Things I’ve Learned About Marriage (Even if You Don’t Want to Call it That)

Originally Posted May 2012

I was married way too young the first time around. I was 23 years old. However, I was too smart and mature to realize that I was being really, really dumb. For instance, I was in the wrong relationship, and trying desperately to make it fit. I’m not even sure that by the time we got married, my partner thought it would last, but I did, and to her credit, she put a lot of faith in my belief. I also needed immediate medical attention for my mental health, because I didn’t have insurance on my own. I think that we both thought that as I improved, so would the relationship. As Soren Kierkegaard once said, “we live life forwards, but we understand it backward.” Ultimately, the relationship did not succeed, but it was a wonderful teaching tool.

But I didn’t learn everything I needed to know, because I was in a second relationship that lived on hope for quite a bit longer than it should have. We announced that we were getting married, we found a minister to marry us, and then the things that were going wrong in our relationship went from bad to so much worse that I realized that I was committing to a lifetime of desperately trying to make it work, rather than it being the right fit. Again, the relationship ended, and again, I learned lessons that couldn’t have been learned any other way.

I didn’t like Dana when I met her. She was so loud and obnoxious that I said to my friend Diane, “WHO. IS. THAT. WOMAN. THAT. ACCENTS. EVERY. WORD?” We saw each other at church now and again, but she really didn’t appear on my radar until Easter of 2004. A few weeks earlier, I had gone through the worst breakup of my entire life, and it was still weighing on me heavily. Dana came up to me and said, “Would you like to come to my house for Easter dinner? We’re having rack of lamb.” She said later that she’d often thought of trying to get to know me, but that Easter was kind of a pity invite because I looked so horribly sad.

We didn’t become best friends overnight, but by July, we were spending almost every waking moment together outside of our jobs. That is because we were both living alone~ me because I was single, and Dana because her partner was a construction worker who left town for weeks at a time. People assumed that we were having an affair~ we weren’t. I was way too broken for that. What did happen, though, is that Dana became the person that knows me better than anyone on earth. We can have entire conversations with our eyes. By the time we kissed, we each had enough blackmail material on the other for two lifetimes, and that’s what made me see stars. She saw me for everything I am- huge flaws and all- and loved me anyway.

This list is a compilation of everything I’ve learned from the time I was 23 until now. It is my best wish that everything I’ve gone through will connect to something in your own life… particularly if you are a conservative/evangelical Christian who does not believe in gay marriage. My only goal is to share some common ground.

