A little note: The newest viral blog post about how “marriage isn’t for you” got me thinking a lot about this topic. I’m not trying to argue for or against it, though my views do clash with it a bit. It’s a well-written article with some great points, but I wanted to write about how my experience with marriage has been a little different. 🙂
Our society loves adages, especially when it comes to marriage. The one I heard a lot when Eric and I first got married was “Never go to bed angry.” And so, we tried really, really hard to follow that.
Throughout the first year of our marriage, there were many nights where we stayed up, yelling, arguing, angry, because we were intent of not going to bed without finding a resolution. It never crossed our minds to just go to sleep, because maybe the reason we were feeling so emotionally out of control was because we were exhausted.
After over a year of late-night arguments, we decided to defy the old adage and try going to bed when we were outright pissed at each other. Sometimes we’d just curl up on our respective sides of the bed and fume. Sometimes one of us would sleep on the couch. But you know what? The fights resolved themselves and we rarely find ourselves in an out-of-control argument anymore. This is what works for us, despite the well-meaning advice we received from the get-go.
Marriage is hard. I think, because of that, many of us love to find those quotes or sayings that tell us exactly how to succeed in being a married person. We read an article with some great advice and think, “Well, there you go! That’s what I’ve been doing wrong. If I just follow their advice, this is going to be a cinch.” I hate to break it to the world, but it’s just not true.
The newest piece of advice, that in marriage you should think of the other person’s happiness and not your own, is just the type of cliche that I can see many people holding on to as their personal marriage life preserver. “The problem this whole time has been that I’m thinking of myself! I need to think of the other person’s happiness and this will all be much easier.”
Know what? I tried that. Eric would come home in a bad mood and instead of saying to myself, “Hey, he’s in a bad mood. I shouldn’t take it personally,” I suddenly took it upon myself to make sure that he no longer felt that way. His happiness was my responsibility…right? I wasn’t thinking of myself, I was thinking of him! Know what this usually led to? Him still being angry and me feeling like a jerk for letting it be that way. Because as it turns out, we can’t control the way people feel.
The other side of this was that I would routinely concern myself with the needs of my husband (and eventually my daughter), without attending to my own needs first. They were “happy,” yes, but I was a stressed out, over-tired mess. And not only that, but I would begin to feel resentful, because if I was trying to make them happy, why weren’t they making me happy? Isn’t that how this works?
The definition of selfish, according to Merriam-Webster, is:
concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself : seeking or concentrating on one’s own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others
Instead of hearing that being selfish was focusing “excessively or exclusively” on myself, I was convinced that any thought for myself was selfish, and therefore should not be present in our marriage.
I took things too far.
When I stepped back from the situation and began addressing the needs that I had, I was able to attend to the needs of my daughter and my husband much more efficiently. Does that mean that sometimes, their needs (or wants) aren’t met? Yup. It means that sometimes, my daughter goes down for “quiet time,” even if she doesn’t want to, because Mommy is going to lose her mind in the next five minutes. It means that I may have to say,”No” when my husband asks for help, because I know my own personal limits.
And you know what? This is working for us. Does that mean this will work for everyone? No. No, it won’t. But that’s the thing about marriage (and parenting and really, relationships in general). As much as we want there to be a “rule book” that explains exactly how things can be done correctly…there is no such thing. Each of us is in a family with a bunch of different people that have their own personalities, ideas, quirks, whatever. And what works for the family next door might not exactly work for us. And that is ok.
Moral of the story: advice is great, but personal experience is better. In the end, there’s going to be a lot of trial and error, you’re going to make mistakes, and people might end up in therapy. This is all a big adventure, which I’m pretty sure very few people have figured out yet. I know I haven’t. Here’s to many years of learning and growing with my favorite, wonderfully imperfect people.