I usually admit to only two, because my first marriage was a short-lived, youthful mismatch. We parted ways a few months after the I do’s, and we’ve never crossed paths again. My second marriage lasted for 16 years, but ended when we grew too far apart to find our way back as a couple. Hubs and I have been together for 15 years, and plan to pass away together, holding hands in our old age. But the statistics are not on our side.
Studies report that 50% of marriages in the U.S. end in divorce. That number actually increases with each successive marriage, with third marriages coming in at a 73% failure rate. Ouch. Fortunately, I came out of my two previous marriages only slightly scathed, and a little bit wiser, determined to learn how to go the distance.
My third-marriage “God Save Me From the Hell of Divorce” Lesson Plan:
1. It isn’t always your turn. If your bucket list includes a stint as a circus clown, by all means, use the joint savings account to go to clown school at night while Hubs makes dinner and bathes the kids. But next year, when he announces he’s joined a ridiculously expensive “Golf Lessons Around the World” club, just smile and cut the check.
2. Leave a little mystery. He loves your soft, smooth skin. He doesn’t need to know that it requires a strict regimen of daily exfoliation, twice-weekly shaving, monthly bikini waxing, and an array of tweezers to snag those unexpected hairs that sprout up on your chin with mortifying regularity.
3. Sometimes it’s better just to shut up. Not every subject or feeling needs to be verbally explored and analyzed like a petrie dish in Chem class. That’s why God invented girlfriends.
4. Avoid comparing your marriage with friends, movie or TV couples, or country ballads. Friends don’t always tell you everything about their marriages. Movie couples, who spend inordinate amounts of time having uninhibited, marathon sex, are actors. And that country crooner who belts out a #1 heartbreak song about lost soul mates has been divorced more often than every cougar in your kid’s PTA group combined.
5. Pick your battles. Is it really that important that he stop using the decorative couch pillows as a headrest? Yes, they’ll eventually need cleaning. So clean them. Or replace them. But it’s just a pillow. Let it go.
6. You can be right, or you can get laid. Good to remember when stubborn tempers begin to flare.
7. Brag about him. Like you used to when you were dating. You were charmingly annoying, constantly reminding girlfriends how gorgeous, smart, funny, and fabulous he was, how lucky you were, and didn’t they all wish they could be you? Now it’s, “He’s an idiot, and if he thinks we’re going camping, he’s a crazy idiot.”
8. Keep each other’s secrets. When you live with someone for years, there are going to be personal things about him that the general public doesn’t know. He slept with his piano teacher when he was 17. If he sees a spider, he screams like a girl until you kill it. He always wanted to be a rock star, but has no actual talent, so now he air guitars it in the shower every morning. You give up the right to share this information with anyone outside the marriage, ever, by the law of ethics and sportsmanship.
9. Sometimes going to bed angry is the better choice. If things have reached the point where “If he says one. more. word. I’m going to put him down,” it’s often more judicious to part company and get some sleep, rather than pushing forward until one of you blurts out something in an exhausted, alcohol-fueled moment that can’t be taken back.
10. Don’t stop having fun. What did you do together before? Before the kids, the mortgage, the bills, the IRAs, and the aging parents. Do that again. Or find something new. All work and no play make both of you boring.
11. You can’t change your partner. What you married is what you get. If there’s something fundamentally “wrong” with him, stall on those wedding invitations until you figure out if you can live with it for the rest of your life.
12. Be yourself. If you have Pop-Tarts in your glovebox, or if you hate exercise, tell him. Many marriages tank because we try too hard to be “flawless,” until we eventually collapse into an exhausted heap, face-planted into the candy bowl we keep stashed in a drawer under our workout gear, until finally confessing that the root of our weight-loss struggles is not, in fact, an inherited thyroid condition.
13. Some days, you won’t be “in love.” Some days, even his breathing will just piss you off. And some days, he’ll feel the same way about you. We’re not in high school anymore, all doe-y eyed and breathless every single day. As long as neither of you does anything stupid during this time, these moments will pass.
14. An affair has never fixed a troubled marriage. It’s like borrowing money to get out of debt. It’s stupid, and rarely ends the way you imagined it. If your marriage is struggling, bringing Bubba the bartender into the bedroom virtually guarantees it’s immediate demise. Don’t even think about it.
15. Marriage is not a 50/50 deal. “I’ll give half and you’ll give half, and that will be fair.” This works if your kids are splitting the last Oreo. But in a marriage, some issues don’t have an obvious halfway marker. This causes many couples to become obsessed with determining what exactly their half includes on any given subject. Each party needs to give 51%. Their half, and just a little bit more. That “little bit more” is what separates the Kardashians from the Newman/Woodwards.
And there you have it. I’ll look for your 50th anniversary party invitation in the mail.