How to Survive Marriage

Happy Valentine’s Day! Ain’t love grand? Unfortunately, according to many people love and marriage are mutually exclusive. I’m a firm believer that it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m five years into my marriage and still happy. Our relationship doesn’t stay that way on its own though. I’ll always be learning how to be a better partner, but here are some of the gems I’ve gleaned so far. 

The couple who wears onesies together, stays together.

Know and love who you are. I’m amazing, but imperfect. I am well aware that there are certain quirks of mine that I’m sure aren’t easy to live with–my tendency to expect the worse in any uncertain situation, the fact that I don’t like being talked to for 15-30 minutes after work, the fact that I won’t talk TO anyone for the first 15 minutes after I get up in the morning. . .I’m sure there are more but I’m not going to spill all my tea. Remembering my husband’s graciousness when I’m annoying makes it easier to woo-sah when he’s tap dancing on my last nerve. Although I will never not be irritated when he falls asleep on the couch instead of taking his ass to bed when he starts fading away. ARGH.

Stay close…Marriage is the merging of two separate lives into one. So you can’t be successful at it unless you are willing to share yourself with the other person, and part of that is spending time together. How much time depends on you, but if you do not have kids and can’t remember the last time you and your spouse hung out, you’re probably not spending enough.

…But not too close. No one person can fulfill 100% of your needs, 24/7/365. So don’t abandon your other relationships. For example: my husband, like a lot of men, is very blunt. So if I’m feeling really sensitive about something I might talk to my sister first. Sometimes I get upset over something I know is petty and I just want to complain without being judged or told that I need to be the bigger person. You’ll always need your friends. 

You’re gonna be doing a LOT of this.
Photo Credit: Atlanta Black Star

Get comfortable asking for what you want. Skip the BS where you wish he could just read your mind and keep getting mad at him for not knowing why you’re mad. HE’S NOT A MIND READER, SIS. Do you need him to take over some of the household chores so you don’t feel overwhelmed? Ask for it. Want a monthly date night? Ask for it. Do you need more variety in the bedroom? Tell him (and show him, too). Feeling like you two just aren’t connecting? Let him know. The common theme here- USE YOUR WORDS. 

While you’re at it, get used to awkward conversations. Discussing things like life insurance, finances, and birth control is not fun and probably won’t ever be. But ensuring that you’re on the same page creates a harmonious existence. You’re on the same team, so it would help if you’re using the same playbook. This is the person you’re spending your life with, so you should really be able to discuss anything without embarrassment.

When you’re angry/irritated/moody, just shut up. Every once in a while your spouse will irritate you so much that you can’t even stand to look at them. At that moment, say that you need to put the conversation on hold because you’re too emotional, and walk away. Listen to some music, phone a friend, or work out some aggression in the gym. Some words can’t be taken back so it’s better if they never get said in the first place.

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What does a wife look like?

Sometimes when people find out that I’m married, they say things like “You don’t seem like you’d be married” or “I never would have guessed you have a husband”. I laugh it off but can’t help but wonder- what do they think a wife is supposed to look like? I assume a great deal of it has to with my age. If I’m not in my lawyer suit, I get mistaken for someone up to 10 years younger (thanks for the great genes, Mom!). Anyways, it got me thinking about people’s opinions on marriage in general. I believe that marriage isn’t for everyone. But at the same time, marriage gets a bad rap. In 2015, people still seem to think that marriage has to look like June and Ward Cleaver. Why?

I’ve been married two years, and I’m still the same person. Have my priorities changed? Of course. Tex is my husband, and spending time with him is non-negotiable for me. But that does’t mean I gave up everything that didn’t revolve around him. Because we met in college and most of our circle consists of friends who know us both, we usually socialize as a couple. But that doesn’t mean I spend the whole night cuddling him in the corner (although I’m not ashamed to grab a hug and a quick smooch when I feel like it). When he wants to hang at the bar with his homeboys, I’m cool with it. I take advantage of having the apartment to myself and watch the reality shows he hates, give myself a pedicure, or just enjoy the silence and a good book. Unfortunately I don’t have any girlfriends who live less than an hour away from me, but I still keep in touch. Tex is my rock but he can’t be my entire life.

