5 Cynical Marriage Tips Every Couple Needs to Learn
At age 20, I married my very first boyfriend after dating him for 14 months. Seventeen years, three kids, and zero separations later, we're still married and we still like each other, despite the fact that 20-year-olds are crappy judges of character, and we could have been marrying psychopaths for all we knew.
My husband and I didn't know it at the time, but we were permanently sealing the deal while the morphine of new love was still flowing through our veins, which is kind of like signing a mortgage while high on heroin. At age 20, I would have said, "Of course we'll make it! We love each other and love conquers all!" At age 38, I say, "Hahahahaha! What a pair of lucky dummies we were." Lucky because no one knows what terrible demons lurk inside a person they've only dated for a year, and dumb because only an idiot thinks their marriage will never end.
Here's the good news! There are shortcuts to a lasting marriage, and those shortcuts are probably way more cynical and calculating than you'd expect. In other words, anyone can do them.
Drop Your Grudges as Fast as Humanly Possible
Have you ever noticed that we talk about grudges like they're helpless infants who need our care? We "nurse" grudges and "hold" grudges and "suckle them at our bosoms like little newborn infants who need nutrition." All are common and accurate idioms to describe what it takes to carry a tiny baby insult to a full grown manbeast that has its own pubic hair and a mortgage.
Despite the coddling, nursing, and suckling it takes to keep them alive, there is nothing that will rot your soul from the inside out more thoroughly than a grudge. Even when they're completely justified, those little pockets of resentment that you secretly harbor for a rainy day are as poisonous as strychnine on a Bret Michaels sandwich, and the first thing they murder is your own peace of mind. The second thing they murder is your relationships. The third thing is the Pope, but usually the poison doesn't spread beyond the first few victims.
As a kid, your grudges are managed by the people around you. Staying angry at your brother for peeing anarchy symbols all over your door is as reasonable an option as buying a whole new door, so you're quick to let things go. If you're not bleeding or emotionally traumatized, your parents probably don't care that the universe hasn't treated you fairly, which is why petty grudges get dropped during commercial breaks. As a grownup, the grudge police don't exist. Unless you're dealing with grudges that come from actual crimes, in which case go ahead and use the real-world police as your grudge police.
Once you're permanently sharing a bed with someone, there's nowhere to hide from hurt feelings. Nobody cares if your husband forgot your half-half anniversary or pointed out your one weird chin hair that he wasn't supposed to notice. Which is why it took me about a year to figure out the most important shortcut to happiness that no one ever told me:
Be the first to apologize. Even when you're right and you both know it.
Obviously, this advice doesn't work for people in toxic relationships. If you're with someone who is an unrepentantly bad person who hurts you for fun, you're probably better off cutting your losses and call it a day. But most of us aren't in toxic relationships; we're in perfectly fine marriages comprised of two well-meaning humans who don't know what to do with themselves when they get their feelings hurt. What I figured out that first year of marriage was that nurturing hurt feelings is as useful as nurturing a rock. Give them an hour to stew, cry a little bit, then drop them like they're Hot Pockets full of boogers.
After all, is teaching your husband or wife a lesson more important than whatever else you could be doing? If your spouse hasn't lied, cheated, abused, or otherwise wronged you in a way that would warrant a Lifetime storyline, there's a 99 percent chance that the grudge you're holding isn't worth 30 more minutes of your time. Especially if you'd be embarrassed to explain the fight to a third party, if you could even remember what you were mad about in the first place. If being right makes you happier than being happy, then good luck with the rest of your life, homey.
Know Your Partner CAN'T Complete You
In the 1996 sportsy rom-com Jerry Maguire, Tom Cruise delivers a heartfelt, emotionally riveting "You complete me" speech to Renee Zellweger at the romantic pinnacle of the movie. The only way I could make that sentence more 1996ier is by throwing the Spice Girls and a pair of chunky clogs into the mix somehow.
While the speech touched hearts and and moistened panties in theaters all over the country, the sentiment has been around as long as people have been hooking up: If you're an arrogant, driven man-cunt of a human, you could use a soft counterpart to make you a whole being. And if you're a woman, you could use all the help you can get. There's something comfortable and romantic about imagining that your husband or wife is your other half, that without him or her, you're only a partial person. To take it a step further, it's even more beautiful to imagine that God or the universe itself put you two together so that you could be one complete Love Transformer.
It's a sweet notion, but eff that You Complete Me speech right in the booty hole.
If you get to a point in your life where you think you're incomplete without (blank), something's gone wrong and you're setting yourself up for years of heartache. Hinging your lifetime of happiness on the actions, reactions, and erections of another human is as reckless as laying down your life savings on the bet that Tupac and Biggie are still alive and sharing a garage apartment in Iowa. It's a nice thought, but not a good bet.
In the first few years of a relationship, it's natural to get sucked into the cult of the person you've committed yourself to. And your identity gets smooshed into that cult as well - you used to be an "I," now you're a "we." It's like you joined the world's sexiest gang of two. When I got married, I was no longer "Kristi," I was "Kristi Harrison of the Hell's Bangles" (That was our gang name). The rush of having a constant love-buddy was exactly what I imagine real gangbanging is like. Please confirm if life in a gang is just like being in love, readers who are in the Crips.
Eventually, that rush wears off, and you slowly have to remember that you used to be a person on your own before the romance started, and the person you used to be still exists, and is just as interesting and worthwhile as who you were before you permanently hitched your wagon to your cult/lover. Not remembering and honoring your original self is as dangerous as willingly succumbing to amnesia forever and ever. You might have been lonely, but you weren't unfinished as a human. Expecting someone else to complete the job of being a whole person for you is like demanding someone else finish this sent
Realize Marriage isn't a 50/50 Deal
Unless you're a nightmare of a human, you probably entered marriage with the same plan my husband and I did: everything would be 50/50. "You do the dishes and I'll do the lumberjacking." Or "Let's take turns doing the dishes every other night and hire a professional for the lumberjacking." Or "We'll just do the dishes together and skip the lumberjacking to make love all the time." In practice, expecting a 50/50 split on chores is as hilariously optimistic as thinking all your lumber is going to jack itself.
