My son is nine years old. Since he was four, his father has not consistently lived with him in the same house. When he was six, his father and I separated. At eight, his father and I divorced. Today my son knows more about divorce and infidelity than any kid his age should.
Such knowledge troubles me. The ideas we formulate during childhood are the ones that shape our values and influence our behavior as adults. Only a third-grader, my son is obviously nowhere near marrying age. Heck, he has not even had a girlfriend yet and, for the time being, I remain the most wonderful woman in his life (he tells me so). I am well aware, though, my days holding such distinction are numbered, as they should be. One day my son will meet the woman he will marry, and I will no longer be his one and only.
Having lived through my husband’s infidelity and a consequent divorce, there are a few words of advice I feel qualified to impart when my son does eventually prepare to walk down the aisle. The concepts are simple, really, but, as I have discovered, not necessarily intuitive. They follow.
1. Treat your wife as your best friend. You knew her way back when, before you both became parents together. And, if you each play your cards right, you will still know her as your wife long after your children are grown and out of the house. Though you do not share the same bloodline as you do with your parents, siblings, and future children, you and your wife share something even more powerful–devotion. After all, you have chosen her, and she you. Out of everyone in the world, you two have made a commitment to one another to hold each other and your relationship above all else. Treat her accordingly. That means making her your most trusted confidante and priority. Be sure not to violate the privacy you share by betraying confidences, or by disparaging her publicly and affording others such license. She should do the same for you.
2. Be a partner. Closely tied to number one is your willingness to partake equally in your marriage. Being a partner means considering your wife’s feelings, as well as her boundaries. It means listening. It means understanding your wife may sometimes be tired, sick, or upset. Though you may enjoy different roles in your marriage and child-rearing responsibilities, neither position should be considered more important than the other. In order for a marriage to be successful, both husband and wife must respect the value each brings into the relationship, however different.
3. Tell your wife you love and appreciate her often. To keep a marriage, or any romantic relationship for that matter, alive and healthy, it is important to regularly affirm your feelings for one another. It is easy to miscommunicate through action or inaction. Being expressive will not only comfort your wife, it will reassure you, too, that the relationship you desire is on track and that you will not one day be blindsided with marital problems you were unaware existed. By voicing your feelings frequently you will receive more love in return, bringing you two closer than you would be merely by reading between the lines, or by making assumptions that all is well. Everyone wants to be loved and know they matter to someone else. Just a few words could elate your wife, and bring you even more happiness in return as she expresses her own similar sentiment. If she does not, then you know where you stand and can act accordingly and appropriately.
4. Be faithful. If you are not happy, or you feel there are areas lacking in your marriage, approach your wife and talk to her about it. Do not look outside your marriage to self-soothe. The damage to self-esteem for each of you (though you may not see it in yourself initially) and to the trust you once shared will likely be irreparably harmed if you choose to walk down this path. And if it turns out your issues cannot be resolved, or you are simply not happy (yes, you are entitled), walk away with dignity, not as a coward who must lie and sneak around. Remember, the only behavior you can control is your own. Lead by example. Your children are watching.
5. Respect the mother of your children, even if she is one day not your wife. Once the two of you become parents, you are forever tied to each other, like it or not. Regardless of how you grow to feel about your wife, she will still mean the world to the children you share. If you treat her with disrespect, contempt, or an overall lack of regard for her well-being, you will not only hurt the person you once cared about most, but you will damage your children in the process. Children who witness one parent treating the other badly will not only feel ill will toward the insensitive party, but will also be positioned for their own potential relationship issues in the future. It does not take much to show a little bit of kindness and consideration toward your ex. The reward all around will far surpass any minimal effort expended.
Marriage does not come with a guarantee or a set of instructions. But if we enter into it aware of the effect we have on others, we can better ensure our own happiness, as well as our partner’s. At a minimum, if the relationship does not work out, we will know we tried, and behaved with dignity and respect while doing so. Should I ever choose to marry again, I intend to live by my own words, knowing the experiences I had during my first marriage changed me for the better, and that good can come of all of those years that seemed so tiresome and hopeless at the time. For better or for worse, we only have ourselves to blame. Or applaud. The choice is ours.