Most marriage advice is a waste of time. Here's what you really need to know...
The other day, an article on marriage crossed my path. Usually, I am a smart person, and when anything threatens to tell me how to love my husband or raise my kids, I run far and fast in the opposite direction, but something about this particular article made me pause.
Maybe it was the fact that the person who shared it seems to genuinely love and respect his wife. Maybe it was the fact that his wife agreed that it was a great article, and since she seems to genuinely love and respect her husband, I thought I’d give it a look.
Man, was that a dumb idea. Generally speaking, marital advice columns annoy me because they either seek to objectify the spouse (“10 Sex Tips that Will Save Your Marriage!!!”) or they seek to objectify the relationship (“How to Make Your Marriage the Envy of All Your Friends!!!”), and many of them, I suspect, are written by people who are more interested in meeting a deadline than actually passing along intelligent advice.
This particular article was no different. It managed to objectify people (in this case, single women that married men would be forced to work with in an office setting) and the marital relationship (the premium placed on cubicle photographs was laughably high). I came away with it not only annoyed with the author, but with marriage advice articles the world over.
However, since I firmly believe in being the change you want to see in the world, I thought I’d treat you, O Gentle Reader, to a marriage advice article, Donaldson-style.
So, let’s start with credentials, because no rational person would take marriage advice without knowing the resume of the advisor. I met my husband when I was 13, and knew I was going to marry him when I was 14. Which is to say, 14-year old me knew I was going to marry him – someday. Not like we were child brides. Or child bride and groom. By the time I got my intended on board with the marriage idea, almost a decade had passed, and so we were your typical 20-somethings; totally mature, utterly selfless, and ready to make every sacrifice necessary for the spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being of the other.
In opposite land.
In reality, we spent the first five years or so squabbling, sparring, fussing and fighting. As two thoroughly secular individuals, we’d pretty much swallowed the lie that marriage was meant to make the individual happy all the time, and if the individual wasn’t happy, it meant the marriage wasn’t working. However, we also both had the benefit of parents who taught us that marriage was for life, and divorce wasn’t a solution to the “I’m just not happy”s.
Eventually, we found God, entered the Church, and learned a whole lot about the purpose for marriage and the role of the spouses and the basic survival stuff that the secular world doesn’t really equip you with. Our marriage got stronger and stronger, but there were still some skills we kept from our pre-Catholic days.
1) Playground rules rule. It is very, very tempting for spouses to get caught up in the task-for-task weighing of household chores. Resentment festers and swells in a heart, as putrid as roadkill, when you start keeping a mental checklist of who last vacuumed or took out the trash or changed the baby’s diaper. Sometimes, having a heart of service, or dying to yourself, or carrying your cross just isn’t enough to convince you to take one for the team, and so in our house, we use the tried-and-true playground rules. “Not It” is the most frequent one, and whoever has the sharper nose or quicker tongue can usually bark out “not it!!!” and save themselves from having to let the dogs out or wrestle some clothes back on the 4 year old.
Sometimes, the task is too big for it to be fairly decided by Not It. Determining who will run to the drugstore at six in the morning for diapers, or who will teach the 3rd grader long division, for example. In dire cases like that, a round of “Paper, Rock, Scissors” is proposed, and the winner is quickly decided.
Really, between Not It and Paper, Rock, Scissors, most of the daily minutia in the Domestic Church can be dealt with.
2) Remember the ocean. Have you ever been to the beach? You know how you’re sitting there, trying to keep the baby from eating sand and the 5 and 6-year olds from painting each other with sunscreen, and all of the sudden you look around, and the tide is right there at your feet, washing the plastic shovels and buckets and whatnot out to sea? So you gather your wits, gather your stuff, and move back a bit? Or you come out in the morning, when things are still very, very quiet, and you realize the castle the kids built right at the water’s edge is now 50 yards away from the waves?
That’s the best metaphor for marriage I have. Sometimes, there’s high tide, and things are swirling around and very hectic and intense and you need to keep your wits around you so you don’t lose your stuff. And sometimes, there’s low tide, when things are quiet and still and anything that’s happening is either out of your sight or your reach. These things just are. You don’t get angry at the tides for coming in or out, you don’t view one afternoon’s high water mark as the way the ocean will stay for infinity, and neither should you do that in a marriage. There will be ebbs and flows, and they will sometimes, most times, happen around you without you noticing.
When those times happen, when the tide is up around your neck, or so far out you doubt you’ll ever see it again, pick a random task, and challenge your spouse to a round of Paper, Rock, Scissors to see who does it. I guarantee you’ll feel better.
Cari Donaldson is the author of Pope Awesome and Other Stories: How I Found God, Had Kids, and Lived to Tell the Tale. She married her high school sweetheart, had six children with him, and now spends her days homeschooling, writing, and figuring out how to stay one step ahead of her child army. She blogs about faith and family life at clan-donaldson.com.