We have been hitched for almost 10 years now, and until recently our number one piece of advice would have been: Don’t write about how to make your marriage divorceproof. It’s hubris! But we like to take risks (that’s piece of advice number two), so we knocked on wood, threw salt over our shoulders, and forged ahead with all the unstoppable energy that a couple with two kids under the age of five can muster. (Eating a pile of old Halloween candy helped, too.) Ultimately, we came up with this list of marriage rules and reminders—all of which, we hope, are cheaper and more fun than therapy.
1. Realize that if you can agree on what constitutes a clean room, you can agree on anything. If you are the kind of person who wants the vacuum tracks on the living-room carpet to last all week (as in, Jason), you need to understand that your spouse is physically unable to hover three inches off the floor when traveling from point A to point B. You may have to shoulder the burden of raking the shag rug twice a day yourself. Conversely, if you are the type of person who “gets around ” to wiping up a raw chicken–juice spill on the counter (for example, Sam), you should know that if you want to live with other humans, you need to surpass the hygiene standards of, say, the average fraternity-house bathroom. Fortunately, if you can compromise on the red hot–button subject of cleanliness, your marriage is unlikely to be thrown off course by comparatively less volatile topics, like politics, religion, and money.
2. If you’re irritated by your partner, imagine him as a small child. We know! You totally don’t want to try this! It sounds awful! (And maybe even not that much of a stretch.) But trust us—this is an amazing way to see him from a fresh angle. Here’s what to do: While your partner is puttering around and looking idle, imagine him at age five. Awww. Isn’t he adorable? And so smart! It’s easy to forget how appealing your spouse is when you are looking at him through a prism of all the chores that he has yet to accomplish (fixing the garage-door opener, booking the tree-removal service…we could go on).
3. No fisticuffs in public. Take this example: We were at a picnic with a group of friends when the wife of one of the couples present casually announced that she had bought their family a house. In another country. Without consulting the husband. He turned about 14 shades of red, and they began fighting at the top of their lungs. Cut to everyone else with their heads down, forensically examining their egg-salad sandwiches as though they contained the secrets of the human genome. You do not want to be That Couple Who Ruined the Otherwise Delightful Picnic.
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4. Marry someone with a backbone who appreciates that you possess one of your own. That said, try to have bendy backbones if possible. Don’t attempt to win every argument and get your way all the time. Who could bear all that responsibility, anyway? Repeat this spouse-mollifying phrase after us: “Yes, honey, I will see the Transformers sequel on one of our precious and rare date nights. But on our next excursion, I get to choose a period piece featuring people in bonnets who churn their own butter.”
5. Procrastinate. Yes, we know things need to be done, but seriously. Put your BlackBerry away and stop worrying about the broken garage-door opener. Have dessert in lieu of dinner. Watch old John Hughes movies. Hold hands. There, aren’t they smoother than how you remembered them?
6. Have sex with each other. And if you can’t have sex with each other for some reason, let your spouse know that you are thinking about having sex with him and that you are looking forward to the next time you are both available for sex. Like, in 2012. Try sending a “sext”; apparently it’s all the rage.
7. Accept that everybody needs alone time. Sometimes your spouse needs to go to the bathroom for 45 minutes. Look, he’s not going to the bathroom the whole time; he’s trying to get away from you. And that’s OK. Maybe you’re being annoying. Sometimes you can be kind of annoying, you know.
8. If you have to fight, walk and fight. In our experience, arguments stem more from being cooped up together in tight quarters than from the issue at hand. Plus, getting fresh air is good for you, and it will give you more energy for No. 6. (Hey, everyone knows that makeup No. 6 is the best kind.)
9. Let your spouse in on 90 percent of your day-to-day routine. Save the other 10 percent for your bathroom time. Sam, for example, will never allow Jason to see her lurching to put on a pair of panty hose, and he never wishes for her to see him struggling to shave the back of his neck. It’s those small things that keep the mystery alive.
10. When you buy gifts for each other, give them at least a full minute of thought. Sam’s mother once gave her partner a giant meat grinder for Christmas so that he (an extremely reluctant cook) could make her tastier hamburgers. In our opinion, gifts that require someone to perform a household task don’t count as gifts. A present should convey the message “I love you, but most of all, I get you.” (Yes, that’s a tough sentiment to express with a big-box–store gift card. Ahem.) Like playing chess or figuring out Facebook privacy settings, delighting a longtime spouse is a genuine challenge—which (duh) is what makes it worth the effort.