What Comes After "I Do"
When it comes to getting married, I imagine every bride finds it very easy to get caught up in the party-planning element of things. After all, this is meant to be the one day in a girl's life when she can be a total princess—here's to hoping I can avoid Bridezilla status, and that there will, in fact, be more princess days left in store—so everything must be perfect. Whether you're planning an intimate affair for 15, or a blowout bash for 500 of your nearest and dearest, every detail deserves your utmost attention. There are plenty of would-be party planners (mothers, grandmothers, aunts, cousins, friends, sales clerks) with tips of their own to offer to make sure your wedding goes off without a hitch. But what if there is a hitch? Anyone who has been to a wedding knows weddings with hitches are still joyous and memorable...even if the cake melts, the band doesn't show and the groom is an hour late.
After months spent deciding on a date with my groom, selecting the guest list and designing invitations, and choosing my dress, shoes, flowers and color themes, I feel I'm finally ready to start preparing emotionally for the real journey—what awaits us after"I do."
While I appreciate the generous wisdom of so many women who have gone before me as they educate me in the politics of table seating, the virtues of white versus ivory, the essentiality of at least one good Bach piece in the processional, and so on—what I am most craving as I prepare for the impending end of my singledom is some good old-fashioned life advice.
Secret 1—The Best Marriages Are Based on Good Health and Bad Memory.
This perfect kernel came from a great-aunt of mine who lives abroad. Not that it needs much explanation, but I think the concept is worth delving into. So often, people would rather be right than happy. Think about all the petty arguments—the ridiculous ones where you get so angry over nothing and forget what even sparked the fight—that have ruined nights together or sent you to bed angry. How many of them were worth it? How long do you hold the grudge afterwards?
If the fight is only worth a short-lived outburst where you say things you don't mean, it probably doesn't need to happen. If it's the kind that is long, festering and sticks with you days and weeks later, then it probably needs a much more pervasive solution than a fight that simply points out the problems. I am all about airing grievances, but it has to be solution-oriented. Holding grudges, as tempting as it is, hurts you more than anyone else by bottling up the negative energy and embittering you from the inside out.
On the flipside, recalibration and reconnection can happen in an instant. Keeping each other healthy—like taking walks together, hearing each other out, supplying physical and emotional nourishment—brings you together to the exclusion of those things that can so easily drive people apart. Think about how much easier it is to feel less overworked and less stressed when you share a home-cooked meal, or even Chinese takeout, while sitting at a table with someone you love.
Secret 2(b)—Choose Your Attitude
These two come from my mother and grandmother, respectively, and sum up their personalities in a nutshell. Both are firm believers in the idea that you can only control your own behavior. Trying to micromanage the universe—or just other people—is an exercise in futility and sure to irritate. When choosing your attitude, you're deciding what your outlook on life will be. It's easier said than done, but habitually happy people are not that way because only good things happen to them. Instead, they simply decide that no matter what happens outside their control, their attitude will be a positive one. Choosing to do the best you can with what you can control, and make the best of what you cannot control, seems like good life advice all around.
Adjusting your expectation has got to be the most overlooked trick in the book for securing a stable and happy relationship with friends and significant others. Mismatched expectations are so pervasively harmful because there's no way to get around them: I want something from you that you are not prepared to give either because you don't know it is what I want, or because it's not something that's in your nature to do. I get hurt repeatedly because, no matter how much I pout and sulk, you won't do what I want. It sounds childish when it's written like that, but this is exactly what the brain goes through when you expect five phone calls a day and he only has time for one. Or when he sends you lilies instead of the expected roses. Or when he likes rationalized argument and you prefer heated spats.
The onus is on me to open the dialogue so that my expectations come to match yours. Moreover, I have to not try to change you (the theme here seems pretty obvious), because I have no real control over how you will change, if at all. A much safer bet would be to adjust what I expect, and to acknowledge that you are exactly the way you are meant to be.
Caveat: For those of you thinking this sounds like the "roll over and play dead" strategy, it is not at all. Adjusting your expectations is not about sacrificing what you feel entitled to in order to feel happy and fulfilled. Instead, it is about giving up crazy and useless effort to change someone else in favor of realizing how you can create positive change by focusing on your own behavior. If you need more clarification on this point, go straight to the source. My mom's book on precisely this topic, and many others, is called Us: Transforming Ourselves and the Relationships That Matter Most.
I cannot credit any one person with this tidbit because it seems to be the most commonly held tenet of happy couples everywhere. I don't know if there's a biological reason why going to sleep angry is bad—other than it's actually difficult to fall asleep if one is in a rage about something—but it always seems like I wake up with renewed resentment. It is as though my subconscious solidified all the petty ways I knew I just had to be right and so-and-so was obviously in the wrong.
Even if you need to set an argument aside and approach it again in the morning with a clear head, reaching some stage of resolution the night before limits the amount of baggage that comes with the fight. If it lingers over long periods, chances are you're focusing more on getting a confession or proving someone wrong than you are on finding a solution.
And while you're at it, everyone knows to pick battles, but I've found it even more important to pick your timing. It may seem like an opportune moment to bring up a contentious subject as your partner is sinking into his or her pillow after a long day at the office, but in all likelihood, the response will not be a desired one. Cranky people are seldom rational, and sleepy people are seldom forgiving. Bear in mind that it won't always be sunshine and rainbows, and learning to forego the blowout fights as often as can be means less time cleaning up the mess and more time enjoying the party.
What's your advice to a newlywed couple starting a new life together? Share your takeaway in the comments area.
Daphne Oz is the author of the national best-seller The Dorm Room Diet—now available in paperback—and The Dorm Room Diet Planner and creator of the Dorm Room Diet Workout DVD.
Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert investigates marriage around the world
What happily married women know
The 5 best things you can do for your relationship