What I know about marriage (after 3.4 years)

I’ve written this post for no other reason than that I was recently reading Elizabeth Esther’s post What I know about marriage (after 16 years) and was inspired to tag on. Her post is far better than this one.

What I know is just… what I know. How do you know something or not know something? You’ve either experienced it yourself, or you’ve been a close witness to it a repeated number of times which, according to some theory I can’t remember the name of, must make it true. After 3.4 years I feel capable of dishing out these thoughts with no consequence or reward as to what someone else does with them.

One major thing I know is that marriage is different to everyone. The institution of marriage, the noun, the verb, the concept — it’s subjective, up for interpretation, to each his own. Marriage is also a relative thing — relative to your own personal experience related but not limited to the topics of: legally-defined marriage, commitment-defined marriage, love and all that goes with that, and (because we are a species that conducts comparative analysis even if only in our heads) hate and it’s entourage of side effects. Marriage can also be influenced by practically anything. Culture, emotion, E. L. James, your friends, your past, your mind, your imagination. And, lest we forget, marriage is the recognized social, ritual or legal union of two people, voluntarily upheld until its not.

Ok, great. Now that we are properly confused and none the wiser, here’s a few things people told me about marriage:

In marriage, there are no secrets. I’m good at no secrets. Secrets aren’t really my style because (in grade school) I could never keep track of who I told secrets to, who I didn’t, and what the secrets actually were. And I work in digital marketing where secrets make for great headlines and are known to improve email open rates. Quite frankly nothing is so secretive that you can’t tell the person you married. This is one area, in marriage, I use the golden rule — I keep no secrets from my husband because I don’t want him to keep secrets from me.

Marriage is hard work. How many people say this a day? A billion? An additional million if it’s a universally bad day for married people? 500,000 less if it’s Valentine’s Day? This is the most flawed (albeit, shared) of all marriage advice. Fool me not, it’s not advice at all. It’s more a statement or a warning, like “objects in mirror are closer than they appear”. Aka: Marriage is no(t always) a picnic. But actually I think it’s a flawed statement because “hard work” is as subjective as “ugly” or “easy” or “spanking your kids”. Hard work motivates some, and drains others.

Learn that you will never ever change the person you’re with. This is called the fallacy of change — where we actually expect people will change if only we could help them. The damaging truth about this is that we need them to change because our hopes for happiness depend entirely on them becoming what we want. This all sounds a bit selfish. But I don’t believe everything that’s selfish is bad, so my takeaway here is: You can’t change your partner. Don’t be unhappy spending your whole life trying and failing; don’t be unhappy now.

Do you love each other? That’s all that really matters. There are two schools of thought here. This “all that matters” philosophy is the first of them — where love is not just the foundation of the pyramid, but the pinnacle and everything in between. Love is the oxygen of marriage. I’m personally in the second (likely less popular) school of thought that doesn’t actually think, alone, “enough love” will solve your problems or cook you dinner or help you file your taxes and pay off your student loans or truly make for a happy life day in and day out. (Objective example: We love the holidays, but the whole season isn’t a Christmas bonus.) In this school of thought, love is like the heart of marriage — absolutely essential to keep alive and thriving. But your body requires more than your heart to function and function well. Hard work,  mutual respect, and forgiveness are the brains, lungs, and pancreas of marriage.

And amidst the plethora of good and bad advice, here’s what I’ll add to the internet’s archive of commentary from another unprofessional.

Marriage is the antithesis of dating, which makes it all the good things you hate about dating and all the bad things you like about dating. I hate dating because it’s a relationship in intervals — for the weekend or summer or (if you’re on the Bachelor) completely unrealistic, idyllic date nights. For me, marriage is better than dating in every way. But it does mean you can’t just break up. Remember you made vows to one another (says school of thought one) and maybe you need to work harder (says school of thought two) plus, remember: You’re legally bound. And also you need to grow up.

Compatibility. I’ve been thinking a fair bit about “compatibility” lately. What makes two people compatible in a relationship? In marriage? And (with 3.4 years under my belt) I have decided this: It’s not your interests — how much you like the same things, or even really your lifestyle. It’s not your past, or your job field, or whether or not your dreams for the future have met at a serendipitous crossroads. What makes two people compatible is  how far hard they’re willing to work for the other person.

And (because I’m writing this at 11pm, I’ll wrap it up)… Can you imagine if we thought as carefully about marriage as we do our marketing plans? We’d have some slightly vague and also seemingly clear objective, a minimum 4-page strategy approved by your boss’s boss’s boss who will never give you a raise, metrics, KPI’s, CTA’s, CTR’s, split-testing strategies, RTD tracking, and (of course) we’re concerned about the user’s experience. If anyone knows the divorce rate for married couples who both work in marketing, please pass it on to me…. because that would make a hell of an infographic.

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