When Gareth and I got married, there was one couple we really looked up to as an amazing example, a benchmark if you will, of a successful marriage – my parents. They not only got married around the same age as I did (at 24) but they have now been married for over 30 years. Although their backgrounds were quite different (my Mum grew up in Dublin and my Dad in the UK) we admire how they always seem so happy and in love, even after all those years.
As a child, I don’t ever remember them fighting. As the oldest of three girls, I got in trouble a lot (especially as a teenager – yes, I was absolutely terrible) but they were always a team. They never allowed themselves to be played off each other. At the time this was incredibly frustrating (I honestly couldn’t get away with anything!) but looking back that’s another thing I deeply respect about them. It’s definitely something Gareth and I have learnt from them too – we are Team Williams all the way!
So as we’re just over the halfway point to this Marriage Mantras series I thought it might be kind of awesome to have a chat with my Mum and see if she had any secrets to spill. She is also a trained marriage counsellor so if anyone knows what makes for a happy and successful long term partnership, its her!
You and Dad have been married for over 30 years! What’s your secret?
We are compatible on many levels and we like and admire each other a lot, as well as loving each other. We love our family and our friends but we also enjoy being on our own. We want the same things out of life too, despite our very different backgrounds.
Yet we are not identical clones! Our gifts compliment each other so that together we are a stronger team.
What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learnt since being married?
We are both loveable, we both have significance and we can make a difference to others. We are accepted as we are – ‘warts & all’ as Dad says…
Why should people get married at all? What’s the difference from just living together?
Marriage is a public, legal, emotional and spiritual declaration of your love for and commitment to each other. Unlike just being in a long term relationship its not easy to get married – or to walk away from a marriage – so it shows your intention to love each other through thick and thin, for better for worse.
Being in a committed relationship can also make a big difference to our self esteem and our sense of being significant and loveable.
It’s inevitable at this time of year. Up and down the wedding industry comes those oh too familiar rumblings through blog posts and tweets about work/life balance, wanting to spend more time with loved ones and needing some time off. As we near the end of the busy summer season, everyone is desperate for a break, a marathon of their favourite TV show and a bloody long lie in.
5. Making Time
But it shouldn’t just be when we realise we haven’t been doing it for a while that we stop and take stock. We need to constantly be setting time aside each and every day for our partner.
When you’ve been married for a while you can easily forget just how important spending quality time together is. It’s too damn easy to get into a routine and to not make the effort to step back, get away from your desk and make the time to reconnect. It can seem incredibly unromantic to have to schedule things like talking, dates and sex, but if they’re happening less and less often maybe it’s not such a bad idea after all.
And while we’re on the subject of sex, let’s not ever underestimate just how important it is. if you have differences in sexual preferences, desire or expectations it will eventually tear you apart. Make sure you’re taking about any issues around the subject before you get married. If you and your partner are unable to, or if your fiancé doesn’t see any real problem when you do, it should be a big red flag for the future of the relationship.
A few years ago, before Gareth and I were married, I became good friends with Hannah*. She was one of those effortlessly beautiful girls, someone who you’d do a double take at if you saw her walking down the street. She was tall, stylish, funny, confident and, quite frankly, everything I wasn’t. We had mutual friends and we hit it off immediately, quickly spending a lot of our time together. She was single and the two of us would go out most weekends, making a little mischief but most of all just having a damn good time.
It was no secret that I was quite jealous of her. I wanted to be her… badly. There was just one thing I had that she didn’t – a long term boyfriend. Girl to girl rivalry is a weird phenomenon, and although I’d never wish anything bad for her, I did feel quite smug in the fact that even though she was so darn right perfect (in my eyes) I was the one in a relationship.
4. Comparison is the Thief of Joy
That all changed when she met James*. Their relationship quickly became serious and they couldn’t get enough of each other. They were one of those couples that were very comfortable being over-affectionate in public. They were clearly obsessed with each other and it showed. Hannah even got a tattoo of his name on the top of her back within two weeks!
It sounds terrible, but I was crazy jealous. Gareth and I had a fantastic relationship, but I was completely envious of their passionate, overtly sexual affair. They would shout and scream at each other loudly in the street but then be snogging uncontrollably five minutes later. There was something so wild and dramatic about their relationship, and in my slightly warped early 20s mind, this seemed very appealing.
