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What I Learned From My First Marriage

And how it made me a better husband for my second

Groom carrying bride over his shoulder

The end of a first marriage can hurt like a prison beating, but it isn’t a failure. It delivers hard-earned lessons on how compatibility over the long haul isn’t easy, and sometimes it’s just not possible. Taking that insight forward into a second marriage, outfitted with an understanding of what you did wrong and a conviction in what you did right, is bound to mean more better and less worse. 

I’m on my second marriage, and I didn’t get here by coasting. The first one wasn’t all her fault, and the second one isn’t perfect just because I found the perfect woman. Here’s what I’ve learned about what makes a relationship sink or swim in the transition.

Putting someone else’s happiness ahead of yours is a sucker’s bet. Abraham Lincoln had it right. “People are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Don’t waste time trying to make up someone else’s mind. It’s not possible.

Laughing might be more important than sex … though sex is really damn important. Actually, the former typically leads to the latter. If you can’t laugh at each other and with each other, that’s a DEFCON 1 problem.

Living in your head is not living. Constant muttering to yourself like someone who spends his day pushing around a shopping cart loaded with hubcaps is the reddest of flags. Find someone who lets you speak your language out loud.

A good married couple is like Brady and Gronkowski. Or Stockton and Malone, or even England Dan and John Ford Coley. Great partners appreciate each other’s strengths and find ways to complement each other’s weaknesses. 

The little compromises you’ve been told don’t matter? They actually matter. What you like, who you care about, how you want to spend your time — these make you who you are. Suppressing that for the sake of someone else’s approval is a small death.

When things get bad, you learn who’s really in your corner. Because they’ve been there the whole damn time. They couldn’t say much before, they have plenty to say now, and they’re definitely happy that you’re not against the ropes anymore. 

Psyching yourself up to go home at the end of the day is a bad sign. Sure, domestic duties await, but your house should be a space to safely blow off steam. No good evening ever began by pausing at the door, keys in hand and muttering, “Here we go.”

It’s not arrogant to want to be appreciated. Nobody deserves a medal for painting, yard work or furniture assembly. But when the job’s over and someone hands you a cold beer and says thank you, it feels pretty goddamn good.

Perfectionism sucks. Crushing expectations — on each other and on the marriage — will absolutely crush you. Everybody screws up. A good partner knows she or he is just as screwed up as you. Embrace and even delight in each other’s imperfections, and the music is beautiful.

Silence is not golden. Silence stinks. Not talking while sleepwalking through daily routine signals a serious disconnect. Trying to find the right words for a conversation shouldn’t feel like fighting up the north ridge of Everest.

You’re never too old for a new beginning. If you realize you’re on the wrong road, it’s OK to throw it in reverse, hit a Burt Reynolds two-point turn and head in a fresh direction.

Follow Article Topics: Sex-&-Relationships