  1. Β Be willing to say you’re wrong even when you don’t think you are, because it is far better to be happy and together than right and alone.
  2. Fighting isn’t a sign of trouble. It’s a sign that you’ve needed to talk way before it got to the fight point. Fighting isn’t a way to end the relationship, it’s a way to both be passionate about your beliefs and both get a resolution in the end. I know my voice gets louder when I think things are unfair, and so does everyone else’s. Seeing anger as a mark of passion and interest instead of feeling threatened goes a long way toward resolving a fight quickly.
  3. You and your partner are both going to have trigger words left over from childhood that make you crazy. Try not to say them. In fact, try not to intentionally push any emotional buttons. Be an adult. Use your words. Triggers are just cheap shots, which can seem like an easy victory… until it’s three days later and the wound you left hasn’t healed.
  4. If you don’t use those cheap shot triggers, and you are fairly emotionally smart about fighting, ignore the traditional advice of not going to bed angry. That’s because if the argument has been handled with care, and neither of you are wounded, it will often look better (or non-existent) after a good night’s sleep. Additionally, if the argument means a lot to you, it might appear in your dreams and work out a solution in your sub-conscience that you can present the next time you talk about the issue. Adding fatigue to fighting is just a red flag that things are about to get much, much worse.
  5. You don’t really care about the brand of toothpaste. You don’t really care whether the toilet paper goes over the top or hangs under the roll. In fact, you don’t really care about anything superficial- the real problem is something deeper, and you don’t know how to get vulnerable enough to bring it up. Quirky things about your partner are just that- quirks. If you’re *really* fighting about toothpaste, it’s time to let it go, because people don’t change. They just don’t. Trying to change someone else’s behavior is an uphill battle, and there will always be something about your partner that you don’t like. Deal. They have a list of things they don’t like about you, too.
  6. Make sure you actually have a friendship with your partner. Romantic love doesn’t seem to be ever-present. It’s a forest fire that comes in waves. Do not lose your connection altogether, because nothing is harder than starting from scratch. Plus, nothing says lovin’ like witty banter that turns into deep conversation that turns into OH MY GOD! We’ve been talking ALL NIGHT! That probably happened when you were dating- make sure it happens more than that.
  7. Before I got married, I never knew there was a right and a wrong way to fold a t-shirt. If your partner feels strongly about something, let them do it. But don’t be a jackass if they’re picky about everything and use it as an excuse not to do anything around the house. Be proactive. Say, “is it more important for you to have it done your way, or for you to release the responsibility of having to do it?”
  8. Talking about money and sex is hard, and there will never be a time when talking about either of these topics isn’t emotionally charged. Do whatever you can to strengthen your connection to each other before talking about either. Take a walk together, sit in the shower, just something that makes you want to open up to each other. If you can’t be vulnerable during a conversation about sex or money, then neither one of you is going to get anywhere, because neither of you wants to say anything that is beyond the protective walls you’ve put up around each subject.
  9. The corollary to #6 is that after you’ve opened up and have been extraordinarily vulnerable with each other, you might intentionally pick a fight. Be as aware of this as you can, because it’s not a signal that your relationship is in trouble. It’s a signal that says, “hey, I’m really emotionally crunchy after all this togetherness and I just need some time to myself.” Being aware of the natural dance of intimacy may cut off a fight at the pass. Know that after a fight, it’s probably better to retreat into separate rooms, or go out with your buddies. If they’re up for it, talk to your friends about the fight and blow off steam.
  10. A FEW WORDS ABOUT ALCOHOL If, after the fight, you want a drink, have one. But wait until the processing/blowing off steam is over. Why? Because having a beer to calm your nerves is one thing. Using alcohol to mask what’s really bothering you is another. P.S. Drinking during a fight is absolutely unacceptable. Alcohol changes your judgment, and often, your compassion. Take away those two things, and you are inevitably going to say something that you can never take back. Your partner may forgive you (or vice versa), but they’re never going to forget you said it, and it will hurt for a long time afterward. You may compound hurt without even knowing it.
  11. Do not keep score, but have a general sense of whether you feel appreciated, or you feel your partner is taking advantage of you. It is important to know these things for yourself, because while I am not an advocate of divorce, I am also not an advocate of constantly feeling like crap because you know you’re giving all you can and still not getting anything in return. When the tables are that imbalanced, seek professional help. If that doesn’t work, get the hell out. Life is too short to be that miserable for that long. Also, if it surprises you how much of the time you don’t like your partner, you’re in the wrong relationship. Why do I say that? Because even though marriage is a lot of work, it shouldn’t be like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole EVERY. DAMN. DAY.
  12. Know the person long enough to know if you’re going to spend years of frustration or not before you get married. In my own case, I threw caution to the wind. I asked Dana to marry me on our first date. BUT I NEVER WOULD HAVE DONE THAT had she not been my best friend in the world for the three and a half years before that. In being best friends, we had each paid our dues at getting to know each other. We each helped each other through some really rough stuff. I advocate that all couples do this before making any sort of official committment- because as Dana and I always say, we’re going to be together forever because there’s no way we didn’t know what contract we were signing.
  13. Know to the very core of your being that logic and emotion are two different things. Your partner may be saying something to you that is “highly illogical,” but he/she isn’t thinking that way. Thinking with your heart vs. your mind lead to different conclusions. The heart is irrational, AND THAT’S OK. Even if the lack of logic makes no damn sense, let him/her make it all the way to the end of what they have to say. All emotions are valid. If you try to put emotions into logical boxes, you’ve lost the entire point of having an argument, which is to really hear what each other needs emotionally.
  14. Don’t get too comfortable. You know you’re settling in for the long haul, so it’s easy to s l o w it down. Take heed: you’re not going to be together forever if you don’t communicate, early and often. You’re not going to stay attracted to each other if you become homebodies without new experiences to share. When those two things go, so does your attention… The end of a relationship doesn’t happen overnight. It happens slowly, over a great deal of time. The big bang is when you wake up one day and realize that you don’t really even know your partner anymore.
  15. Pay close attention to the difference between your “public persona” and the way you treat each other behind closed doors. The more closely those two things mirror each other, the more it means that the connection is genuine. NOTICE if when you’re in public, you act like the perfect couple that all your couple friends say they wish they were, and when you’re at home, no one would ever guess how bad it is. NOTICE if you are acting like everything is fine, when inside, it is CLEARLY not.
  16. THIS IS REALLY, REALLY IMPORTANT: When you get married, you are saying to the entire world that, forsaking all others, your partner is the most important person in the world to you. That you are changing your ties to your first family to create this new family with your partner. Mean it. Do not ever let your partner get hung out to dry with your family, because you will never endure a more silent car ride home… and this has nothing to do with either one of your families. It’s because “you broke the cardinal rule of marriage, and put someone else before me.”
  17. Give them their moments. There’s such an urge to compete with each other. When you realize you’re doing it, bow out gracefully. Amusingly, this gets easier as I get older. Nurturing my more natural introverted personality is slowly turning me into one of those guys who yell at the damn kids to get off his lawn.


I am sure that there are at least fifty more, and feel free to talk about them in the comments. I just thought it was important to show that gay marriage is marriage, because I haven’t said a single thing that you wouldn’t find in a heterosexual marriage self-help book. I don’t think that there is anything unique to gay marriage, because we all struggle with the same day-to-day scheduling haggles and the same left over emotional “stuff” from childhood. We all need to make our marriages stronger, because divorce is so much harder and less rewarding than having a relationship capable enough to survive big storms.