The Marriage Manifesto
I have a lot of opinions about marriage, a subject on which I am a qualified expert by virtue of my having never been married. Like a teenager knows everything, you should listen to my opinions on marriage because I said so.
You think that a person who’s been married happily for a long time is the person to ask? Think again.
Maybe you think that the person who’s been married many times is the better person to ask for advice, since they can undoubtedly tell you what to avoid doing. Kind of like, ask Elizabeth Taylor what to do and then do the opposite. You would be wrong.
You should listen to me, the woman who’s never been married. I’ve been close, though. And by that, I don’t mean that I’ve ever “shacked up” with anyone. What I mean is that once when I was in college an Indian draftsman named Prakash made me a very earnest marriage proposal. And once for about six weeks I had a fiancé who was a pathological liar and a trysexual. [http://gooseberrybush.wordpress.com/2009/06/07/the-rat-bastard/] Clearly, Dr. Phil has nothing on me when it comes to dispensing marital advice.
I’m going to write this advice, assuming that you are, like me, a woman that wants to marry a man. That is in no way indicative of my views on the subject of gay marriage. I’m all for it. [http://gooseberrybush.wordpress.com/2009/07/18/i-love-my-gay-peeps/]
First off, ladies, stop confusing a marriage with a wedding. The wedding is one day in your life. Your marriage is the rest of it. Every day after that, for the rest of your life. The wedding industry in the United States is a multi-million dollar business. The average bride in 2009 spent nearly $29,000 on her wedding day. That does not include the honeymoon. How do we justify spending this kind of money on one day in our lives? We simply can’t.
Listen, I like Vera Wang dresses and butter cream frosting and ice sculptures and tons of presents just as much as the next girl. But…I’d rather have a happy marriage than a happy wedding. And one of the ways that I can help to ensure a happy marriage is by not bankrupting myself, my parents, or my husband. Do you really need a $10,000 princess cut diamond set in platinum? Somehow I think you’ll live without it.
As for the presents, if you’re young and just starting out, they’re meant for you and your husband to build your marital home together in comfort. Go register. Keep them. Use them in good health. But if you, like so many other brides out there, are older, someone who’s been on her own for a while and gotten an education and had a chance to experience the real world, shame on you if you are pressuring your friends and relatives to buy you that fancy steamer or rice cooker or bread or ice cream maker when you and your husband already have perfectly good household items for two households that you will now be combining.
If you’re a Christian, then you should be doubly ashamed. How about asking the loved ones attending your wedding ceremony to make donations on your behalf to a worthy charity? Or asking them to donate their time and services towards decorations or food? Or asking them to provide a setting in which to get hitched? That way, you don’t start your married life together in debt or spend the first five years of it “living in sin” and saving for your “dream” wedding.
Needless to say, I feel strongly about the commercialization of weddings. It is an important day. It is special. You should enjoy it. But don’t make everyone you love miserable, staging, “Bride: The Musical.” Your husband will resent you for it because he’ll be wondering which is more important to you: him or your special Princess day? Remember that scene in the first Sex and the City movie? The one where Big stands up Carrie at the altar? ‘Nuff said.
Secondly, know this, going in: love is a verb. What do I mean by that? I mean that in our culture, especially when it comes to romantic love, we usually think of love the noun. Love — that thing that gives us butterflies in our stomachs and causes us to do irrational things. Love the feeling. But when we get married, we are dealing with love the verb. We must show our husbands that we love them in words and in deeds. Be kind to one another.
There will be times in your married life when you must love your husband when he has hurt you or angered you or when you actually hate him. There will even be times when you must love your husband when he inspires no feelings in you but boredom and apathy. There will be times when you must love your husband when Dan in accounting is actually the guy who give you the butterflies. And it is in these times when you must fake it ‘til you make it.
And you must keep these feelings to yourself. Just because you have a feeling doesn’t mean that you have to share your every feeling with your spouse. Ask yourself. If I told my husband in plain language just exactly how I’m feeling, would it belittle him? Would it make him feel less important? Would it wound him? Men’s egos are much more easily shattered than ours are.
Share that feeling with your best girlfriend or a therapist, if you must. DO NOT, whatever you do, share it with Dan in accounting who gives you butterflies. I don’t recommend downright deception, but discretion and deception are two different things, and there will be times when practicing discretion in your marriage is the loving thing to do.
Why must you love your husband when you don’t love him? Because love is big; love is like an ocean. It will ebb and flow. And, to add another lame cliché, love is like a garden. Plant a tiny seed, and if you water it regularly many fruit will sprout. Stick it out. Make an effort. That old feeling will come back. You won’t feel it every day, but you will feel it sometimes, and it will be enough to sustain you. And I am convinced that your life will be measurably richer for it.
