21 June 2013

Unsolicited Advice for Newlyweds

It's summer, which means wedding season is in full swing. I myself was looking at possibly attending as many as three weddings this summer but I couldn't work out the traveling logistics of one wedding and my brother and his fiancee postponed theirs so they could work out plans that they really wanted - which just means that I'll not only attend their wedding next year but in all likelihood I'll be roped into playing some role. My brother was my best man, which meant he had to give a toast. I wouldn't put it past him to return the favor. Even if he doesn't, I know one thing that has become customary at wedding receptions is for attendees to be solicited for marital advice. Often that's asked only of presently-married attendees. I don't think that's necessarily fair or thoughtful since there may be widows and widowers in attendance. They're the only ones who have actually discharged the duty of the office of spouse to its fullest so they shouldn't be excluded from chiming in about how to do that.

Anyway, all this got me thinking about what I might say to newlyweds. It would certainly be tempting by cynical but that's not who I want to be. I'm reminded of the beautiful song "Dreaming My Dreams with You", written by Allen Reynolds (who later became Garth Brooks's producer) and first recorded by Waylon Jennings:
"But I won't let it change me, not if I can
I'd rather believe in love
And give it away to those that I'm fondest of"
With that in mind, then, here are the few things I have to offer on the subject.

Praise Whoever Washes the Dishes
Washing the dishes isn't quite the tedious chore it is with a dishwasher, but I'm still adamant that of all the household chores to be done, this is the one where you want to make a point to say, "Hey! I just noticed you washed the dishes. Go, you!" Laundry is an even more obnoxious chore, but that's one that's best left unspoken. There's no need to draw any more attention to laundry than is absolutely mandatory.

Don't Turn Off the Car Mid-Song
You pull into the parking lot. Your spouse is singing along with a song. Don't shut off the car just because you're parked. Let him or her have the moment. Stopping at an instrumental solo is acceptable if the song has just started playing. It feels like unfinished business to get out of a car without having sung along to the end of a song, and that can dampen the energy of the evening before you've even gotten out of the car.

Sub-point: Don't use time together driving to make a phone call unless absolutely necessary. The other person is completely trapped, unable to play music or do anything except hear one half of your conversation.

Turn Off Your Alarm Promptly
If you adapt to your morning alarm and it stops being effective, don't start setting it for an earlier time so that you can hit "snooze" repeatedly. You'll just continue to adapt and soon find yourself sleeping through the alarm entirely. Just get a new alarm. Make your ears react to a new tone. Because one day, you've become immune to your alarm and your spouse has become tired of fighting with you to turn it off and it's just a matter of time before your spouse is weighing the pros and cons of smothering you with your own pillow.

When Talking to Single Friends...Shut Up
You've got a marriage license, not a shared doctoral degree in human relationships. You're not actually qualified to talk to single people as though you're in the big leagues and you think if they open up their stance and choke up on the bat some that they can hit their way up the big leagues, too. For one thing, your single friends may not even be bothered by being single. And if they are bothered by it, the last thing they want is for you to sound off about how patient they need to be and how blessed you are and how their time will come, etc. Think back to when you were single and didn't feel all that patient or blessed. Remember wanting to slap some people? Yep. That's exactly how your single friend feels when you open your trap and start droning on about how being married is "so different" from what your premarital relationships were like - which, in turn, means it's superior to all the meaningful relationships your single friend has ever had.

Shut. Up.

Businesses Run All Kinds of Promotions. Use Them.
One day you'll find yourself chatting with a younger couple and they'll namedrop all kinds of places they've been and things they've done and all you'll have to talk about will be whatever plot lines have been running through the shows on USA. It will be humiliating for you to see the true scope of the rut you didn't even know you were in. Fortunately, you live in the time of online promotions. If you pay close enough attention to sites like Groupon, Coupons.com and Fat Wallet, you can go out together semi-regularly on the cheap...which is probably important considering the state of the economy and the complete lack of confidence any of us have that our dollar will be worth more tomorrow than the three seconds of warmth we can get from it by setting it on fire tonight. So go ahead and go ice skating. It's just $8 a person, with skate rental included. It'll be fun.

Remember: It's YOUR Relationship
No matter how many universal truths there are about marriages and relationships, no matter what every other marriage you know has in common, at the end of the day there are only two people in your marriage and you're one of them. Whatever works to make your marriage satisfying, do that. Some people scoff at the idea of a semi-regular girls' night out, thinking it unseemly for a wife to "step out like that". Some will roll their eyes and puke their guts up if you gush that you always do everything together and can finish each other's sentences. There'll always be someone who wants to project their experience onto you and to tell you what red flags to look for and to fear, or to shame you for not doing what a good spouse does.

So what? They're not in the relationship. Whatever works for you [plural], works. Period. If that means going into business together just so you can literally be within eyesight of one another at every moment until you die, so be it. If it means trolling Craigslist for swinging partners, fine. Going to church every Sunday and Wednesday keeps you grounded? Terrific! One spouse goes out drinking and the other stays home playing poker every Friday night? Have fun! You only conduct disagreements in a private online chat room instead of actually speaking to one another? Sounds measured and patient.

The point is, it's your relationship constructed from the dynamics shared between your spouse and you. Don't try to emulate another marriage and don't let someone else try to terraform yours.

(But I'm serious about that alarm clock business. I almost had to go to prison on numerous mornings over that.)