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.