In a few weeks, it will be 12 years since my husband and I stood in front of a Bahamian minister — in what was generously described by our travel agent as a “garden,” next to the swim-up bar at an all-inclusive resort — and said our “I do’s.”
It’s hard to believe it’s been 12 years since either of us made out with a stranger in a club, wondered how we got home the night before or worried we were pregnant without wanting to be.
But here we are! Two kids, three dogs and hundreds of loads of laundry later, and we’re still married. I thought I’d share some tips on how we’ve managed to stay that way.*
Diversify your chats
Keep a running list of conversation topics that don’t involve kids, money or your in-laws.
My husband and I avoid these subjects at all costs when we go out. The reason? They’re too depressing.
Also, our daily conversations typically revolve around family, bills or who’s going to pick up the kids from the bus stop. There’s no need to continue these conversations when we’re out to dinner.
Having an actual list of stuff to talk about that in no way relates these areas of life prevents arguments — and forces us to be more interesting. More important, it helps us remember who we were before our lives changed so drastically, and why we fell in love in the first place.
This isn’t always easy, though. My husband and I ran out of things to talk about roughly a year into our relationship. For real. So whenever we go out, I literally bring a list of conversation starters.
This list includes words or simple phrases to jog my memory about events or news stories worthy of discussion. I keep it in the notes app on my phone, and as soon as the conversation well runs dry, I sneak a peek. I know, it sounds ridiculous. But it beats talking about his plantar fasciitis for the hundredth time.
Air your grievances
Keeping a journal is a great way to purge any personal grievances that come up during the day. I like to carry a little reporter’s notebook with me wherever I go, David Sedaris-style.
Whenever I notice something that annoys or angers me — crusty, food-covered dishes left in the sink, for example — and I want to lash out, I channel all that rage onto the blank page.
This always seems to make me feel better. More importantly, it prevents me from sending a knee-jerk reaction text message the moment I see someone forgot to refill the water in the Keurig.
Of course, if there’s an ongoing issue, we’ll address it. But most of our bickering doesn’t revolve around a major issue. It’s more about the little things, like whose turn it was to empty the dishwasher.
Lower your expectations
When I was young and single, I had all these ideas in my head about what a marriage should look like. There would be roses and romance and picnics in the park with well-behaved children. (Thanks a lot, Every Romantic Comedy Ever.)
But as anyone who’s been married for more than a minute knows, life is messy and imperfect.
So I learned pretty early that I needed to change my mindset if I wanted to be happy. And that involved lowering my expectations.
After all, it’s unfair to expect my husband to organize the pantry or load the dishwasher the right way my way every time. I had to adjust my expectations. And so I learned not to expect that my marriage would fit the made-up ideals in my mind.
I’d be happy if my marriage were just good enough. And so far, it’s exceeded my expectations.
*Disclaimer: What works for one couple, might not work for all. For real marriage advice, please see a professional.
Tina Mortimer lives in White Bear Lake and is an essayist and a contributing writer for many local publications. Follow her work at tinamortimer.contently.com.