Relationships and marriage coaches agree that one of the best decisions we can make walking into a marriage is to find role models. Finding models aren’t only important in setting our expectations for marriage, but for all things we desire to excel in—careers, parenting, and life as a whole. Regarding marriage, the goal should be to find couples that have long been married, who hopefully seem to be happy, to gain wisdom on how to achieve such a feat… especially when we consider the current national rate of divorce.
But there are other models we often ignore when contemplating marriage, those with wisdom of what not to do. Someone who made awful mistakes in a marriage, can own those mistakes, and has regrets about them, can be just as important to listen to regarding marriage as someone who’s been married for 50 years.
Marriages are full of mistakes and heartaches. Some mistakes in marriage are inevitable; they are a part of the human growth and development process. But others are avoidable. As a divorcée and someone who would consider marriage again, a recent video (uploaded by Buzzfeed to its Facebook page) echoed so much of what I learned from my failed marriage. It gathers advice from divorcées, and reminded me of what not to do again if/when I decide to give it all another try.
Here are three major highlights from the video.
1. Know and love yourself
The best advice given in this segment was, “[You have to] be happy with yourself—and by yourself—before you can be happy in a marriage.” The more you know and love who you are, the more solid a person you are individually, the better your marriage will work.
Because marriage and spending your life with someone can shake you to your core. Your spouse will hurt you and disappoint you. Horrible things will be said to you by your partner that are often untrue. You may deal with the death of loved ones, the loss of jobs, the trials of parenting, and no telling what else during your marriage.
Therefore, marriage can be hard even when it’s good. When we know and love ourselves, we don’t internalize every emotional hiccup we experience. Instead, we realize that hiccups are an unavoidable (and necessary) part of growing up and growing in our unions.
2. Communicate carefully
The sister in the video was spot on when she articulated, “Get pre-marital counseling, because you need to talk about money, you need to talk about religion, you need to talk about how to raise the kids.” Combining lives also means combining a lifetime of experiences, ideas, and behaviors connected to those experiences.
Committing to a life with someone who has the same life experiences as you isn’t necessarily superior to choosing a partner who you have little in common with, but you must be able to communicate those experiences that make the two of you different. The goal isn’t to see differences and good or bad, but simply as experiences.
Additionally, one divorcée commented, “Most important thing is respect. So choose your words wisely, because you can never take them back.” I can be honest and say that I look back at some of the things I said to my ex-husband and cringe from embarrassment. Looking back, I can’t believe I spoke to someone I love so terribly callous. He said his share of ugly things to me as well. As novelist and activist Arundhati Roy wrote in The God of Small Things, “That’s what careless words do. They make people love you a little less.”
3. Be each other’s best friend
I can honestly say that I used to think this advice was corny. I thought, “But I have a best friend. Actually, I have several.” I enjoyed my life before my marriage, and I didn’t think partnering with someone meant he would have to fill every space in my life. But establishing a strong relationship with your spouse is indeed important.
We treat our best friends with care. We know all of their sore spots, so we rub them instead of picking at the scabs. Even when they anger us, we forgive them and move forward. And we also share our own sore spots with them. We pour our hearts out to them because they “get us.”
We should give our spouses the tools and information so that they can “get us” in this way. And we should treat them as kindly as we do our besties. Additionally, when we learn to turn to our spouse when we’re struggling, angry or hurt, we don’t create openings to seek comfort outside of the marriage—because that often becomes the root of infidelity and divorce.