Have you ever heard someone refer to their spouse as “the old ball and chain”? Have you ever been to a bachelorette or bachelor party to celebrate “one last night of freedom”? How about those wedding cake toppers depicting a reluctant groom being dragged to the altar by his bride (or vice versa)? Is it possible to celebrate the milestone of gaining a partner without that underlying shadow of losing your own identity in the process? We certainly think so.
What is marriage all about?
Marriage—hopefully—is about love, so why do we compare it to incarceration? Why do we imply that an interpersonal relationship into which two adults willingly enter somehow makes one or both of them prisoners? It’s easy to just brush it all off like a groan-worthy dad joke, but the truth is, even the most modern marriages can fall victim to the same old obstacles.
Of course life changes after you commit to sharing it with another human (it would be weird if it didn’t), but tying the knot shouldn’t cut off the circulation to your sense of self. Relationship quotes can get pretty cheesy, but we really like this one: “Don’t be a better half. Be a whole person.” So how do you accomplish that? Every marriage is different, but here are a few ideas that can probably help just about any couple navigate their way through the rough patches.
Do things together…
Whether you’re tackling a major home improvement project or just cleaning up after dinner on #TacoTuesday, working as a team can be a great reminder of all the ways you and your partner are compatible. It can also be a great way to figure out the things that really drive you crazy about each other, which, believe it or not, might be a good thing, too…because once you know what the problems are, you can start fixing them.
But don’t do EVERYTHING together.
No matter how much you love hanging out with your spouse, it’s a good idea to spend time apart occasionally. Travel together often, but travel separately sometimes. Be honest about your passions. Even if you pretended to be a huge Star Wars fan when you first started dating, it’s ok to go ahead and admit that you’d rather stay home and re-watch The Office while he catches that next midnight premier with his pals. If one of you wants to take a pottery class and the other would rather sign up for Krav Maga, there’s no reason you can’t both follow your hearts. Self defense is cool, but so are handmade coffee cups (even if they leak a little).
Skip the small talk.
Small talk is fine for when you’re chatting with the barista on your coffee break or need to fill an awkward silence during an elevator ride, but there’s no real reason for people who are married to each other to get stuck in stock conversations. Instead, talk about the big, exciting stuff—your hopes, your dreams, and your fears. Talk about the uncomfortable, practical stuff—your monthly budget, the mole you suspect might need to be removed, and your life insurance policies. Strong interpersonal communication might be the most important skill to learn in a marriage. Make each other laugh every chance you get, let each other cry any time you need to, and challenge each other to think every single day.
Be the president of each other’s fan clubs.
Honor who you are as a couple, but honor who you are as individual people, too. Admire each other’s talents, support each other’s goals, and celebrate each other’s successes. Give each other space, but stay close enough to have each other’s backs. Find your own voices, but never let your love go unspoken.
Instead of thinking about marriage in terms of limits, think about it in terms of possibilities. Because when someone amazing joins forces with someone else amazing, the possibilities increase exponentially. Grow financially. Grow intellectually. Grow creatively. Find freedom in depending on each other, and life will never stop being an adventure.