And How to Survive Them
I won’t pretend to know everything about marriage. I am not sure I will ever win the award for ‘best wife‘ – but I can admit that I try each and every day to make my marriage work. One of the best pieces of advice I was ever given before my wedding day was “Never stop making an effort. Marriage is supposed to take work and nothing in life that is worth it ever comes without hard work.” So I work at it. Every day.
I tell my husband every day that I love him, even if some days I don’t really like him that much. I try to learn from other’s mistakes and I read… a lot… about how to make things easier and how to understand each other better. Over the years I have read a few books about the different stages in a marriage and how to recognise what stage you are at, as well as how to survive the pitfalls that each stage will throw at you.
One thing I can say from the heart is that nobody knows your marriage better than you. Nobody can tell you how to fix it or make it last except you. However, some of these tips and words of advice have stuck with me and helped me step back from situations and re-evaluate where I may be going wrong. So, I have re-written some of the mumbo jumbo jargon and given you all a breakdown of what I have learned.
The Seven Stages of Marriage
The Newlywed stage is also described as the ‘honeymoon period’. Generally, and especially if you have not had children before you got married, you will find that this stage of your relationship can be even more passionate and intimate than when you first met. This stage can last up to two years, but every marriage is different! Although looking back it may seem short lived, when you are in this stage, it feels like nothing else and no one else matters. It is also when you develop trust, respect and emotional intimacy – three things which are vital to help you get through the next six stages.
Remember: Passion and intimacy are important but don’t forget to make time to become friends as well during this stage. Your friendship will get you through the hard times.
The Realisation stage comes straight after the honeymoon phase, which can make it feel tougher to deal with than it needs to be. This is when you begin to realise that marriage may not be all that rosy all of the time. It is when you start to understand each others’ strengths and weaknesses. Habits will rear their heads and frustrations will build. Be it dirty socks on the bedroom floor or snoring that’s keeping you awake, you will start to feel like these habits are unbearable. Two words for you – Man Up! They are bearable… and you have to understand that you have habits that your partner thinks are ten times worse. It’s called being human. He may be your knight in shining armour, but this is no fairy tale!
Remember: Develop your communication skills. Make sure you tell each other when you are getting annoyed. Find the funny side of each other’s habits – they are there, trust me. Explore each other’s weaknesses and find ways to help support each other through them. Communication is key, and yes I know that sounds so hippy dippy… but it is so true!
The Rebellion Stage is the first time you will feel anger towards each other; and I don’t mean your first fight, you will have had that a long time ago and had amazing make-up sex afterwards… generally in the honeymoon phase. This anger is different, because it comes at the point of realisation that neither of you are perfect and that alone is a hard truth to discover of yourself. You are not perfect, and neither is he. Rebellion is all about the power struggle. Each of you will try to assert your power in the relationship and generally at the same time. You will clash. He may want to spend more time with his friends again and start acting like a bachelor and she may decide that she wants to travel again and not be tied down. The realisation of marriage sets in and both will fight against monotony.
Remember: You are not fighting each other. You both want the same thing. To be together but not lose yourself. Talk it through and learn the art of compromise. Communicate (there’s that word again… are you seeing a pattern yet?) and find boundaries.
This is the stage in a marriage where your relationship becomes more about you coming together as a team. Generally you will find yourselves distracted, often by children, or money and careers. It can often feel at times that you are more like work associates than a couple but that is not a bad thing. It shows you can ‘work together’. This stage generally lasts the longest in a marriage and if you can comfortably make this stage work for a long period of time, you will find yourself in a really happy sustainable relationship.
Remember: You are not ‘working‘ together. You are a team but you are also a couple. Make time for each other. Set up a date night (spontaneously!). Hire a babysitter and go back to your favourite restaurant together and make a deal not to talk about money, work or kids.
This stage can rear its head more than once in the lifespan of a relationship and can test even the strongest of marriages. Generally it’s when health issues plague family, friends or loved ones. You have to help each other through grief and crisis. How you handle each others’ pain is just as important as showing each other how much you love each other. Marriage is about support. Standing by the person you love in the hardest of times is what getting married is all about. It will test you but get through this and you can get through anything.
Remember: Pay attention to each other. Recognise when the other is struggling and help without being asked. Also remember to look after yourself. Do not neglect your own health for the sake of others. Keep yourself strong during hard times so that you can support others during theirs. Make time for each other and remember that the hard times will come to an end. As trite as it sounds, there is always light at the end of the tunnel.
Generally this stage happens later on in a marriage; around the time that your children leave home. Empty-nest-syndrome leaves you eager to re-discover each other. You suddenly find yourself with more time on your hands and more time together. There is the risk that you will question if you have anything in common anymore and find that you have both changed without even realising it, but embrace that. Use this time to fall in love all over again with the ‘new‘ person in your life. Build a new relationship, a new friendship and find new interests together.
Remember: Change is not a bad thing. You may be different people to who you were when you first married but that doesn’t mean you are not compatible. People change and develop over time and now you are lucky enough to spend time together without distractions, re-discovering new passions together. The fire may have dulled to embers, but that doesn’t mean they can’t re-ignite!
It seems strange to say it but this is the stage everyone thinks they are at when they are in the honeymoon phase. You think that you got married because you know each other inside out. You think you are wise enough and mature enough to tackle marriage. In reality you don’t know each other at all and you are in no way mature. Not until you have gone through the previous six stages. Now that you have reached the stage of ‘completion‘ you can look back and say that you have really experienced life with someone. You have grown and developed together. Learnt to compromise, forgive, accept and cherish each other; faults and all. It is then no surprise that some of the happiest couples you see (and I mean truly happy) are in their silver or golden years. With stability, security and understanding, you can look at each other’s wrinkled faces and trace a life lived together.
Remember: You are never too old to start something new. Keep developing your relationship. Keep the spark alive by constantly exploring new things together. This is the fun bit, you know each other inside out, now enjoy it.
For those of you who want to read more, two books I would highly recommend are: