I Do? (Advice for Newlyweds)

I Do?

Erik is out of the office this week, so we are reprinting a column from 2003.

My wife and I raised a lot of eyebrows when we first announced we were getting married. It was especially puzzling to people, because we had already been married for three years.

Actually, it was because people never thought we were the marrying type, at least to each other. So, as we close in on our tenth wedding anniversary, I would like to take this opportunity to say "neener neener" to all those who doubted us.

And while I may not have been married as long as someone who has been married for, say, eleven years, I think I have a pretty good grasp on what it takes to make a successful marriage. So I would like to offer some tips for those of you who are getting married, are newly married, or are wondering, "Jeez, why did I ever get married in the first place?!"

The foundation of a successful marriage is being able to communicate effectively. Husbands and wives need to discuss their feelings, their dreams, and even the future. But more importantly, they need to understand that there is a proper time and place for this sort of thing.

This isn't one of those columns where I trot out the tired joke of "Wives, don't bring up your feelings during the football game." That joke has been around a lot longer than football, and frankly, it's annoying.

Ancient Roman Wife: Darlingus, does this toga make me look fat? Why don't you like my mother? I'm feeling bad about myself, do you still love me?

Ancient Roman Husband: Sweetieus Maximus, I don't want to discuss this right now. The gladiator match just started, and they've tossed in a lion.

But tired jokes aside, another bad time to try to talk to each other is through the bathroom door. That's the sanctuary, a place to get away from the chaos of the household. Saying anything other than "Dinner is ready" is a serious breach of marriage etiquette, and is punishable by letting your spouse get his or her way for a week.

At least that's what I keep telling my wife. She's not buying it.

Instead, try to find a time where you're both ready for an in-depth discussion of your feelings, like the middle of a three-day driving trip, and you've just entered Iowa.

Spending time together on common interests are another important part of marriage. They help you gain greater insights about your spouse, and learn important things about each other, like neither of you likes Brussels sprouts, reality TV shows, or that neighbor kid who keeps letting his dog crap in your yard.

Do things together that you'll both enjoy, like watching football, talking about football, and reading about football. And wives, try to do things your husbands like too.

Spending time apart on different interests are equally important. Don't think that you need to do everything together just because you're married. For example, wives can use their time apart to develop their love of musical theater. And husbands can use this same time to develop their love of anything that is not musical theater.

However, it's not a good idea to develop interests that are mutually exclusive, like ant farming and breeding aardvarks, practicing yoga and playing in a heavy metal band, or working for opposing political parties. James Carville and Mary Matalin have become successful political consultants for the Democrats and Republicans, respectively, and have stayed married for many years. But how they have managed to stay together without killing each other is beyond me and all of Washington DC.

Finally, and most importantly, make sure to express your love for each other on a regular basis. Reminding your spouse why you married them in the first place — "your dad made me" — can go a long way in strengthening your relationship, making the rough times a lot smoother.

You don't have to gaze deeply into each other's eyes and whisper "I love you" seven times a day, but do things that let your spouse know that you still care.

Do one of their regular household chores for them. Pick up their favorite candy bar or treat the next time you're at the store. Surprise them with the "Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" DVD they've been wanting for the past three months. To help this along, be sure to drop small, but subtle clues in places so they don't forget that you want the "Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" DVD.

Places like, say, a newspaper column.

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available on Amazon.com, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.