It can take newly-married couples awhile to get used to living with a permanent roommate whom they love but may be very different. You may have been too starry-eyed at the beginning of your relationship to listen to any marriage advice, and perhaps now wish you didn’t learn some things the hard way.
Here are five marriage tips I wish someone would have told me before I got married:
1. Revise your expectations. We all have expectations for marriage, whether they are from relationships we personally witnessed like our parents or from portrayals in society-at-large. But expectations set us up for disappointment. Every relationship is unique and it is impossible to expect your marriage to be exactly like anything you’ve ever seen before. Your marriage may not be picture-perfect, but then what? You can either remain disappointed or discover how this relationship is a gift for you and an opportunity to create something even better.
Great relationships do not happen overnight. They take years of investment and care by both partners. You may be able to form the relationship of your dreams, but don’t expect it to be that way immediately following your wedding.
2. Don’t give unsolicited advice to your spouse. One of the most common mistakes that couples make is to provide unsolicited advice to each other. While you may have good intentions, your spouse may not see it that way. Unsolicited advice can come across as criticism and invalidating of your spouse’s feelings.
If your husband complains all the time that he is feeling down and you suggest he go to a therapist, he may feel you are just trying to fix him and you don’t really care about his feelings when all he wants to do is vent and be heard. Unsolicited advice can also make your spouse feel like you are being bossy, controlling, or condescending, even if you are only trying to be helpful. Ask your spouse if he/she is open to feedback before opening your mouth and a potential can of worms.
3. Limit outsiders from your relationship. It’s hard transforming two separate lives into one. Couples often feel that they shouldn’t leave their old friends out of their new life and want to include them as much as possible. You may also feel the need to go out with other couples. Realize that it is important for you and your spouse to have alone time where you can build your relationship, and while it is thoughtful to include others, it’s not always healthy for your marriage. Many newlyweds can become insecure about their spouse if they spend time with other couples. You may feel the need to compare which will generate negative feelings about your spouse. Don’t become a hermit, but do put your marriage first and make spending quality time alone with your spouse a priority, even if it means not always including others.
4. Your spouse is not you. One of the rude-awakenings couples face when they get married is that your spouse is not you. As much as you may have been blinded during the romantic stage (“We’re so alike! I feel like we’ve known each other forever”), at some point you have woken up to the harsh reality that you married an “other.” This “other,” as lovable as he/she is, has different thoughts, feelings, and opinions than you do. He/she may see the world completely differently and that’s okay. The ability to honor the world of the other is a key ingredient to successful relationships. As challenging as it may be that our spouse is not an extension of ourselves, it serves us well by compelling us to grow into becoming more accepting and other-focused. Learn to love and cherish those differences as that’s what makes your spouse unique.
5. The 90/10 rule. This rule posits that 10% of anything that really makes our blood boil is the cause of the actual stimulus, while 90% of our reaction is due to what it is being triggered within us. (Hey, it’s not an exact science.) If you take ownership for your disproportionate reactions, you will undoubtedly see that you are responding so strongly because of what this offense is evoking for you from your past.
For example, if you have an “irrational” response to when your husband loses his phone or misplaces his keys, think about how that may remind you of something from your past. Were you reprimanded for being careless growing up or did you feel like you were forced into a role to be the “responsible one” when no one else in your life was? While most people may be annoyed by such behavior, if you feel your reaction is overly strong, that’s a good clue that the 90/10 rule may be at work.
The 90/10 rule removes the power struggle with your spouse and helps you realize that it is really not all about him/her. Taking ownership for your reaction will help you view the behavior in a new light and not react as strongly, allowing for your relationship to be healthier. While this does not excuse the 10% your spouse did to contribute to the conflict, it helps put everything into perspective, taking the edge off the situation and preventing explosive damage to the relationship.
You can never fully prepare for marriage. And these tips can help you create the relationship of your dreams.
If your marriage requires more immediate assistance, download your free sample chapters of Rabbi Slatkin’s new book, The Marriage Restoration Project- The Five-Step Action Plan for Saving Your Marriage.