(although sometimes it is)
Unless you’re some kinds of freaks of nature, it’s unlikely that you and your spouse will agree on everything. Disagreements are a fact of life but how you handle them is vital to your continued happiness. One of the things we learnt very quickly was that throwing phrases like “You ALWAYS do this…” or “You NEVER do that…” not only never resolved anything, but only succeeded in hurting the other person much more.
We’ve since made a pact to never use those phrases with each other and, as a result, are able to have much more constructive discussions rather than ending up throwing mindless insults at each other.
3. Its not always sunshine and rainbows
It’s important to remember that although arguments are a fact of married life you must never over-inflate your frustration by bringing other issues into the conversation. You must learn to accept your partner’s flaws and not use them as petty ammunition. Once you’ve resolved any issues you need to forgive each other immediately. Look forwards to the future rather than carrying any weight from the past.
Gareth and I actually handle conflict very differently. I hate any bad feelings and I like to get things resolved as fast as possible. I’m happy to go all hell for leather and bash things out to try fix them quickly, whereas he likes to take his time to think things over before talking them through. I can see why his way of handling disagreements might be the more mature option, but in the heat of the moment I always just want to say my piece!
Marriage throws up some big life questions and often a wedding is just the starting block for making a lot of major decisions in very quick succession. Wedding planning discussions also invariably lead into deeper, more long-term topics. Things like if you want kids, where you want to live and what career paths are you’re each going to take. It’s no coincidence that lots of couples seem to move house or one spouse has a career change pretty quickly after saying “I do”. Making this kind of commitment often encourages us to start thinking seriously about these other things too.
2. Deal Breakers
While you might not have ever thought about it while dating, things like if you want children, where you want to live, your feelings on fidelity, how often you like you see your family, sex, money, and vices can all come up unexpectedly during the wedding planning process.
It’s important to acknowledge these gaps in your knowledge of each other as you discover them. In the haze of infatuation it can be difficult to imagine that anything could ever drive you apart, but if you don’t both lay your cards on the table before getting married they may be the things that ultimately do.
Before Gareth and I walked down the aisle, we went on a short marriage course. Perhaps an old fashioned concept but it was a requirement of the church we wanted to be married in. We dragged our heels to the first class but quickly came to understand the only motive to the classes were to strengthen our relationship. They gave us the opportunity to talk about some of these big-life-questions. We married relatively young and at 24 I hadn’t really been thinking too hard about the future until then.
Although we share all kinds of details about our day to day lives, from what we’re planning for dinner to holiday snaps, Gareth and I make a conscious effort to keep the really personal stuff offline. At a glance, it can seem as though our whole lives are documented for all to see, but it’s really only the trivial stuff that gets put out there. A few pictures of our cats walking on their leads doesn’t actually reveal a great deal about us as a couple. The real story is in the detail like how we agreed, together, to get two maine coons, for example.
I feel somewhat exposed doing this but I’m diving right in to a ten part series covering some of the most important love lessons Gareth and I have learnt since becoming husband and wife. We’ll be sharing some of the mistakes we made as well as some of the break-through moments that we’ve had. But most importantly I really want to give you the opportunity to think about these things and hopefully discuss them with your partner afterwards.
I know that if I was where you are right now this is the kind of content I would have really loved to see from a wedding blogger. After all, your wedding is just one day, it’s all the days after you say “I do” which really matter.
1. On Selfishness
As human beings we are intrinsically selfish. We naturally think about ourselves first but when you’re married you need to consider the other person’s feelings just as much as, if not more than, your own. It’s no longer about looking out for number one or having your own goals and life path, it’s about the two of you thinking and acting as a team.
Although in many ways Gareth and I are really similar – our outlook on life and our plans for the future – in others our tastes couldn’t be more different. I love sushi and Thai food, he prefers burgers and chips. I like nothing better than sitting down to a True Blood or 24 marathon, he detests any kind of American drama. My idea of a perfect Saturday is raiding the aisles of Topshop and H&M, he hasn’t bought himself any new clothes in years… You get the picture.
It might sound obvious but when you promise yourselves to each other for life you need to consider the other person’s feelings in everything you do, much more so than you would have while dating. Let’s be honest, you’re going to be with this person forever – you need to make sure you’re both happy!