I have two teenage daughters who are close in age, 14 months apart to be exact. Both of them are fast approaching the age that I was when I first met my husband, their father. Looking back, I do not regret my decision to marry at 22 when I did, even though having done so is considered young, especially by today’s standards. At the time, I married for all of the “right” reasons and have no reason to second-guess the decision I made.
But making a decision and then sticking with it (till death do us part) are two distinct skills. My husband and I ultimately failed at the second and, for a long time, I did not understand why. As our marriage slowly but steadily deteriorated over the years right before my eyes, I felt not only powerless to stop it but unsure of how I could even go about trying.
Now divorced and three years removed from a relationship that, at its inception, brought me incredible joy and ended with as much pain, I have had time to reflect on what I could have done better to possibly have met a different end.
Raising two girls to one day grow into strong, independent women, I feel it is incumbent upon me to share with them some of the hard lessons I have learned and mistakes I have made. One day they may marry, and though they witnessed their own parents’ marriage fail, theirs need not meet the same fate.
Because it takes two to tango, nothing I say will be able to fully insulate my daughters from the possibility of divorce. However, I do believe that my advice can increase their odds of living happily ever after, each with their very own Prince Charming. As my girls mature into women, here are 12 pieces of advice I plan on giving them before their big day arrives, should that be their path.
1. Look your best. You think you have got your guy, right? Not necessarily. Even the most faithful of husbands have a wandering eye. It is biological so do not even try to deny it. My grandparents were married for nearly 60 years. Still, when my grandfather saw a beautiful woman, say, in an elevator, he would comment afterward that she was attractive. That said, he held my grandmother in the highest esteem until the day he died at 90 years old. Every man can appreciate a woman’s beauty. So how much luckier can your man get than to have you to look at every day? Be sure to make that look worth his while, no matter how many years go by.
2. Work. One of the biggest mistakes I ever made was not working outside my home while I was married. Though my days as a stay-at-home mom were (and still are) long and full, I did not adequately prepare for my future and the possibility that I would need to generate an income one day. Regardless of educational level or skill set, the longer time spent out of the workplace, the more difficult it is to re-enter. If you someday find yourselves immediately in need of a job, you may have a formidable challenge on your hands. Stay employed. It may mean one less hurdle you will have to jump over later.
But even more so than waiting for the other shoe to drop, a better reason to stay employed during marriage is that a career ensures your mind remains stimulated, as well as keeping you in touch with a community outside your own. When these two worlds collide, what you will end up with is a richer and fuller existence than you would otherwise have by remaining singularly focused.
3. Speak up. If you are not happy, say so. Everyone is entitled to speak his or her piece. But do so tolerantly and with consideration of your spouse’s feelings. Admittedly, this was not one of my strong suits and, looking back, my delivery was often not as tactful as it could have been. Do not criticize your husband but, rather, be constructive. Figure out a way that the two of you can work together to improve a situation. And never, ever go to sleep angry. Somehow when disputes are diffused before bed, the picture looks much brighter in the morning.
4. Shut up. Once you have spoken, it is now your turn to listen. Marriage is not a dictatorship. Chances are if you have a complaint, so too does your husband. If your husband has heard you out, extend that same courtesy to him. Do not be defensive either. Everyone is entitled to feel as they do, so be respectful of that. You may not realize how your words, actions, or inactions impact someone else. Now is your time to find out. Be thankful you have a husband ready, willing and able to communicate with you. That is a big first step and it should not be dismissed.
5. Hold back. Be mindful not to criticize or nitpick. Choose your battles. More importantly, do not fight all of them at once because you will surely lose the war. If you harass and harangue your husband, he will see you as the stereotypical nagging wife, and not the love of his life, the one he chose to share his life with over everyone else. You are not his mother, and he is a man, not a boy.
He is also not your therapist. Your husband does not need to hear about every thought that crosses your mind. We all think irrational or mean things from time-to-time. Be grateful we do not know what someone else is thinking. I like to believe God made us that way for a reason.
6. Step Back. If you are having a bad day, are under stress, feeling invincible, or simply having some out of body experience that is making you feel out of sorts, consider whether or not it is the best moment to have that difficult conversation or engage in an argument where you may say something you will regret later. Retreating, saving the conversation for another more suitable moment, will allow you to collect your thoughts and speak with purpose. This has always been one of my greatest challenges. Though I am improving, I admittedly still need work on not blurting out my feelings in the heat of the moment.
7. Step Up. Your husband is your partner. There will be times when he will need your support, both publicly and privately. Be there for him, just as you would expect him to be there for you. It is during those difficult times that we are tested. Rise to the occasion. A good man deserves that.
8. Give. Not only of your time (that goes without saying), but also of your wallet. “Say what?” you are probably thinking. Yes, consumerism is a far second to what really matters in life. However, gift giving does have its place, and it has little to do with how much money is spent.
A friend recently told me how she and her boyfriend planned on filling each other’s Christmas stockings this past holiday season instead of exchanging pricier gifts. Limiting each other to a modest budget, my friend carefully chose gifts her boyfriend would both want and find meaningful. On Christmas morning, however, she awoke to find her stocking empty. He had “forgotten” about their arrangement, and did not give it a second thought after being subtly reminded. My friend was deeply hurt, even though the gifts represented very little monetary value.
9. Receive. Graciously. A man who has worked hard may find it rewarding that he can be generous with someone he cares about. Let him, while always remembering to be thankful. It is often the gift giver’s pleasure to share, and nothing brings more satisfaction than knowing his efforts have been acknowledged and appreciated. Besides, you deserve to be treated well. But, by all means, remember to reciprocate, even if you cannot match the gesture in scale. A good relationship is a two-way street.
10. Initiate. Plan and schedule if you must. Even sex. Especially sex. Live like there is no tomorrow, because there just may not be one. Tomorrow is NOT another day, at least not for happy couples. Live in the present, not in the past, and certainly not for the future. Men like to have an involved partner, not a silent one. So get involved! Guys need TLC, too.
11. Love. With all your heart, and not your head. Stop thinking so much! Feel. Breathe. Once you clear out all of the noise – which is truly what most of us worry about – you will either find the love of your life or something less than that. At that point, you will know if you should love him or leave him.
12. Enjoy. Do not take a good relationship for granted. They are hard to come by, and should be nurtured and cherished accordingly. If you are happy, let your partner know. “Happiness is like a kiss. You must share it to enjoy it.” – Bernard Meltzer
What lessons have you learned from your divorce?
- The 5 Things I Miss Most About Marriage But Never Want Again
- 5 Ways I Became An Ex After Becoming An Ex Wife
- 10 Reasons My Failed Marriage Was Worth It, And Why I Would Not Change A Thing
- 5 Pieces Of Advice I Will Give My Son On His Wedding Day