Marital Advice from a Dummie . . .

Can't we all just get along? At least while our portrait
is being painted?
I found out the other day that a good friend of mine is having some trouble in their marriage. I would like to pretend I'm surprised but, like with the return of Hostess snack cakes, I just sort of shook my head and thought "Muhhrikuh."

I'm not going to be angry, bitter, and cynical here (for once . . . hardy, har, harrr) but I really am not all that surprised when I hear people struggle in marriage. I'm way more surprised when I hear people do NOT struggle. Marriage, you see (sit down - quickly) is hard.

I didn't understand that and stunk at it. I might not ever learn to be better at it because - much like juggling chainsaws - I don't anticipate ever trying it again. I know this much - I never didn't love my wife. I never didn't want her to be happy. I never didn't want me to be happy. I never thought I'd find myself in a "troubled marriage" (a bathtub of chocolate pudding . . . maybe). Yet. There I was (and still am, sorta').

The struggle was way worse then the collapse. I said nothing to anyone for YEARS. It was probably a mixture of embarrassment, shame, hope (it would get better), sadness, anger, want, and need. I had no idea who to talk to or what I would say and I certainly didn't know what I wanted them to say back. What if they criticized my wife (to clarify - not a SINGLE person I've ever spoken to about my marriage has, directly, done so)? What if they told me to run, run, run (and not in a half marathon training way)? What if they told me to stick it out at all costs (opening the door for me to disappoint them if I jumped ship later)? Eh. Who needed the advice anyway? Who needs people? Who needs comfort, compassion, and the voice of experience?

ME! And "you" (my friend). So here - unsolicited - is my advice to anyone out there who might, like me, find themselves in a challenged marriage. It is super, super simple (it is only our own experiences, baggage, physical and monetary assets, wants, needs, fears, and loathing that complicates it). Ask me how I know (hardy, har, harrrr).

  1. Be honest at all times. The "kind" type of honesty - where you tell people what they need to know vs. what you would want to insert as color commentary. 
  2. Talk (discreetly) with your parents, family, and any other formal support system you have as soon as you recognize there is an official problem. Be 100% honest with them (the full honesty . . . they will love the color commentary and you will feel better letting the steam out of the kettle). You must be truthful and full with them - otherwise in  a future moment of weakness or need you might show the real truth and make things worse.
  3. Put your children first. Limit fighting in front of them. Remember they are not pawns or even decision influencers. The less they know, the best. That being said - if they ask questions (kids are smart and perceptive,  they have your genes) - see rule number one. Focus on the kind part. But, like with number two, don't lie to them. Ever.
  4. Destroy it to rebuild it. Stop everything you are doing (good, bad, ugly, sexual) and have your partner do the same. Focus on you and make them realize the loss they might feel (for better or worse) if you were gone. This will let focus come back to the dialogue and the dynamic.
  5. Trust your instincts. Unless you are wildly insecure and paranoid, your heart and gut will rarely lie to you about things. That goes for what "they" are doing or their intents as well as how you feel. To ignore the obvious is to sustain the ignorance. 
  6. Remember you love (present tense) each other. This one is crucial. You may "hate" each other in the moment but you were once passionately, madly, naively, and blissfully in love with each other. Real love never actually dies (stop dry heaving, clown). It may have been for 20 years or 20 seconds but it happened - you found love between you and that spurred you on. If it had not - you would have never gotten together, got married, started a family, signed a mortgage, and decided to start wearing pleated chinos TOGETHER to begin with. If you can just remember that love was there and still beats in your hearts (it absolutely does, by the way) you will treat each other far better and you might just - gasp - be able to resolve whatever is going on OR have the clarity to know it is not fixable.
That is it. Seriously. Note there is nothing here about negotiating a peace treaty, settling divorce decrees, picking a counselor, picking a spot for the second honeymoon, or determining who moves to the sofa/guest room. Because these things are not part of working on a challenged marriage (except the counselor - but that has to be a shared, mutually wanted decision anyway) they are a resolution to the debate. 

I would fight for my marriage until my last breath if I was patient, confident, open, and focused enough to observe the above rules. I think my ex would too (if she could follow those rules). We've found our own peace in the meantime . . . a peace set up, candidly, on the foundation of rule six above. The one thing (three if you count pleated chinos and wanting to raise a child who has seen as much happiness, love, encouragement, and joy as possible) we really can and do agree on. 

I wish you all the best with your marriage. Or in the next phase of it - no matter what happens, friend.