I realize how lucky I am to be married to a great guy who I love. That being said, I am always worried about losing myself in his world, losing my independence, and becoming a watered down version of myself. First, we change our names, then we change our city, then we change our eating habits—you get the picture, right? So, how do I address my concerns? I constantly try keep myself in check and, so far, I believe it’s worked. Just being aware is half the battle. Here is my marry-but-don’t-morph checklist for a successful marriage:
Do not feel like you must change your name. Why do we have to fold ourselves into our man? It really feels awkward if you’ve spent years creating a professional reputation. Do it only if it feels right.
Do not write thank you notes and sign them with your husband’s and your name. If he wants to write a note, he should do it too. You aren’t a unit, you are a person and your notes should be signed as such. Do it for wedding gifts and you’re in danger of setting a pattern. I just got a thank you written by a friend of mine for a dinner we gave. She signed it “Love, Barbara and Andrew.” The couple (both equally busy professionals) has been together twenty years. I shudder to think how many times she has carried the ball for Andrew in the thank you note department.
Do not let your husband name the baby a name you don’t like—even if it is his name. I can’t tell you how many times I see this. I have a relative who named her son Frank. I asked why she was choosing this particular name. She said because her husband wanted to name the baby after his only brother. Through the years, I have noticed that her husband doesn’t much like his brother and never really has. Meantime, she has confessed to me numerous times that she really doesn’t like her son’s name. Hold your ground. Be a part of naming your child and do NOT go with a name you don’t like.
Get involved in money decisions and know what you are spending money on. It is so strange how many women just fork this over to the husband and relinquish any responsibility. This can also be dangerous if the marriage doesn’t work out.
Look, I love to go to parties with my husband, as he is indisputably a lot of fun. But he likes to close parties down and is often the last to leave. He comes from a long distinguished line of partiers! Not so much for me. I chat and cocktail and then my internal alarm goes off. It says something like this, “You have chatted to everyone here twice, you are at your alcohol limit, leave before you turn into a toad.” So what do I do? I leave. He stays. I see eyebrows rise when we do it, but the fact is we’re both totally okay with it. And, what’s more, sometimes I won’t go at all. There are some social engagements I either can’t make it to or don’t want to and vice versa. He wants to go to the latest explosion-filled-killing-torture-car-chase flick? Bye, bye (he really is a great guy but I’ll guess you’ll just have to take my word for it here). Having your own social circle (be it a women’s group or a guys night out) is healthy. Don’t morph socially into your mate.
My mother-in-law has said this to me many times over the years, “Do not create a monster.” What she means is don’t do everything for your mate. Don’t take on certain jobs in caring for him that he will get used to and take advantage of. He will become spoiled and let’s face it, spoiled is unattractive in men and women. Now, if one person is working full time and the other has more free time, I’m not saying don’t help each other out. And sometimes there are roles that we each do for each other and it works. You scratch my back; I’ll scratch yours so to speak. But more often than not, you see one person doing all the mundane chores and the other benefitting.
For example, don’t make his lunch for him everyday, let him do it himself. Don’t pick up his dirty clothes from the bathroom floor and put them in the hamper. Let them sit there so he can see them and act on it. I recently noticed that I was taking my husband’s shirts to the dry cleaners once a week when we both were frequently driving by the shop. I noted that I rarely have anything from my closet to take to the dry cleaners. I crafted this role for myself ten years ago and had been doing it, no questions asked, ever since. Right then and there I decided not to do it anymore.
Same thing happened with Christmas shopping. I am the better shopper and, unlike, my husband I do not like to do it all last minute. So, for years, I would buy his family the gifts. One year, he let a complaint slip about some gifts I had bought. That was it for me. I thought, why am I taking hours to try and buy his family thoughtful gifts? I thought, we are equally busy and he should put some thought of his own into it, instead of sitting back and criticizing. I stopped cold turkey. Quite frankly, it was a bit nerve wracking this past Christmas when I asked him on the twenty-third if he’d gotten anything for his father and he realized he had forgotten. But he got on-line and solved his problem, which is what he should be doing. The fact is that is we create roles and routines in relationships. Take on something he should be doing himself and someday you will get sick of it and want to stop. And, what will the monster do? Roar.
There are some serious differences between men and women. Do not try to change it, just work with it. Take sex. Men define themselves by it. I am completely convinced that men get confidence from great sex. Women? Not so much. While they may enjoy great sex, I do not think they derive confidence from it. Women get confidence from a smashing outfit or a haircut or compliments from other women they admire. Another example—cars. Men love cars and will spend inordinate amounts to drive a nice one. Women? Most women view cars as a way to get from A to B. I do not ride on the freeway and think, “Wow I love the way this car feels right now and how I look in it.” My husband? I’m quite certain he has had those exact thoughts. Do we argue about the high cost of his car? Not a chance. He can afford it and he has deemed this, no matter how excessive I think it is, something that’s important in his life. End of story.
Do not try and convince your husband to think your way. Express yourselves and try and resolve the matter as respectfully as possible. Do not try and bad mouth him or make him feel silly in his beliefs in an attempt to make him share your mindset. It’s a bad strategy. Again, do not try to become one and morph into your mate. Just because you are married does not mean you will or must think alike and always be one the same sides. Realize the differences, deal with them, and move on.
Speaking of arguments, you and your mate will inevitably differ on child rearing issues. Speak up and clearly express your opinion. If you and your mate can’t come to an accord, and one of you feels much more strongly on the issue, let the person with the stronger opinion “win.” On some issues, you will feel you just can’t compromise. On other issues, he will feel the need to hold his ground. It will prevent you from butting heads and leaving one person feeling defeated.
For example, our thirteen-year-old recently performed as the lead in his school musical. We were quite impressed. The drama teacher was involved in a Disney Channel pilot and got our son the chance to audition for the lead role in the show. I’m not crazy about our child going into the acting profession, but I felt inclined to let him audition, as I don’t want to quash his dreams. I felt the chances of him actually getting the job were like finding a needle in a haystack and he should get the opportunity to audition. My husband, on the other hand, was adamantly opposed having seen all the negatives to children who act professionally, experience success at a tender age, get a false sense of importance and self-esteem, and then never act beyond their teen years. The experience leaves many feeling like a failure and there is no happy conclusion. In short, my husband won and we told our son to wait until he was eighteen to act professionally.
Other times, I win. For example, my husband doesn’t flinch at super violent movies. I cringe and frequently shut my eyes and plug up my ears. He’s comfortable exposing the kids to violence-as-entertainment and, in fact, showed our then eight year old his all-time favorite, The Godfather while I was at work. This kind of thing really feels like bad parenting to me and I’m just not okay with it. There is nothing fun about murder. Nowadays, I win most of the movie arguments and our kids rarely see R-rated movies. By the way, if you tattletale on occasion, it’s a good sign you are not morphing into your man.