I Want My First Marriage to be My Only Marriage:
I have always dreamed of getting married and having a family, as every little girl does. I used to pretend to get married when I was little. We would use chairs as guests and sheets for a wedding dress and veil. One of my cousins would pretend to be the groom and I would be the bride or vice versa. I was always fun and I couldn’t wait until I got older so that I could get married.
Only I did things a little bit backwards. I had kids first and have yet to be married. I really want to be married. But I only want to be married once. I do not want to get divorced. I don’t want my kids growing up having to get used to a different father figure and answering to someone different each marriage. I want to live out what it says in the traditional wedding vows: I promise to love and obey in sickness and in health as long as we both shall live.
I posted a meme on my Facebook wall once that read, “I want my first marriage to be my only marriage.” That sums up exactly how I feel—and helps explain why I still haven’t walked down the aisle. I’ve been proposed to a few times, but I never felt sure. I was afraid that it wouldn’t work out.
You see, even though I want to get married, I am intimidated by it. Everyone in my family has been married at least four times. I’ve not seen many good marriages up close.
So the question I have now is “How do I make sure that when I do get married that it is for the best and that it will last?” I want my children to know that marriage is not just a relationship like boyfriend and girlfriend. It’s a life long commitment. You shouldn’t just walk away from that. You should do everything in your power to fix it. But how can I make sure that I’m ready for that kind of commitment?
–Brittany from Ohio
Response from Helen:
Sometimes I cannot believe my marriage is as “old” as it’s getting to be — close to 29 years. I wouldn’t think it remarkable except I spend a fair amount of time thinking about marriage because I used to practice family law, and now teach it. So I know the “landscape” of families in the U.S. and how many people are unmarried or divorced, or struggling with wanting to marry, or worrying about whether a cohabitation should or could lead to marriage. How do I reflect on the factors in my marriage that helped it “work,” so as to help others… while really aware that I’m no expert? Well I’ll try to be practical, to stick to the facts, and not to “see through rose-colored glasses.”
I’m a big believer in love (like the site says!); and I firmly believe my marriage and mothering are how I was “meant” to “learn to love better.”
Tip #1—We are given to each other, not to someone else for a reason. Find and embrace those reasons!
Even though school and work have taken up many years of my life, nothing is as significant to my being who I am, or learning to be better, as my husband and my kids. When it comes to my kids, it matters that someone needs me to be a permanent source of giving, understanding and teaching. These sound really ordinary, but I think they are hard to practice daily because most of us are overworked and overtired, and pestered by the world outside the family to pay attention to so many things. But my kids “relentlessly” force to get out of the temptation to polish my own self, and instead to figure out why we were “given to each other”, not to someone else – and to try give to kids what they need to be whole.
Tip #2—Companionship matters. Listen to your spouse. Be a friend to your spouse. Let him know you are there for him.
As for my husband, it matters that he is convinced that I love him loyally, that I will set aside other things to pay attention to him, and that I really want the good for him. I try to show him this love using words, sex, little sacrifices, and companionship. A surprise to me was how much the listening and companionship parts meant to him. But he is so grateful and sweet about me offering to accompany him to some kid-pick up, or to sit with him while he’s putting seed on the lawn, or while he’s ironing a shirt, and I can listen to him talk. Every woman easily guesses that it means a lot to a man to love him sexually; but it surprised me to find out how much it means to men to show that – just like in the early days of the relationship – you even enjoy a stupid trip to the CVS more when you are with him! He can make you laugh about men’s deodorant or something!
Tip #3—Appreciate traits that are uniquely male—like his wanting to protect you and his loyalty to you.
As I’ve gotten older and my sense of the differences between men and women is sharpened, I try to remember to thank him for particular things that I understand are particularly “male” gifts. Perfect examples: laying down the law so that a teenage boy understands it; automatically taking my side if a work colleague is unkind to me; rolling out of bed at midnight to pick up a son at a friend’s house, then coming back to bed and falling asleep instantly so that he’s not even tired in the morning; and starting and de-icing our car so that I’ll be safe and warm to get to work in the morning.
Tip #4—Do little (or big) things for your husband that you know he’ll appreciate, like make a meal or care for his parents.
I don’t “keep accounts” about our marriage. But it has definitely occurred to me that “investing” in my husband makes us both so happy. When he knows how securely I love him… when I try to look pretty for him…when I make his food, or do something nice for his mother, he’s just so darned grateful! that it ends up being fun for both of us. I will not claim that we don’t have disagreements; I’ll write about this a later time. But the foundation is there, and we think regularly about keeping it strong.
Tip #5—Sex is a communication of love. It’s a big deal that can really add to your relationship when you both see it as a way get closer to each other emotionally and spiritually too, not just make each other feel good.
One note here on sex :I think that if you talk to a lot of couples with long relationships, you’ll see that sex is part of the communication that says: I’m incredibly serious about you; enough to risk embarrassing physical moments and my own feelings of shyness or unattractiveness. The relationship covers over the sense of embarrassment or physical imperfections sex involves, and the sex is another way of “communicating” that the relationship is bigtime serious. Even in a longer relationship or a marriage, it is definitely easy for sex to turn into some kind of strictly back-and-forth thing that’s just about bodies and pleasure, nothing more. “I can make you feel good, and you can do the same for me.” This hazard is built into the nature of sex I think. Kids definitely help you climb out of this rut. You understand that sex literally makes them so it has to be more important than just physical pleasure. Also, kids give the couple a “higher purpose” than themselves; and something in common to work together on. But even if it’s hard to keep this in mind frequently where sex is concerned, it is possible to try to make sex say – “I love you body and soul; I am yours and I want to help you understand how wonderful you are, not just at this moment, but always and every day.” To do this is to help avoid making sex a “performance” versus a communication of love.
I’ll think more on this to see if I can help explain this more ways, but maybe it’s a helpful start?
–Helen from Maryland
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