13 Ways to 13 years: Building a Great Marriage By Doing It All Wrong

I recently read a blog by a woman celebrating her fifteenth wedding anniversary (I can’t remember what/who it was, or I’d totally give credit).  She offered some unexpectedly helpful, and humorous, advice on how to stay married for fifteen years (one tip: go to bed mad), which got me thinking about my own upcoming thirteen-year anniversary.  Every year for the past few years, I’ve tried to write something sweet for my husband on our anniversary, but this year, I thought I’d go a different way.  I’m pointing out all the stuff we’ve screwed up…and somehow turned to our advantage.  If you’re lucky, you can fumble your way to a happy marriage, too!

  1. We married young.

I wasn’t child-bride young when I married my husband, but I was pretty damned close.  I couldn’t even drink at my own wedding, and not only because it took place at a Baptist college in a then-dry-as-dust county.

I was nineteen when we started dating and still nineteen when he proposed.  When we married, I was twenty and he was twenty-three.  We were babies!  I’d tell anyone else under those circumstances that they were crazy; that one can’t possibly know herself at that age; that the whole world is an oyster, whatever that means.  But my husband and I aren’t normal people.  We kind of did know who we were at that age—and whatever growing we still had to do, we did together.

2.  We sleep in separate beds.  Separate rooms, even.

This is a big “wrong move” and almost everyone who hears this suddenly looks at me as though I’ve just admitted slaughtering baby pandas on a Justin Beiber altar.  But this is what happens when a light sleeper and an insomniac get married.  Well, this or sleep deprivation and frustration.  My husband and I both have enough trouble sleeping on our own (me getting to sleep, him staying that way) that we really don’t need one another’s idiosyncrasies tossed in the mix.

Whoever said that getting married suddenly meant an eternity of suffering snoring, stolen blankets, and getting awakened any time someone has to pee, roll over, or get up extra early was clearly a sadist.  And speaking of sadists:  Yes, we still have sex.  You don’t have to actually sleep in the same bed to do that.  Just pretend you’re still dating.

3.  We take our kid on dates.

Or, rather, we almost never go on dates, opting instead to save the $30-$40 for a sitter and just drag our kid along wherever we go.  Consequently, we have a kid who knows how to behave in almost any situation, which is a price above rubies, folks.  If you have a seven-year-old that can sit quietly during a movie and doesn’t interrupt adults when they’re talking, all is right with the world (don’t worry, he’s given plenty of time to run around like a hyperactive banshee and takes full advantage of it).

4.  Our idea of date night—even before we had a child—is a trip to the grocery store.

We might go to Target while we’re out, if we’re feeling fancy.  This of course makes it easier to drag the kid along.  We do other things on occasion, like actual grown-ups, but honestly our favorite Friday nights are usually spent at a cheap restaurant and rambling around a shopping center.  Then we get to go home, put the offspring to bed, and spend the evening with just one another and the DVR, which is really our idea of date night.

5.  We don’t like the same things.

I first met my husband in his college dorm room, where he displayed what had to be every book ever published about Harry S Truman.  I learned later that the Truman shrine was the result of his honors project, in which he analyzed the campaign speeches of the 1948 Presidential election (I have to say, that fact didn’t really help his case).  And recently he was reading a book on the stock market crash.  For fun.  This is when he isn’t reading one of a gajillion Star Trek books.  Sometimes I don’t know how I married this man.

As for me, I sing in three choirs and have a five-year plan that includes opening a yarn store and buying a hobby farm.  I’d probably live in a commune of Unitarian Universalist Musical Crafters if left to my own devices (Note to self: add the formation of this commune to five-year plan).

Honestly, I really don’t know how he married me, either.  My husband knows nothing about music or yarn, and he has as least as little desire to learn about them as I have to learn about the stock market.  But it works for us.  He listens to me sing, praises my latest crafty project, and I…let him read about boring stuff.

6.  We don’t do everything together.

Given what I’ve just told you, can you blame us?  In addition to the fact that my husband is a political-junkie-Trekkie-business geek and I am a…whatever the hell I am…we rarely see each other during the week.  He works full time and has evening classes for a Ph.D. program.  I’m home during the day, but have choir rehearsal three nights a week, plus the kiddo’s piano lessons and the occasional client meeting.  During the school year, we only get Friday evenings, Saturdays, and some Sunday afternoons together.  We don’t have time to get bored with one another!

I’m not advocating that everyone spend as little time as possible with their significant others.  All relationships need face time.  But there’s something to be said for having one’s own life, too.  No one person should be expected to fulfill someone else’s every need.  Would you want that kind of pressure?  Of course not, and neither does your better half.  Go out into the world and find your bliss all by yourself.  I promise it’ll follow you home.

7.  We don’t fight.  Ever.

Okay, we’ve fought maybe two or three times, but we’ve been together for 14 years, so that’s basically never.  And on those occasions, it was due either to a literal misunderstanding or someone (cough, HIM, cough) getting bent out of shape over something silly (cough, DOG, cough, cough).  The rest of the time, on the rare occasions that we get put out with each other, we just brood until we’re over it.  Or, if it’s something that actually needs to be discussed, we discuss it.  No muss, no fuss.  Communication’s not that hard, people.  Incidentally, neither is silent brooding.