In 17 years of marriage, I've never met a couple that pulled off the 50/50 trick without becoming shrieking harpies and man-harpies who everyone hates to be around. Even if you both work the same hours, if you divide up the household work with a cute spreadsheet, if you sign a blood oath that everything will be even stevens, one of you is going to take on the bulk of managing your home and the other is going to pretend not to notice. Or actually not notice, which is the more likely scenario. What you didn't realize when you hooked up with your lover is that running a house is like managing any other job, and one of you is going to be better at it. And if not better, then more consistent (Which is the same as better).
In fact, using a childlike sense of fairness to divvy up the work of keeping a household going will probably drive you crazier than just doing it all yourself. You'll either get used to living in filth or get used to managing your partner like he or she is your employee or child. And there's nothing grosser than a couple where one person calls the shots and the other goes through life looking like a shamed puppy.
But here's where things get tricky: if you're the one taking on the bulk of the housework, you have to figure out how to manage your emotions about the situation. There will have to be a reset every few weeks or you're going to find yourself PMSing and furiously cleaning the kitchen with the intensity of a rabid dog before crumpling on the floor and waiting for someone to ask "What's wrong?" Even if you're a man, the PMS naturally happens if you're the main person doing the housework. That's just how PMS, biology, and housecleaning work. Tell God if you're mad about it.
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Think of Your Marriage Like a Business
Close your eyes, teenagers, newlyweds, and hopeless romantics, because this one is going to be a toughie. We've all been raised on pop songs, fairy tales, and diamond ring commercials that end immediately after the boy gets the girl. Or the girl gets the boy. Or someone gets someone else in a romantic way. But for most of human history, entering into a permanent, committed relationship with another human had NOTHING to do with romance or how your genitals tingle when you see that special someone. For most of the time we've been on the planet, marriage had everything to do with alliances, survival, and continuing the species. The concept of marrying for love is so new that the United States was already up and running before European royals stopped arranging their kids' weddings. Marrying for love is so new that we have photographs of the first English royal couple who pulled it off.
Not that you shouldn't marry for love. You should. I did, and I'd do it again if my husband ever two-timed me or moved along for a better deal. But what our ancestors figured out was that love doesn't necessarily make for a strong anything in the long term. Romance doesn't build houses or make sound business decisions or save up for college educations; in fact, people in love tend to do the opposite of those things. People in love leave their families, break up other people's marriages, and turn dozens of lives upside down on a whim, all to indulge their love feelings. People in love are the same people who say "all you need is love" because they adorably can't see beyond their next orgasm. They're cute, but you can't trust them.
Remember in The Godfather when Sonny and Michael discuss murdering people as business decisions? "It's not personal, it's business," they said, before killing a cop and a mob boss, inciting a mafia war. Preserving a marriage feels like that sometimes, minus the homicide. Sure, you could act on your raw emotions every time you get your feelings hurt, you could call it quits when things aren't fun anymore, you could entertain the idea of meeting someone who "gets you" better -- but you do all of those things at the risk of throwing away your business. And by "business" I mean the partnership you agreed to at the altar. The one that's probably going to keep you wealthier than your divorced and single friends, the one that's going to keep you company when your kids are grown and secretly grossed out by your neck flaps. The next time you and your husband or wife have a fight and you think about giving up, ask yourself this: "After all we've been through, do I ever want to share a toilet with a whole new person?" If I have my way, no other man will ever know my bathroom smells, just like the Bible ordered.
Remember You're Never Safe From Divorce
After 17 years of marriage, I've finally figured out the difference between me and my husband and our divorced friends, relatives, co-workers, neighbors, and fellow humans. Are you ready?
There is no difference. None.
There's no anniversary where the doctor gives you a divorce vaccine that makes you immune from breaking up. Just because you've been married so many years that your anniversary ends in a "0" or a "5," or your grandchildren throw you a party, doesn't mean you've passed the point where the little kingdom you've built won't crumble to a million little pieces if you sneeze hard enough. All I've figured out so far is that we've been lucky, because neither one of us has followed through with a case of the "What ifs?"
Long term relationships are like a renewed season of a critically acclaimed but unwatched show -- the only hack worth remembering is that you'd be crazy to take it for granted. In fact, I'm guessing that it's going to be anniversary year 20 or 25 when the temptation to start over really hits. It's going to be when the kids are gone and 50 is sneaking peeks around the corner that you suddenly realize you've got only about two solid decades of party time left. Which is why my husband and I vowed to take up heroin when the kids are grown. We'll need a hobby, and injecting opiates into our veins sounds way more fun than whatever else middle-aged people do to pass the time. Competitive yo-yoing? I have no idea.
On the off chance that taking up a harrowing addiction at the mid-century mark isn't a smart way to ward off divorce, I'll probably also keep in mind that no relationship is sacred, that some of the most miserable people I've ever met were languishing in coffins disguised as marriages, and that keeping a good thing going is only worth it when it's a good thing to begin with. And if you're lucky enough to meet someone who still has new stories to tell after 17 years, who grabs your butt a few time a day and invites you to sit on his lap when the dog isn't sitting there, it's probably a marriage worth hanging on to.
Kristi is a senior editor and columnist for Cracked. For more from her, check out past articles here and follow her on Twitter or Facebook.This column was dedicated to her loving husband of 17 years, Captain Murderface.