We just do what works for us. A woman in my building was scandalized by the fact that I don’t always wear my wedding band. Neither does Tex. It’s not a diss- I love my rings. But I’ve never been much into jewelry and I work in a really small office where everyone knows I’m married. If I have to fend off a random guy at the grocery store from time to time, so be it. WE know we’re married and a piece of metal doesn’t affect our commitment level. I knew he was the one years before he put a ring on it; that just made it official to the rest of the world. We do our own thing. He does most of the house cleaning; I do the cooking and manage the finances. lt works and if it stops working, we’ll figure it out.

Marriage isn’t a death sentence. I enjoy being a wife as much as I enjoy being a sister, a friend, an attorney. It’s another part of my life. And it can look like whatever I want it to.

What women want

With some women you almost have to be a mind reader!

With some women you almost have to be a mind reader!

The other night we went out for Mexican food and margaritas, and then had a little kickback. Of course, when you have a bunch of young men and women who are slightly tipsy and talking after midnight, the conversation turned to sex and dating. Nothing too racy but still my mind was blown. I’m a bit of a. . . traditionalist*, so there was a lot of pearl-clutching on my end. What was really interesting to me was the differing attitudes toward communication. There was an interesting resistance on the part of the ladies (other than me) to straightforwardly asking for what you want, in or out of the bedroom. “I don’t like directing,” said one. “I like to do things that make the guy think this is what he wanted to do, and it was his idea,” said the other. Really though? As Tex pointed it out, it’s not an ineffective or totally unreasonable way to go about living your life. It does get results. But it just seems so silly and stupid to me! How is it work to ask for you want? I do that as naturally as breathing. Maybe it’s just because I’m a youngest child, but I took all those cliche’s about closed mouths and squeaky wheels to heart. Once I heard Matthew 7:7 it was a done deal. I was going to ask, seek and knock like it was my business!

Basically, I’m simple. I’m not very good at dissembling, plus I’m impatient so candor is just more efficient! And to me, it just comes off as condescending, bordering on disrespectful, to try to direct someone’s actions without them realizing it. Nothing is more attractive to me than a man who knows his own mind. My goal was always to find a man who wanted the same things I did, so that eventually I wouldn’t need to always ask him for things. It would start to happen naturally through our reciprocal affection and desire to please one another. To put it metaphorically, I’m an open book. I practically come with an instruction manual! If you don’t bother to read it, it wasn’t meant to be. But I certainly don’t expect you to be able to read it in braille, or write it without being able to ask me any questions.

I don’t want to come off as a smug wife who thinks she knows what’s best for the poor single ladies by virtue of the ring on her finger. However, I’ve always had a strong sense that no matter what your other preferences, open and honest communications are a necessary piece of a successful relationship. And again, isn’t it just easier? Maybe I’m being naive, I haven’t dated actively for 5 years so who knows. What do you think?

*Some would call me a prude, but I disagree. I have a healthy relationship with my own sexuality, I just don’t particularly care to see or hear about anyone else’s :-/

Divorce is for rich people

[Now would be a good time to remind you all that I AM NOT A LAWYER AND THIS IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE. This is purely my own opinion and should not be relied upon in any legal situation!]

What is the value of a marriage? Should we take into account:

-The intangible cost of sacrificing the complete autonomy of singlehood, and

-Increase/decrease in earning potential as incurred by a working/nonworking spouse

-Money saved through tax breaks & sharing of the household bills

Whenever a celebrity couple splits, people get up in arms over how much money the man has to pay in child support and alimony. “Baby clothes don’t cost $10,000 a month.” “She shouldn’t be able to live off that man the rest of her life.” Etc, etc. It’s really annoying to me because I don’t think that child support and most alimony are usually unreasonable.

As far as child support, I take a hard line stance for sure. Women don’t make babies alone and if a man is able bodied, why shouldn’t he be compelled to support the people he helped bring into the world? I don’t care how bitter the divorce was, or how much you hate your ex, NOTHING should get in the way of providing for your child. Not your dislike for ex, or your remarriage, or anything else. (Oh, and by the way- paying your child support is not a substitute for spending time with your children!) Where alimony is concerned, it’s just “cheaper to keep her.” Think about the type of lifestyle you want to have and choose your mate accordingly! Penelope Trunk wrote brilliantly about how to pick a wife and how to pick a husband if you want to have kids. It’s very practical and debunks our cultural narrative that marriage is solely about love. If you want to have a full-time stay at home spouse, be prepared to shell out alimony in the event of a divorce because the court recognizes that staying out of the job market is an economic sacrifice that negatively impacts your future earning potential. When you marry someone (educated or not) and allow them to be a homemaker, you are taking on the responsibility for their standard of living. They keep the house and kids orderly, you bring home the money that pays the bills. That is the implied contractual agreement. Alimony, in a sense, is paying back the benefit you’ve received during their marriage from the other person’s sacrifice.