Speaking of fake it ‘til you make it, we come to the subject of sex. Sex is good. Sex is important. Starve your marriage of sex, and see your garden wilt and die. I’ve had more than just a few good girlfriends who had “issues” with sex, for whatever reason. Maybe they were abused growing up or they were raised to see sex as dirty and shameful or they have real physical problems with sex.
Let’s face it. Most of us will marry men who want to have sex more often than we do, even those of us who are really enthusiastic about sex. If my good girl and guy friends who are married are any kind of indication, the vast majority of married men are sometimes starved for sex.
There are a couple of recommendations that I’m going to make on that front. When I say “fake” it, I’m not recommending that you imitate Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally. What I mean by fake it here is that sometimes there will be times when we don’t feel like having sex when we should go ahead and have it anyway.
You might be surprised. It might be like smiling. Sometimes we don’t feel like smiling, but our work demands a positive attitude. Pretty soon you find that after faking it for a while, you don’t feel as crabby as you did before you started smiling. The physical act of smiling produces chemicals in our brains that actually change our mood in a positive direction. Sex can work like that, too. And if it doesn’t, where’s the harm? You took a few minutes out of your day to do something that didn’t hurt you and was really important to him.
If it does hurt you, then that’s a different thing. I’m talking about waiting the six weeks for your episiotomy to heal after the birth of a baby. I’m talking about those women for whom sex is emotionally traumatic. I’m talking about those women for whom sex is actually physically painful or those women who, for whatever reason, are completely incapable of feeling sexual desire. Don’t “submit” to your husband in these circumstances. You’ll just resent him for it later, even if it was your idea.
Instead, give yourself time to heal or find a treatment or a cure for your dilemma. Be diligent. Let your husband help you. Don’t just do it for your husband. Do it for yourself. A happy sex life is fulfilling. You deserve to live your life to its fullest, in every aspect. If the first doctor or therapist doesn’t work, then keep on trying until one of them does.
Still on the subject of sex, because its importance cannot be overstressed, we come back to the “faking it” of the Sally from When Harry Met Sally variety. It’s best that you don’t, ever, if you can help it. This is being deceitful, and if you’re doing it on a regular basis, you aren’t doing yourself any favors.
Something in our culture in recent years has really shifted in placing the responsibility for a woman’s sexual pleasure plainly and squarely upon the shoulders of her male partner. And while it’s an improvement over the days when women were expected to lie back and think of England, your husband isn’t Atlas. He may buckle under all that weight.
Little boys know how to please themselves sexually from an early age. We should know how to please ourselves, too. We should take responsibility for our own orgasms. I’m not saying that your man can’t please you. Show him how. Help him out. Give him encouragement. Guide him. Don’t play drill sergeant. Just take his hand or his whatever and show him some enthusiasm when he does something that you like. Your man wants to please you.
That being said we all know that there are times (much like when a man fails to get or sustain an erection) that our bodies fail to cooperate, even for ourselves. Make sure that your guy gets that sex is pleasant even without an orgasm. Because it is. An orgasm isn’t the sole goal of sex. If it were, then every woman would buy a vibrator and no woman would ever have sex again.
When it comes to money and children, these are topics of concern that you should have addressed in detail way before you ever walk down the aisle. You should be in agreement or at least in collaboration. If you can’t agree, then at least compromise to be like the most bipartisan senator the world has ever known. Nothing will ever get passed in your house, otherwise. You will always be hurting for money or forever arguing about the kids. Or worse yet, one of you will be seething at having missed the opportunity to reproduce or bitter about having been saddled with an unwanted burden. And children should never be anyone’s burden.
With children, the currently prevailing theory that they should always come first is complete bullshit. The best thing you can do for your children is to have an excellent, primary relationship with your spouse. Your kids will feel secure in the knowledge that their parents love each other as well as their children. And you’ll be doing your kids a favor in modeling the kind of relationship that they will want for themselves one day.
Disciplining children is something that you should be in agreement about as well. Unless there’s an actual abusive situation, back your spouse up. If you feel that your spouse may have made a mistake or gone too far, don’t ever confront him about this in front of your child. He should give you the same consideration. Present a united front. Don’t allow your children to divide and conquer you. And rest assured, they will try. Children are manipulative, and they like to test their boundaries.
When I was growing up, it was like a running joke between my brother and me that we could never get my parents to give us permission to do anything. To ask my father was to be confronted with the answer, “If it’s okay with your mother,” and to ask my mother was to be told, “Go ask your father.” You and your husband should be like this. Your kids won’t be able to get away with ANYTHING.
And finally, this one, most important thing: forgive. Forgive your husband on a daily basis. Forgive, forgive, forgive again. Be like the Kathie Lee Gifford, the Hillary Clinton, the Elizabeth Edwards of forgiveness. What do I mean by that? Well, certainly not that you should put up with persistent philandering. What I mean is this: that Jesus said to forgive your “brother” not seven times but seventy-seven times. How much more often do you think we’ll have to forgive our husbands?