Everyone will tell you that marriage is hard work. Nobody, it seems, will tell you why. Or at least that’s how it felt when Michael and I got married. I’d heard all the warnings: about what a challenge marriage would be, about all the compromise. But nobody could put a finger on where the challenges would come from, or what we’d be compromising on. I had always thought that our biggest struggles would be over big picture issues: the kids/no kids discussion, career trajectories, where we would live. And while those things are part of an ongoing conversation in our relationship, the hard part for us has always lived in the nitty gritty of day-to-day life. Because sharing all your decisions with someone else as an equal partner? That takes work.
They say comparison is the thief of joy. Which might explain why I kept getting myself into trouble last year for comparing my insides to everyone else’s outsides. While not normally prone to jealousy, I wanted so much to be one those couples whose marriages looked effortless, at least from the outside. Because ours was feeling like a lot of work (particularly in that day to day space.) We kept having the same fights over the same topics, and rather than bringing joy and comfort, our daily rituals were filled with stress. Finally, after taking some time to re-prioritize, we realized what was up: our systems sucked. Everything, from how we were budgeting our money to how we were going about our meals, was taking ten times as much emotional output as it should have, and it was wearing us both down. We were the marriage version of your office before getting a software upgrade. Slowly, we’ve been making small but significant changes to some of those daily rituals, and like magic, the annoying everyday fights and bickering have begun to erase themselves.
We constantly hear the narrative that marriage is hard work, while rarely hearing tips and tricks people are using to make it… less work. So today we’re launching a new series. My favorite part of magazines is when you get to see inside someone’s bag, and get a peek at the things that help them function on a daily basis. So consider this that, but for marriage. Here are a few of the things Michael and I have done in the past few years, that have helped make our marriage feel like less work and more like pleasure.
1. YOU NEED A BUDGET: Michael and I couldn’t be more different in how we handle money (which has never been a problem, because we’ve never had any before now). Michael is a saver, while I’m a spender. He loves spreadsheets and financial planning, and I’ve always just… lived life by the number in my bank account. (A useful skill for being a broke college kid; not super useful for adults trying to build a future together.) So when we decided to get serious about saving this year, the difference in our styles became a major point of contention. Since I’m our household’s primary shopper, I was feeling guilty whenever I needed to plunk down cash on a major expense, like the dog’s medicine, or car repairs. Meanwhile, Michael felt like he was the only one keeping tabs on our finances. And we were both feeling resentful that our efforts to save were going unnoticed. We’d tried different budgeting tools in the past (Excel Spreadsheets, Mint), but had a hard time finding one that would speak to both of our management styles. So this year we signed up for the app You Need a Budget (or YNAB for short.) And our fights about money have all but disappeared. Since YNAB is a proactive budgeting tool, it satisfies Michael’s desire to manage our finances on a micro-level. Meanwhile, being able to access our budget via an app takes care of my #lazygirl approach to keep tab on our finances. We’ve got line items for every part of our monthly spending, including “fun money” for both of us to do with what we will. But most importantly, having a budgeting app that we update regularly has forced us to have ongoing conversations about where our money is being spent, which makes us both feel like we’re finally equally partners in the endeavor to save for our future.
2. FRESH FLOWERS: Michael and I speak very different love languages. For the longest time, I wanted to be married to the kind of guy who would surprise me with impromptu flowers, just because it was a Wednesday. And Michael is never going to be that guy—his love language is more pragmatic. For years I tried to hint, and suggest, and casually mention that it would be oh so nice to get flowers every once in a while. And I got increasingly resentful every time he failed to deliver. About a year ago, I started buying flowers for myself. I pick up a bouquet every time I go to the grocery store—sometimes two if the price is right. It turns out, I just like having fresh flowers around. And in a way, having the money for them in our grocery budget each week (see above) is a little like Michael buying me flowers. It’s just… the Michael love language version of buying me flowers.
3. AN AUDIBLE ACCOUNT: One of the hardest parts of early marriage was living in a tiny apartment and feeling like I had no personal space. (Sharing a future together? No problem. Sharing a few hundred square feet? Um…) I remember one not so gracious afternoon where I stomped around the apartment lamenting that Michael was just always here. So I’ve worked hard to carve out spaces that belong to just me, where I can get away even if we’re in the same room together. And for that, my Audible account is a Godsend. I pop on a pair of Bluetooth headphones (my personal pair here), start a good book, and then Michael and I can be in the same room without actually having to be in the room together. This setup is particularly good for cooking dinner, tidying up, and any other menial tasks that would be better with a good book.
4. FOOD DELIVERIES: It’s almost embarrassing to think about how much we were fighting about dinner, and overspending on groceries. Signing up for weekly meal deliveries through Blue Apron has turned one of our biggest nightly headaches into something we actually kind of look forward to. (This is not an sponsored endorsement; our dinner game was rough and now it’s like getting to go out to eat every night, except in our kitchen.)
5. A GYM MEMBERSHIP FOR ME AND A BIKE FOR HIM: My biggest complaint last year? I just wanted to be nicer to each other. We weren’t being mean, per se. But we’d fallen into that comfortable space where we’d chide each other, and bicker in public. Tips one through four have gone a long way to put a stop to that, but we have been exponentially nicer to each other since working exercise into our weekly routines (it’s so cliché, I know.) To quote Elle Woods “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands. They just don’t.” To which, I say, Amen.
Marriage is hard work. I get that now. But I also get that a lot of that hard work stems simply from the fact that any partnership is work. Sharing a life is work. Figuring out systems that two people with wildly different personalities can use and benefit from? That is work. But when you start to figure it out and streamline your workflow, the reward is so worth the effort.
Your turn. What’s in your “marriage bag?” What helps your relationship stay sane and healthy?