Dear Michelle and Quentin,
When I first heard about the book Quentin's sister was putting together for your wedding --full of advice and anecdotes and stories--I honestly thought I didn't have anything to add. I've always felt like I have this great marriage because I got LUCKY--and not because I was particularly wise or understood what made a long-term relationship work. I think I just got lucky that Coop and I found each other.
But then I started thinking about it and I decided that there was something to the idea of feeling like you're incredibly lucky to be married to your own husband. There's something about that kind of attitude of wonder and gratitude that serves a long marriage well. So, there it was, see, a little bit of advice: Remember every day how lucky you are to have found each other. So many people search all their lives for someone to spend their lives with and here you've found each other. You're lucky--try to remember that.
I don't think I was the best wife when we first were married, but I think I've become a better wife over the years. I've learned a lot. The practical reality of day-to-day marriage rarely looks like we think it's going to-- and usually, that's actually a good thing. For example, I've learned that expecting to agree about everything is unrealistic and something you wouldn't really want anyway. One of the best things about marriage is how our differences grow to complement each other.
One of the big things I've learned is to choose my battles. When we were first married, I tended to look at each argument as a deal breaker –I mean, I was willing to go to the mat over how we folded towels. Now I try really hard to only pursue the things I think will matter in five years. In five years, will I care how we folded towels? Nope. Will I just be happy that anyone besides me is even folding towels at all? Why, yes. Yes, I will.
Having said that, arguments are still going to happen. It’s just a natural part of two people trying to live together. So it’s important to establish some rules of engagement, so to speak. In my own marriage, Coop is very, very quick on his feet and he can out-argue me in a heartbeat if we are face to face, because he’s faster than I am and also, he's not crying. It not only puts me at a disadvantage, but I also feel unheard and bulldozed. So, we have, for the past seventeen years, fought via e-mail. We’re both strong writers, writing things out tends to take the heat out of the exchange AND, most importantly, we can edit out anything unkind. I think it’s important to stick to the issue at hand and not start bringing up things that happened years ago, or slinging personal accusations. Find the communication device that works the best for the two of you. Above all, be kind.
Here's another thing I've learned: sometimes when a woman gets together with her female friends, or a guy gets together with the guys, there's some spouse bashing that goes on. It's under the guise of girl or guy bonding -- a little good-natured fun poked at one's spouse. Here's the thing, though: there's a little edge to it, and in my experience, it opens the door for discontent to creep in. We can ALL think of things to complain about—and I think once you start, it creates a HABIT of complaint. What I try to do when the male bashing starts is to offer up something I think is adorable, because that opens up the door for thinking of MORE stuff that is cute. (As I was sitting here, I was trying to think of examples that I could list that wouldn't embarrass Coop and one thing led to another and then I had to send him a little love note listing things I love about him.)
Which leads to two other things I've learned. One: try to not embarrass your spouse. To anyone. It's not okay to expose him or her to ridicule, not even to your own family. We do enough to embarrass OURSELVES –people need to feel that their partners have their backs. Don't fight in public, don't undermine each other. Present a united front to the world. (This is especially important if/once you have children because those little suckers can SMELL division and will exploit it every time.)
And two: think of something you are grateful for about your spouse every single day --big stuff, little stuff --and then tell him or her. You don't have to buy a card or make a big deal of it. Sometimes I just send a quick note to my husband as I'm thinking of him. Sometimes I call. Sometimes I grab him and thank him for this amazing life he's given me. Sometimes, I make sure to thank him for something really small just to show that I've noticed. Practice gratitude for each other. Live in the wonder that this amazing person loves YOU. Wow. How great is that?
Probably the best advice on marriage that I ever got came from my mom, your grandmother. She said, "Keep a sense of humor." It's served me well over the years. Humor diffuses tense situations and unites us with our partners--there is nothing as intimate as a shared laugh. See the absurdity of life together and laugh yourselves silly. Own up to your mistakes, big and little, and laugh about them. Try not to fall into the trap of self- importance. When you do, it doesn't leave any room inside you for the other person.
Always, always feel like you are giving more than your spouse when it comes to your relationship. Marriage isn't 50/50. It's more like 90/90. The more you give, the more you get. Try not to keep score.
Keep a little magic. There are plenty of undignified moments that your spouse is going to observe --you can't live together for decades and never get a stomach virus --but be careful how familiar you are on a daily basis. Nobody wants to see you going to the bathroom. Nobody wants to see you plucking your eyebrows or treating your raging case of athlete's foot. Just keep a little mystery --it sends the important message that you care what your spouse thinks about you.
Get interested in something your spouse is interested in, even if it's not really your thing. Learn about it and support your partner in pursuing this passion. By doing this, you actively create shared interests and you'll never run out of things to talk about. Plus, your spouse will feel supported and heard and like you CARE what he or she is interested in.
I guess that's the real secret to a happy marriage: stay interested in and focused on each other. In each other's well-being, in each other's opinions, in making your partner laugh. Be grateful for each other. Don't give up on each other. Love each other hard. Give a lot.
With many wishes for a long life of happiness together,