Did you just throw up in your mouth a little bit? It's okay. I did too.
I mean, really, I'm not one of those people who likes to just wax poetic about how perfect my life is. Mostly because it isn't. But also because nothing knocks me down like jumping on social media and seeing how everyone else's life is better than mine. Shinier in places where it's supposed to shine. Brighter. Happier. Always happier.
But really happier? Well, maybe not. I'm sure we've all seen the articles about how social media causes people to be depressed (ironically, posted all over Facebook) because that's just what it looks like—everyone else's life is better because we see all the good parts. We don't talk about the real parts.
We see friends celebrating and going places while we might be lying on the couch in stretched-out yoga pants that have never seen the light of a yoga studio. Or scarfing down a bowl of Easy Mac while viewing photos of someone's culinary adventures. Or rolling our eyes at a humblebragging parent going on and on about their kids excellence in just about everything while you get the twitchy eye because your own kids are doing their best to emulate Bart and Lisa Simpson.
You get my drift.
So when I gush and relay how I've been happily married for 23 years, you need to read between the lines and understand that "happily married" is a euphemism for "consciously tolerating one another." Because marriage? Is hard work. And I know a little bit about that.
Conscious toleration is the polar opposite of conscious uncoupling, which we have heard of in the news. Because talking about divorce is better than talking about the realities of how much hard work a marriage takes? I mean, just looking at television alone, we are bombarded with programs devoted to finding a mate and planning the most perfect, over-the-top wedding in history... but where are the real stories of successful marriages? Tell me more about couples who work harder to consciously tolerate each other and not who work hard to consciously end their union. But reality TV is not exactly conducive to a happy relationship (my evidence is here).
Allow me to be your reality show. You won't find any child pageant stars or rose ceremonies or bridezillas, but you will find some real information about a long lasting partnership. Here, in no particular order, are my five tips for "consciously tolerating one another" in holy matrimony for long periods of time.
1. R-E-S-P-E-C-TFind someone who respects you—for your strengths, your weaknesses, your bad habits, your good habits, your smile, your opinion, your likes, your dislikes... ALL. THE. THINGS.
This does not mean that you choose someone who celebrates all these things about you. I'm sure my husband is not fond of my need to leave books and magazines on every horizontal surface in our home just like I don't like his need to leave balled up foil wrappers from peanut butter cups all over the damn place. But we adapt.
You need to have respect for both of you and your strengths and weaknesses because none of us can be both all the time. We need to rely on each other for backup or a soft place to fall when life gets hard. And trust me, life gets hard.
2. GO THE F*** TO SLEEPIt's one of the most popular bits of advice for couples—never go to bed angry!—but, you know what? After you've been fighting with one another for a few hours and it's like three in the morning, neither of you is going to budge because you aren't thinking normal thoughts.
You're thinking overtired, nonsensical thoughts.
Sleep on it. Seriously. Address it in the morning, when what will most likely happen is you both will be like "Dude. I'm sorry."
Personally, I have a black belt in bickering. We started bickering probably 10 minutes after we began dating "exclusively," which probably looked something like this:
Him or Me: So, are you seeing anyone else?We bickered so much that our friends got tired of it and would avoid us at social occasions. We didn't even notice we were doing it. It was just how we communicated. We met and married fast, we had a lot of crap to discuss and we were very passionate about how we discussed it.
Him or Me: Nuh-uh. You?
Him or Me: Nope. So should we be exclusive?
Him or Me: Mmkay.
After we married, we kept up with our bickering ways but it eventually faded away. Occasionally, we still bicker; it's our love language. But now that we have kids? I see how annoying it was. Mostly because my kids bicker with one another as their go-to form of communication. And it makes me want to take to my bed.
3. EMBRACE THE SUCKSpoiler alert: what they don't tell you about marriage, what you don't think about when you're in that honeymoon glow where you want to do nothing but ... well, each other ... that part passes.
Well, that's maybe not completely accurate—for us, that part comes and goes. Marriage, as I've experienced it is an ebb and flow of emotion. There are some times still, all these years later, when we still can't get enough of each other. But there are also times when we can barely stand each other. Or when our relationship is more like friends than a married couple. Or like a business relationship. But we hold on, we embrace that suck because we always come back around with stars in our eyes when we look at each other.
There are even still times when I look at him and all the years slip away. I see that twenty-something airmen with the full head of hair. I hope he still sees me as I used to be, too... younger. Thinner. Not so gray. We're not those people on the outside anymore, but we still have that connection inside.
4. JUST DO ITBe yourself. Be who you need to be, grow how you need to grow, and experience the things. By this, I don't mean have an affair, get a girlfriend/boyfriend, videotape your significant other doing something compromising and post it on YouTube... I mean, become the person you need to be and grow. Encourage your spouse to do the same. Share those experiences with one another, and be happy for one another.
It's not entirely normal or healthy for most people to do everything together 24/7. I mean, yeah, for some people, it might work? But for us, it doesn't. Sometimes we do things for each other that don't interest us both, but we do it because we love each other.
There are lines we will not cross anymore, however. After you've been together for a really long time, you just get tired of compromising on everything so you need to know where to draw the line. For instance, he knows there are a few restaurants I refuse to go to, so our kids get excited when I go out of town because it means Golden Corral for dinner. I know he's not a fan of chick flicks, so when he goes out of town, I get time to catch up on my stories.
You compromise on some things, some things you just go and do by yourself and tease one another about later. Because after being together for a long time? A sense of humor is so very important.
5. ALL THE SMALL THINGSIn day to day life, the little things can be easily overlooked. But in a marriage, it's sometimes the little things that make or break it. Maybe this is more in the front of my brain because I was shopping for anniversary cards last week—and pretty much the majority of them are either very religious, very off-color or very in celebration of the little things. Because they are the threads that hold life together.
I hate making coffee. I believe the world would be a better place if I woke up and my coffee was waiting for me. I'm lucky enough that this is what happens in my world, because my husband knows he can do that small thing for me and it will start off my day on a happy note. Whether it's a task that brings him joy or not, he knows the outcome brings me joy. That matters to him.
Similarly, I know that he likes his clothes folded like they were when he was in basic training, in six inch squares. This makes him happy. When I left basic training and my clothes folding was no longer regulated, I returned to my haphazard ways of folding and declared, "I will never fold my clothes like that again!" And I don't fold my clothes like that. But I do fold his clothes like that. Because I know it matters to him.
Consider what you could do for your significant other that would make him or her happy. Sometimes it's just a small action on your part, but the rewards are great.
Anyway, that's what works for me. I look forward to another 23 years of conscious toleration of my true love, and I'm sure there will be more annoying habits we uncover, more moments of strife as we continue to raise our children and maybe, hopefully, a few moments of pure, unadulterated joy.
So, what works for you?