I recently had the good fortune of speaking at my daughter’s wedding. I wanted my speech to be memorable and personable but I also wanted to keep it real. So I created the five rules of marriage. Trying to distill the rules down to five wasn’t easy. It’s like the writer Somerset Maugham once said, there are five rules of writing only no one knows what they are. Drawing on all that I know, here are my five rules of marriage.
Rule Number One:
All marriages aren’t meant to last, but they are meant to happen. It’s no mistake that we marry the right person at the right time. We choose each other from a countless number of people we encounter for reasons that are both obvious and obscure. What we do with our marriage is a very personal thing based on assumptions, expectations, desires and abilities. Sometimes we drift apart. Sometimes we mature at different rates. Sometimes we make dumb mistakes that are irretrievable. Most of the time, however, we work it out. Whether the marriage is sustainable or not is determined by an incalculable number of variables, but it is no mistake that the marriage was meant to happen.
Rule Number Two:
Being married is arguably the most difficult thing that people can do. We’re constantly working on our relationships. Are we too close, too distant, too self-absorbed, too co-dependent, too sensitive. You get the picture. Spouses engage in a constant struggle to develop a workable rhythm between each other’s self-interests. We go back and forth, like children on a teeter totter, trying to hold that elusive balance point we crave so much. That’s the marital dance. It ebbs and flows while it teaches us lessons we could not learn any other way. There’s no better vehicle to humble you and challenge you than your marriage.
Rule Number Three:
We don’t want to be alone, we just want to be left alone. We are social animals who do not like to be alone but who do not always know how to effectively live together either. How we determine the distance between aloneness and togetherness can really stress us out. It’s far worse for men than it is for women. Men tend to want independence, I call them “married bachelors”, but studies show that the life expectancy of single men is considerably lower than it is for married men, whereas the life expectancy for single women is only slightly lower than for married women. It’s a challenge for both men and women to figure out how to have space without disengaging from the marriage
Rule Number Four:
You’ll say things to your spouse that you will never say to anyone else. You’ll hear words come out of your mouth that will shock and embarrass you. You’ll scream and curse and, if necessary, string together foul phrases just to vent your frustration. Why? Because marriage is unlike any relationship you’ll ever have. It’s not a best friend that you don’t have to live with. It’s not a family member that you can ignore. And, it’s not a boss that you have to be deferential to. It’s someone who knows you better than anyone else on the planet knows you and who knows all of your weaknesses. You can’t bullshit your spouse, although you’ll certainly try. And when you’re called on it you’ll become defensive and out will come the seven words you can’t say on TV (google it). Marriage shows us what we’re made of and when we don’t like what we see we often act poorly. That’s when communication breaks down and we say things to our spouse that we would never say to anyone else.
Rule Number Five:
Keep moving forward. Alvy Singer, the self-conscious protagonist in the Oscar winning movie Annie Hall, said, a relationship is like a shark, it has to constantly move forward or it dies. At the time he was talking to his quirky girlfriend, Annie Hall, concluding; what we have on our hands is a dead shark. Today it is a classic breakup line but its positive connotation, however, is that if you work on your relationship you stand the best chance of having a sustainable one. By moving forward you will guarantee that you give the marriage your best effort. So, don’t stop moving forward. Face conflict, don’t run from it. Embrace differences. Dig in. Go deep. Get dirty. And, don’t give up. Your hard work will get you where you’re going and when you get there it will be worth it. Don’t look back; onward, man…
About the AuthorLarry Laveman, LCSW, BCD, is a Psychotherapist and Author in Solana Beach, California. His publications include topics on marriage counseling, supervision, mental health and spirituality. He is the former Chief Clinical Director for Harmonium, Inc., a community based nonprofit organization specializing in children, adolescents and families. You can find contact him via Google +, LinkedIn, or this website's contact page.