feel alive and heard. And what did she do? She had an affair.
The affair almost killed her. She felt so happy in the moments she was with him but felt so guilty afterwards. She worried that what she was doing would destroy her family – and her affair partner’s family. She felt like she had let herself down by doing the one thing that she swore she would never do.
Why does history repeat itself? Because when we are children, our parents are our life. Whether we want to or not, we watch them and absorb their behaviors, good and bad, and strive to emulate them. We don’t have the cognitive awareness to know any better. By the time we are grownups, those traits have been well established and hard to let go of.
I really wish that one of the things that my mom had told me about marriage was that history does repeat itself. She experienced the same problems her parents did and if she had recognized that and shared it with me, I might have been able to do things differently.
#5 – Marriage is complicated.
I know we all want to fairy tale – that we will live happily ever after with our spouse, in our perfect house with our perfect family. All of our dreams will come true.
Unfortunately, that is just a fairy tale. Marriage is long and hard and very complicated.
What are some of the things that make a marriage complicated?
- Extended family
- Goals for the future
- Communication skills
- Emotional Health
- People changing
I would encourage you to take a look at your marriage and see how healthy you are in those certain areas. I know that in my marriage, my husband’s extended family caused a big rift between my ex and I and that our communication skills around it were non-existent.
I always prioritized the kids, he prioritized work and our sex life was dead.
I struggled with depression and he didn’t have the tools to help me.
The lesson here is that marriage is not all about being soulmates and living happily ever after. Marriage is about two people who are joined together for the rest of their lives, in the messy world of babies, extended family, financial considerations, etc.
It is essential for people who are getting married to go in with their eyes wide open, recognizing that marriage is going to be a lot of work and probably not the stuff that we see on TV and in movies.
In retrospect, the things that I wish my mother had told me about marriage were things that she wasn’t even aware that she needed to tell me.
Back in the day, we just didn’t talk about these things. Therapy was pretty much non-existent and couples really struggled with the words to face these realities.
To be fair, my mother probably had NO IDEA that she needed to tell me these things or that she had even experienced them herself.
It’s a different world now. I always tell my kids that they will learn by the example that I have set, and the things that we have talked about, and that their marriages will succeed where mine didn’t.
It can be the same for you. Even if your mother didn’t have the skills to tell you what you needed to hear before your marriage, you know them now and you can implement them and change family patterns and get your fairy tale ending!
You can do this!