Well Intended: Advice for the married from a divorcee
I don’t know how wise it is to seek marital advice from a divorced person. But last Monday, an old friend was dropped off at my house by her irritated spouse who claimed he simply needed a break. She texted me while I was visiting a school with my daughter asking if she could stay for a few days until they sorted things out.
This fall they celebrated their seventh anniversary. I’ve been witness to their marriage from its impetuous and romantic start. Relationships are their own living thing, crafted and nurtured by partners and I know better than to interfere (much). But, last week I spent 48 hours walking and listening to the accumulation of disappointments, hopes, confusion and complexities of this marriage. Following is a summary of my unsolicited advice to couples:
A family is a team. Just because people get married, doesn’t mean they become they become the same person. We all bring unique qualities, preferences and skills into our relationships. As with any team, you need to check in and be sure things are running smoothly and that you’re making progress on your mutual goals.
The most difficult part of any relationship is you. The hardest part of being married (in my memory) is having someone witness to your weaknesses. After several years of living together, you can no longer pretend to be anyone other than who you really are. You can’t edit or conceal anything. If you’re like most humans, you can be pretty annoying at times. Sometimes we need to make a few refinements. And we need to admit to ourselves that we are not always as industrious, kind, patient or as perfect as we would like to think we are. By owning our own flaws we become more compassionate.
Don’t share every minute together. My friend and her spouse have both been working from home. After a long winter, they don’t have new stories to tell. They can’t even report the traffic or complain about their crazy coworkers. It’s not easy to come up with a clever conversation after three meals and two coffee breaks at the same kitchen table. You have to get out there and do something else or you’re going to drive each other (and yourself) nuts.
You both need other friends. Your partner should not be your only friend. His golf game is not going to be as thrilling to you as it will be to his golf partner. Your quest to reach the top of the tennis ladder is only compelling for few minutes.
You don’t have to love to do all the same things and you don’t have to stay the same. You don’t need to hold the same opinions. You don’t have to mirror the same preferences. You’re growing and changing and your partner will too. Give each other room to evolve. You don’t lock in development the day you wed (thankfully).
Working on your relationship doesn’t mean complaining or exposing disappointments. My friend explained that it is difficult for them to “work” on the marriage. I get that. It’s not easy to have conversations about the things that really matter. But, I think her conception was that work meant airing grievances. I don’t see why talking about what you desire, what feels like love to you, what you really appreciate isn’t part of the important (and pleasant) work of marriage.
Create goals together. Don’t just hope that you’re on the same page. Create clearly defined goals and reach for them together.
Be kind. You’re not perfect and sharing a life together is lovely and rewarding but has its challenges. Treat your spouse with kindness, do more than your share of the work and always err on the side of generosity (including with your forgiveness).
My friend and her husband have cooled down and are back together. While I doubt my suggestions have anything to do with their reunion, I wish them both all the best.
Krista Richards Mann is a Westport writer, and her "Well Intended" column appears every other Friday. She can be reached at: email@example.com.