Divorce can be devastating not just emotionally, but financially. During my externship in the fall, I sat in on divorce court and it really drove home to me how expensive divorce is. Attorneys cost a grip but in this economy, a lot of people are just barely able to make it because of the savings, benefits and economies of scale that living together as a married couple provides. After a divorce, both parties end up living on less than half of what they were living off of together, and if you didn’t have a huge income to begin with that’s a serious problem. Regular folks have more to lose than celebrities, and I think more people should talk about  prenups. Notice I said “talk about” instead of “get”. That’s because the real root of the issue is that not enough people talk about money before they get married, despite it being one of the top causes for divorce. Discussing your credit score, how many kids you want to have, and how you might handle relocating for your career isn’t cute or fun or sexy, but it’s necessary. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Let's hear it for the boys

Last night at the DNC, Michelle Obama gave a fantastic, inspiring speech. She paid tribute to her own father as well as Barack. Today the blogs and media were all abuzz about it. I read a couple of articles that said the difference between Michelle’s and Ann Romney’s speeches was that Michelle talked about raising children as if it were family work, and not women’s work. Huh.

It seems to me that a father’s contributions to family life are somewhat undervalued. I believe that two parents are better than one. This isn’t a criticism of single parents–divorce is an unfortunate reality. But it’s like people don’t want to acknowledge that having only one parent can be a disadvantage. Notice the use of the word “can”–I don’t presume that every child and every family are the same. Where there is violence, molestation or abuse, there’s no question the child is better off not having that parent around. But it’s hard for people who have never seen a nuclear family, or an equitable relationship modeled to create the same in their own lives.

My dad and I don’t always get along, but I have learned a lot from him and I know that if I need something he will be there for me. I could live life unafraid of being unloved or never meeting someone who would protect and cherish me. And if I hadn’t had that, I might have settled for less than what I deserve. I used to get told a lot that Tex spoiled me rotten, or that I expected too much from my romantic partners. I figure, why not set the bar high and see who can reach it? I am always saddened by women who settle for shiftless men (and vice versa, to be quite honest). If the person in your life doesn’t want to go above and beyond for you, then what’s the point?

Alpha vs. Beta: Here's one for the nice guys

Beta males are unfairly maligned in today’s society. They’ve gotten a  rep for being spineless doormats who can’t escape from the friend box long enough to get laid, much less get a girlfriend. However, our understanding of social rank in the animal kingdom is a little off. We all know that alpha males are the top dog, thanks to The Lion King. But, here’s the true order of things:

A beta animal is an animal that will act as a new alpha animal if the old alpha dies. In some species of birds, the males pair up in twos when courting, the beta male aiding the alpha male. The beta male does not generally get to mate with the female birds, but if the alpha dies, he takes over the alpha’s females, becoming the new alpha.

Omega (usually rendered ω-male) is an antonym used to refer to the lowest caste of the hierarchical society. An omega is subordinated to all others in the community. The omega is commonly the last allowed to eat.”– Alpha (ethology), from Wikipedia

Beta males have borne the unfair brunt of our derision all this time when it’s really the Omega males that you want to stay away from. The fact is, Beta males are the ideal mates. Alpha males come with problems. Men want to be him, so they constantly challenge his primacy. Women want to be with him, so his mate is always fighting off encroachments. And let’s face it, their egos are a force to be reckoned with. But Beta males have a dose desirability and competence without all the drama. They aren’t doing stupid stuff to prove their masculinity, the groupie levels are much reduced, and they probably won’t mind helping you with the housework.

Unfortunately, biological directives drive much of our relationship decision making. During the childbearing years, women are irresistibly attracted men who have the hallmarks of success in the animal kingdom—height/size, strength, aggression, and ability to provide. Men who don’t display these traits to the fullest extent are passed over for the ones who do. When fertility starts to drop and women’s hormones calm down enough for them to realize that logically, the guy who can get you knocked up the fastest may not be the best long term father and life partner, Beta males start to look much more attractive. It’s a rare woman who realizes early on that Alpha males can be more trouble than they’re worth.