8.  We don’t have the same friends.

That whole “If you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my friends” thing?  Are you effing kidding me?!?  Those are the last people I want my husband “getting with.”  First of all, ewww.  Second of all, those are the people who know that deep down I’m actually a neurotic, self-important, hippy-dippy, barely-functional, tortured-artist psycho.  I don’t want those folks anywhere near my husband, whose illusions about me have to be wearing pretty thin on their own after thirteen years of marriage.

9. We’re VERY different people.

My husband and I are literally at opposite ends of the personality-type spectrum.  On the Myers-Briggs chart, my husband is an INTJ.  I’m an ENFP (if you have no idea what I’m talking about, you can check out http://www.myersbriggs.org).  The only trait we share—the N, for intuitive—is our tendency to extrapolate rather than simply content ourselves with whatever’s put in front of us.  I think of it as a shared disposition to see the forest rather than the trees.  But in every other respect?  We’re Paula-Abdul-style opposites.

My husband is introverted and analytical.  I’m social and impulsive.  He is highly structured and punctual.  Structure gives me hives and I’m always scooting in at the last minute.  Often several minutes past the last minute.  We ought to drive each other crazy, but instead we each seem to exert a needful pull, keeping the other from getting stuck on the outer fringes of acceptable behavior.

10. We talk politics and religion.  A lot.

They’re the only two conversational taboos left: religion and politics.   Polite folk should never engage in these topics, so goes prevailing etiquette.  Though I don’t suppose prevailing etiquette really applies to one’s spouse.  We discuss all manner of things with our better half that we wouldn’t dream of broaching with a mere acquaintance.  At least, I hope we do.

That being said, most people don’t discuss matters of social and spiritual importance with any regularity, even with their spouses.  And if we’re talking ways to build a better marriage, current religious trends and political news would hardly top the come-hither list of conversation starters.  Rather, these topics enrage us, make us sad, and trigger our altruistic and activistic tendencies.  They do not make us romantic or sentimental or, god forbid, libidinous.  And yet, my husband and I tend to get the most juice out of conversations that involve either elected officials, or the impact of religion on social justice.  We’re weird that way.

11. I got sick.

I don’t suppose it was precisely wrong of me to get sick, since I couldn’t help it, but illness and disability don’t exactly lend themselves to great and happy relationships.  Especially when that illness involves chronic pain and fatigue and some of the least sexy physical manifestations imaginable.  Add to that the stress created by the fact that I can no longer work enough to cover our son’s lunch money, and it becomes a seriously daunting roadblock.

But over the years we’ve learned that roadblocks are just opportunities for unexpected adventures.  Stressful, yes.  Always pleasant or exciting? No.  But obstacles force you to alter your plans and adapt to what lies in front of you, whether or not it’s what you thought you were signing up for.  And that, my friends, is the only real key to a lasting relationship.

12. We dropped the mystery.

And the vanity.  Major illness helps in this regard.  So does pregnancy, as well as simple time.  It’s hard to live with someone for a span and keep up any charade of perfection and natural, untarnishable beauty.  Harder still when one’s body is constantly endeavoring to make everyone’s life more difficult and messy.

My husband has had to help me through two major surgeries.  The doctor who delivered our son, via caesarian, actually held my uterus up for him to see during the procedure (in case you’re wondering, it is heart-shaped and apparently terribly interesting).  Once your spouse has an unexpected encounter with an erstwhile internal organ, the magic is gone, folks.  And that’s okay.

13. We don’t make plans (five year plan involving alpacas and hippy communes notwithstanding).

In the film “Leap Year” (one of the very few rom-coms I actually enjoyed, mostly for the adorable Irish guy-next-door and gorgeous scenery), Amy Adams, once she finally realizes she’s in love with the aforementioned adorable Irish guy, proposes that they get together and NOT make plans.  (Spoiler Alert!) He says no, then proposes for real, saying, in an equally adorable Irish accent, “I don’t want to not make plans witcha.  I want to make plans witcha.”  This, implying that marriage and real relationships involve having a map of some sort.  To that I say, “Pshaw!  Plans are for pansies and the criminally unimaginative.  We’ll wing it.”

Is this good advice for everyone?  Probably not.  Hell, almost certainly not.  In fact, if anyone tries any of this and it doesn’t work, I’m going to point out that this was a list of doing it all wrong!  But it has worked for us, and I suspect will keep working for another 13 years, and hopefully a couple after that.

I’ve decided that happiness never lies in perfection.  It doesn’t even lie in mostly-right-most-of-the-time.  It lies in the surprises we’re forced to find after encountering yet another road block.  In the quiet spaces between storms.  In the knowledge that you’ve got a let’s-hold-hands-and-count-to-three-and-jump-together partner in life.  That someone loves you to madness and he’s got your back, even though you drive him insane sometimes and he doesn’t understand half of what you do or say.

By any acceptable standards, we’ve screwed up a lot.  But as a lovely woman recently said to me, “It’s the screws that hold everything together.”

Happy Thirteenth Anniversary, Sweetheart.  Here’s to another baker’s dozen of doing it all wrong.  And spectacularly. xoxo