Last fall, I found out someone I knew was getting married. I've been married for...over ten years now. To the same woman. My relationship has made it longer than many, though I haven't reached the 65+ years of my wife's grandparents. I have outlasted one woman I knew in my youth who...left the the wedding...with the best man. And she was the bride. So I am in the middle there somewhere, but I've earned some cred and can deliver excellent veteran presence.
My advice to my acquaintance about getting married was something I dished out with a great deal of confidence, and though it was by email, the recipient could imagine a somewhat weighty older uncle harrumphing and giving the talk over a beer at a family cookout. "Gravitas" and "beer belly" might easily be confused in my social circles, but the reddish-necked people (my people) that don't talk much usually have something important to say when they do speak. Usually, it's the younger ones who talk a bunch who get smacked by their moms or aunts on the back of the head, and then look back, surprised, and go, "What?" "I'll keep doing it till you figure it out!" I was smacked in the back of the head a bunch, but it was a long time till it took. Now, I do have something pretty serious to share.
My advice to the acquaintance was, in retrospect, pretty good advice, but when it was sent back to me recently in an email, I looked at it and thought to myself that I might need to take my own medicine. And at the same time, I was pretty taken with the sense of what I had written (an infinite number of monkeys was surely involved). Sharing it on this blessed night free from the torture of a maddeningly inconsistent Phillies team seemed like the thing to do. It's a "slow news day" after all.
Baseball takes me away from the routine of married life, and sometimes it gets out of hand. My wife jokes about becoming a "baseball widow" at times during the year, and we chuckle nervously. That's wrong. She shouldn't be a widow to something as ridiculous as guys in tight, knee-high pants swinging ridiculously at sliders off the plate. I have other duties to attend to besides bitching about the use of the bullpen in high-leverage situations. It's not about butt, either. It's about keeping promises. And wooing. And the nail.
Whether, like my acquaintance, you are about to get married, or whether you are like me and you have already been acquired by a spouse, you are going to have continuing wooing obligations. In Years 1 and 2, this is pretty easy to remember. By Year 10, sometimes you, y'know, kind of let it slide.
My advice, then and now, is to proactively set up a system for on-going wooing. Here are some starting building blocks for you:
- Make a list of things that Spouse enjoys: New restaurant, bring home a nice merlot, give the kids away for a night to a total stranger and go to a movie, cook a starch-filled dinner, etc.
- Make a list of things that other Spouses enjoy, but that you and your spouse have not tried/done (non-sexual activities) like a dancing class or something sufficiently girly that will be a clear and obvious signal that you are interested in doing things that are clearly meant to make her happy and that any ordinary man would not do, of his own accord, in about 1,000,000 years. Maybe tickets to a musical, go to an art show, or (god, I hate these) a craft festival with jewelry vendors.
- Make a list of "our memory" things like memorable dates, etc.
- Make a list of daily "easy" things that you can do to polish your image with her. Around a house, people fall into routines. I deal with the bills, vet issues, cleaning the boy's fish tank, dry cleaning, car repairs, splitting/stacking the wood, growing the vegetable garden, etc. She makes the kids lunches, makes sure the trash/recycling go out, doctors the kids, makes their beds, does laundry. We outsource cleaning. I try, at least once a week or so, to do one of her jobs for her. It is important that you "get caught" doing the job, or Tired Spouse may not notice it.
- At least 10 - 15 minutes a day, perhaps right before bed or during dinner, turn off the fucking TV, put your phone and/or computer away, and listen to her bitch. WHATEVER YOU DO, DO NOT OFFER SOLUTIONS: "I have this client at work, and he's a total asshole, blah, blah, blah." Just nod and smile and say things (if you say anything) like "What a jerk! I can't believe that!" Again, DO NOT OFFER SOLUTIONS TO "FIX" THINGS. THAT IS NOT WHAT SHE NEEDS OR WANTS. You are being emotionally supportive by "listening" rather than trying to fix the problem. Trust me on this. It took me YEARS to figure this out, since I am so emotionally clueless. And this was before I saw the nail video.
- Look at your financial constraints and plan accordingly.
- Make a schedule a few months in advance combining an activity from list #1 at least once a month, an activity from list #2 at least every 2 months, an activity from list #3 once every 3-6 months, and an activity from list #4 at least once a week. Do #5 every day. EVERY. DAY.
- Always be on the lookout for ways to add to your lists.
You will end up with about 6 - 7 instances a month that will communicate the following things to Spouse: "You are important to me; you take the time to think of things we can do and plan to do them; and you like to spend time with me." As I wrote above, in Years 1 and 2, this is a "no shit" activity. When you are in Year 10, you have two kids, two heavy-duty jobs, and you are perpetually tired, it is easy to forget to do those things. Approaching it systematically is far, far better than winging it.
In a nutshell, if you want to have a shot at beating the odds and having a marriage that does not end in silent, seething and loathing, you have to treat it like a GM treats an MLB team. You have to nurture it and farm it WITH A PLAN. Not an Amaro plan, but a real, actual plan. This is not being manipulative or calculating. It is planning your life and making the most of it by taking an actual, intellectual interest in fostering a close sense of connection with your spouse so that you do not end up suffering through a divorce or infidelity, etc. The only way to maintain a relationship with a spouse is to continue to spend time with the spouse and prioritize the relationship. In a demanding professional world, it takes a plan to do this. Throw kids into the mix, and it is even harder to pull off.
There was a great bit on the Diane Rehm show this morning from marriage counselors, and each of them confirmed that planning and executing a marriage plan is key to a successful long-term relationship. It's worth listening to if you are in any kind of long-term relationship, whether new or old, whether it is working or not..
I would tell most newlyweds "good luck" and you'll need that, but you can't control it. I think a better approach is "have a plan and execute it well." You can't control the economy and you can't control many health issues, so you need luck. What you can control is your approach to "being married." If you approach it like most people ("Baboons reacting to stimuli") you will fail. If you plan and act on the relationship with all the seriousness it deserves, you will have a much higher likelihood of having a successful, fulfilling relationship. And you'll get more butt. Just like Joe Biden surely does.