Secrets Of A Happy Marriage
When a friend asked what kind of advice I gave my youngest daughter, Stoli, before her wedding recently, I was surprised. Advice giving had not been on my to-do list. What with figuring out how we could make an aisle in our living room without moving all the furniture outside in the snow (it was January) and ordering a maternity gown (who knew they made such a thing?), giving wise motherly advice had slipped off my radar. Besides, Stoli, 21, and her husband Nels, 22, live next door, so it's not as if she couldn't just walk over and ask for my guidance whenever she needed it.
Perhaps that kind of rosy moment is only for novels or movies. But the question about ideal mother-of-the-bride advice got me thinking. What would I have said if she had asked?
At the ripe young age of 52, having been married nearly 30 years and having reared five children, maybe I know a few things. I sat down at the computer and began writing.
My formula for marital sunshine is pretty simple. It requires, like so many things (mothering included), more action than talk. It doesn't include "Never go to bed angry," the standard wedding toast advice. We've gone to bed angry lots of times. (The trick is to have a house that's not too big. That way you can't sleep anywhere else except your bed, shoulder to shoulder.) After a night together, both my husband and I often apologize at the same time or have completely forgotten what we were arguing about. But that's hard to explain in a catchy phrase. Instead, I typed, "1. Don't sleep apart even when you're angry."
My husband and I cycle together in the summer and snowshoe together in the winter. We also have separate interests. He hunts and I garden, so "share at least one recreation or hobby that you enjoy as a couple and keep another activity for yourself" became the second thing on my list.
I was gaining confidence now, so I added, "3. Eat dinner together—and later with your children—at the table, without the TV, computer or cell phones on" and "4. Get a dog." How does a dog help a marriage? Having a pet that needs you makes you less dependent on the affection and company of your spouse, yet it supplies that need we women sometimes have for total love and devotion. Also, dogs are great listeners and they don't ever talk back.
"Attend regular worship services" became number 5. Face it, marriage is sometimes hard. Regular church attendance allows you to practice praying, so that when you need to, you'll know how. It's also an opportunity to sing hymns together, perhaps even in harmony.
My daughter needs to know some more practical things, too, that fit her situation. There will be that baby soon, so I complied with: "6. Make sure you both change diapers and walk the dog," "7. Don't spend money you don't have," "8. Eat mostly food found in nature but bake your own cookies," "9. Keep your house clean" and "10. Say please and thank you" (manners matter especially when it's just you two). I rounded out the list with "Find work you love that pays the bills, and if you can't, then find a way to do good through the work that makes it rewarding for you."
That's when I stopped typing. Right now my daughter is making sandwiches at a deli, my son-in-law is splitting firewood until fishing season begins, then he'll be gone for weeks at a time on a commercial salmon boat and she'll be home with a baby. Life is going to get in the way of this handy-dandy Pollyanna list very soon for her, just as it would have for me 30 years ago.
What I really wanted to tell my newlywed daughter is that when you wake up every morning, you can either leap off the right side of the bed or tumble off the wrong side, and it's entirely your choice. You control the way you feel and have a huge influence on the way people around you feel. When you make them happy, you'll be happy too. It is the opposite of a vicious cycle, and it is as easy as singing Motown hits at the top of your lungs in the shower. If you're having trouble understanding this concept, observe your dog. See how she wags her tail every time she sees you? Do that. (That's another reason I suggested a dog.)
After I was satisfied that I had more or less told all that I know, I showed the list to my husband. He lowered his reading glasses and looked over them at me.
"I don't think they should get a dog until they've practiced with the baby," he said.
"They have to figure this out on their own."
He's right. He usually is. We're done with that kind of hands-on parenting. Now, we have to support our adult children. We have to allow Stoli to make her own life choices and give her and Nels the space to find their own best ways to live together.
"Does this mean I can't give them a puppy?" I asked, knowing the answer.
He nodded and said that maybe I was the one who needed a new dog to care for. Our old retrievers both died in the last year and I've been missing their cheerful presence.
So instead of giving my daughter the list, I put it in a drawer and I gave myself a golden retriever puppy that I now have to housetrain—which, as a bonus, means I don't have nearly as much time to worry about my daughter.
As for my well-meaning friend who asked me about my advice...well, she was wrong. A little wise counsel is fine sometimes, but for Stoli and Nels, the best thing I can do is to trust that I've modeled oneway to be successful in love and marriage, and leavethe rest up to them. With a little luck and a lot of love, Stoli will have some advice of her own to give—or not—to her grown daughter 30 years from now.
HEATHER LENDE is a contributing editor to Woman's Day. Her most recent book is Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs. She lives in Haines, AK.