I Have No Idea How to Have a Happy Marriage

We're making this up as we go along


I got married a little over five months ago. As a newlywed, the question I get the most often is, “How is married life? Is it everything you expected?” I generally give a generic answer about it being awesome, but that’s a half-truth. Married life is amazing and better than I expected, but that’s because my expectations were non-existent.

I always knew that I wanted to be married, but I never spent much time thinking about what I wanted from marriage. Instead, I fantasized about what I didn’t want my marriage to be like—my parents’ marriage. I grew up in a two-parent home, with people who loved each other but didn’t know how to really make a marriage work. It wasn’t their fault; they both grew up in single-parent homes. They grew up differently and took different paths in life before they met and married.

Growing up, our home life swung back and forth like a pendulum. When times were good, they were really good but when they were bad, they were really bad. I relish the memories of family road trips to Cedar Point every summer, or how we would all pile into our Chevy Astrovan for a trip to the drive-in. My father stressed family time, whether it was our monthly trip to a local restaurant for Saturday breakfast or our nightly celebrations of Kwanzaa each December. There were so many good times, and each time I’m home with my family, my siblings and I always play a game of “remember the time…” together, and we laugh as we relive all the good times of our childhood. But our childhood was also full of just as many horrible memories as well as the good ones. I will never forget seeing the holes my father put in doors, or trying to hide from my parents’ fights. My worst memory is seeing my parents argue about telling “her” something…only to discover that the “her” was me and the argument ended with my parents telling me that my father was not my biological father.

I didn’t realize how much my parents’ dynamic affected me until I began dating as an adult. I knew that I didn’t want to repeat what I saw growing up, but I had no idea how to avoid it. Through trial and error, I learned that arguing isn’t healthy for a relationship. Neither is trying to be the boss of the relationship, or the other person.

I figured out how to be a better partner, but it was in pursuit of the Holy Grail: marriage. I knew I wanted to be married, but I was unclear why. I dated great guys, who I really liked, and I needed them to want me. In my mind, getting a guy to marry you was about proving yourself: first you prove to him why you’d make a great girlfriend, and then you prove to him why you’d make a great wife. Every time I faced a breakup, I took it as a personal failure—that I wasn’t good enough. After a particularly painful breakup with the man I thought was The One, I knew I needed a change. I mustered all the courage I could find, and I found a therapist. On her couch, I spilled out everything (including tears—many, many tears). Talking with her helped me realize that I’ve spent my life trying to make myself “good enough,” not just for myself, but for others. Why didn’t I consider myself “good enough” as I am?

It took meeting my husband to convince me that I was already “good enough.” We met in the most unexpected way… on Twitter. We spent a year getting to know each other through tweets, texts, IMs, emails, and phone calls before we met in person. Two months after our first meeting, he came to visit. On that trip, he already knew how he felt about me, but I took more convincing. I wasn’t unsure about him—I was unsure about myself. I’d spent fifteen dating years trying to prove to men how awesome I was so that they would love me, and here he was, already in love without any special effort. I hadn’t even tried to make him love me, so he couldn’t actually love me, right? What did I do to deserve this? Silly thoughts like that almost made me miss out on the best thing that ever happened to me, but the Universe conspired to keep us together. And now, here we are, married.

I’ve been asked what I thought marriage would be like, and it’s hard for me to articulate an answer. I always thought of marriage as some mythical place, or a destination to aspire to, like heaven. I never really gave much thought to the day-to-day routines behind it, or the mechanics of a marriage. I knew that I wanted a supportive partner, who was loving, kind, and funny. Beyond that, I had no clue or expectations of how it should be. All I knew was that I wanted to remain happy, I wanted to remain in love with my husband, and for us to enjoy this journey together.

Perhaps it is my lack of expectations that makes my marriage so enjoyable. I’m one of those weirdos who married her best friend. I genuinely enjoy his company, and we find ourselves spending a lot of time together… not out of obligation, but out of enjoyment. I’ve discovered that we can discuss anything (and everything). We can also relax in comfortable silence without feeling a need to fill it with unnecessary chatter. Going out is fun, but so is sitting on the couch, him playing Destiny on the Xbox and me knitting and playing DJ via Spotify. We have conflict, and we hash it out like adults. We bicker but still give each other a kiss and a heartfelt “I love you” when one person leaves the house. I find myself looking forward to coming home to my husband each night, and I love falling asleep next to him even as he snores in my ear. I smile ear to ear just at the thought of him, and hearing his voice makes my heart flutter. After five months of marriage, I’ve developed a couple of expectations after all. It’s nice to have a husband who cooks, and I’ve gotten very comfortable with having dinner magically appear each night. Expectations like this, I can definitely get used to!

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