Last night I watched “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” a slightly weird Woody Allen film that came out a few years ago. I’d seen it on a plane once before but didn’t remember a whole lot, except that threesome kissing scene with Javier Bardem, Scarlett Johannsen, and Penelope Cruz – not exactly easy to forget! Anyways, my feelings about the movie are fairly neutral, except for one thing. Bardem’s character tries to convince a young woman who is engaged to be married to sleep with him. “This is your last chance at freedom before your marriage!” he says in all seriousness. Then she does it.
This infuriates me because I hear it all the time – how marriage is a prison and means the total loss of freedom. Married people complain about their husbands and wives all the time. Unmarried people bash marriage because they think it’s the cool thing to do. I can’t tell you how many times I was warned about marriage when people found out I was engaged: “Oh, you poor woman! Get ready to sign your life away!” The things my husband hears at work are equally infuriating: “The wife’s gone away for the week. Can’t stay away long enough!” I want to scream, “Just cuz your marriage sucks, please don’t assume mine does, too!”
I’m not proclaiming to be an expert, but I do know something about it. I’ve been married for 1.5 years, though we’ve been together for four years and have two kids, ages 2.5 years and 3 months. We’ve been through our share of difficulties – an unexpected pregnancy and a mother who has shunned us completely as a result. Yet our relationship remains as fresh and fabulous as ever! So I’m going to take the liberty of sharing our top 10 ways for keeping our marriage as great as possible.
1. Get the kids to bed early every single night and stick to the routine like your life depends on it. (Your marriage sure does.) Toddler is in bed at 7 pm sharp. A minute past, I start freaking out. The baby is down no later than 7:30 pm. That frees up a 3-hour chunk of time for us to be together and feel like normal, rational adults. It’s the best part of my day. Trust me, everything comes back to this point!
2. Get out of the house individually. Between the two of us, we go to the gym multiple times, orchestra practice, band jamming sessions, and knitting group on a weekly basis. Since it happens in the evenings, kids are asleep and one of us isn’t saddled with babysitting longer than necessary. It’s important to be apart and to continue developing ourselves as individuals, not always as a pair.
3. Get out of the house together. We aim for a weekly date night, though it’s usually every other week. There aren’t a lot of options in our small town, but even dessert or a drink makes a world of difference. Having a babysitter is no big deal because the kids go to bed so early! Usually she doesn’t even see them because they’re already asleep.
4. For stay-at-home moms: get out of your sweats and put on some makeup before he gets home from work! Of course there are bad days, but I remember how much effort I put into looking good when we first met. It’s no different now, maybe even more important because the novelty has worn off after a few years and kids. At least make an effort.
5. Don’t stop doing the little things you did before marriage and kids, i.e. racy text messages, spontaneous gifts, surprise love notes, candles by the bed, showers together. Just make out in the kitchen randomly! Besides, it’s great for the kids to see their parents obviously in love.
6. Being married is not an excuse to bring all your nasty personal habits into the open. Your wife or husband loves you, not your burps and farts! Think: “Is this going to make me more or less attractive??”
7. Talk! Catch up! Hang out! It’s amazing how easy it is to forget to make eye contact for hours on end when you’re chasing two kids. That’s why it’s extremely important to force yourself to stop, turn off distractions, and sit down together.
8. Go to bed early. Kids are exhausting and if you leave it too late, nothing will happen. My point is, make time for sex. It’s just as important as anything else, yet it’s one of the easiest things to let slide when you’re tired.
9. Stay in shape! You each owe it to each other to maintain, within reason, the appearance you both had when you first met. My husband loves working out and has these gorgeous muscles that I find supremely attractive. If he suddenly stopped going to the gym now that he’s married, I’d be more than a little ticked off.
10. Have fun! Remember, this is your best friend in the whole world and someone you’ll be with for the rest of your life. Tell jokes and stories, share thoughts and ideas, have random tickle fights when you should be doing the dishes, just be together.
Yes, it does take a conscious effort and lots of hard work, but it’s totally worth it! (Here’s to you, J!)