Some are better than others, and nearly all have some general wisdom that is helpful, but most of the time they suffer from the same fatal flaw.
Invariably when someone writes a blog or column about how to have a better, more intimate, more successful marriage, they begin with the assumption that all marriages are created equal, all striving to reach the same place.
This couldn’t be further from the truth, and those of us who have been married for any length of time understand this on a deeply personal level, because most of us know how very strange our marriage often seems to us.
Most of the relationship resources (especially Christian-generated ones) come from the perspective of what men need, or what women want, yet they are so often based on a generalized, stereotyped idea of gender roles. They assume that all men and all women, (and therefore all marriages), look the same and aspire to the same things.
When it comes to marriage advice however, one size does not fit all. In fact, one size simply fits—one size. It really only truly fits the giver himself or herself.
Married person here’s the deal: You’re not married to men or women as an idea. You’re not married to a gender role or a category. You’re married to a man or a woman; a completely original human being whose idiosyncrasies, gifts, needs, and desires are as decidedly once-in-history as they are.
You didn’t make an agreement with Marriage and you didn’t sign-up to join an institution; you made a life-long vow to one specific person, and so the best marital advice I can give you is this:
Make it your life’s work to know and love that person better than anyone ever has or ever will.
Since, on that magical day in the near or distant past, you didn’t make your heartfelt pledges to a marital expert, a licensed therapist, a renowned author, or a well-read blogger, but to your spouse; you need to be consulting them first, and last, and continually.
He or she is the one person on the planet, most qualified to speak into your marriage.
All the books and blogs and articles that resonate with you, as full of deep truth and great insight as they might be, don’t really matter if the one person who you’ve promised to share your life with isn’t the loudest voice in your head.
If you don’t know the heart of your mate (spoken in their words, not filtered through an outsider’s version of it), you’re failing them.
The truth is, all marriages are weird—and gloriously so.
They’re the beautifully bizarre product of two flawed, odd, messy lives intertwining, and slapping together a living, real-time impressionist painting made out of strange habits, peculiar conversations, and a billion tiny, unique ways of navigating obstacles and working out solutions.
And most of the time they look nothing like the books you’ll read or the examples you’ll be given, so fear not if you feel like a failure. Don’t be discouraged by the bizarre or irregular, because they’re actually priceless gifts.
People often talk about the “sanctity” of marriage, and the truth is, it’s found in the weird.
That’s where the sweet spot of the sacred marriage stuff really is; when you and your spouse make the decision to live life together and work it out together in all its spectacular oddness.
What even the most well-meaning marital advice inadvertently does, is force you to compare your marriage with some ridiculously idealized, stock photography standard of Marriage that has never existed in the first place. It’s never wise to use a fantasy image as your reality template, so chuck it out the window and embrace what’s there in front of you.
You may desperately want your marriage to be normal, but that’s a silly and unattainable target, one that will only waste the precious time you have. Seek instead, to partner with your spouse in having the best weird marriage ever.
The only relationship you should compare yours to is yesterday’s version of it. Are you listening better, sacrificing more, working harder? Are you communicating more clearly, sharing more openly?
Ultimately if you have questions about the kind of spouse you are, you won’t find that answer in a blog post or book excerpt or DVD lecture. You’ll find it right in front of you, across the dinner table from you, next to you in bed as you read this.
Here’s an idea:
Get out your old wedding vows and sit down across from your spouse; read them out loud and then look them in the eyes and ask them, “So, how am I doing?”
Then, really listen and don’t stop until death do you part.
May you never stop nurturing your wonderfully weird marriage.