Top Ten Rules To A Successful Marriage

Let’s be honest, once you’re past the honeymoon stage, marriage is difficult and gay or straight you’ll probably be shocked to realize that the rules of engagement are the same for all.

My wife and I have been married for several years now.  We haven’t always had the marriage we have now.  In fact, we fought very hard to get to where we are.

See, this is my first marriage…my first “real” relationship.  I went into the relationship without any rules and because of that I caused some undue hardships and turmoil along the way.   Prior to meeting her I was a “serial monogamous dater”, I never really cared to stay past my own personal ambition, which caused me to never learn the true rules of engagement for any successful relationship.

My wife, on the other hand, was married to a man for almost ten years, after they divorced she was single for three years and then we met.  And WHEN we met, she never shared with me the rules she had learned along the way.  She kept it to herself and allowed me to learn things on my own, the hard way, as I usually do.  Fast forward, years later when our marriage was on the rocks and she was ready to leave me and I was in shock trying to figure out what went wrong.  And then she said it.  She literally stood there in our hallway and shared with me some of these secrets I’m sharing with you now.   She finally told me the rules.

And knowing the rules changed everything for me and for us!  My wife and my family mean everything to me and keeping us all together, happy and healthy is one of the most important things I will do in this lifetime.

Fast forward a few years again, now she and I have built an incredible life and a family together.  We have a ton of married friends that we are very close to and I have noticed that the same rules that I must live by to keep my marriage going strong, are all of the same rules everyone seems to have to live by as well.

Perhaps these will be reminders for you, maybe for others simply enlightening tips on how to keep your marriage together, and for others perhaps “the obvious”.  But if you’re anything like me, knowing this BEFORE a marriage is helpful.  I took my vows seriously.  Staying committed to my wife and our family is the most important part of me.

So here are some mistakes I made and truths I have learned as well as some other “natural” rules we have applied to our marriage that I believe have kept us going so strong.

OUR TOP TEN RULES OF ENGAGEMENT

1.  Never threaten to leave, and never say the “D” word. It cheapens the union, puts the option on the table for all, and above all, thoughts become things…

OMG When Tina and I first got married it was the answer to literally every single problem we had to me.  Couldn’t agree on stuff with the kids, “divorce me”.  I forgot to buy bagels, “divorce me”.  You won’t let me buy something I want on Amazon, “divorce me”.  It was literally the answer to everything…and then one day she said “okay, I want a divorce”.  Wait, what?  You’re kidding right?  Because I never meant that…

What I learned is that rule number one is probably the most important rule of all once you’ve committed to spending your life with someone.   Unless you’re dealing with actual “deal breakers” then putting the option of divorce on the table should NEVER be said!

Marriage is NOT about being in love.  It’s not about getting butterflies when your spouse walks in the door and giggling uncontrollably at their jokes in public.  Marriage is, above all things, about commitment and nothing deteriorates the spirit of commitment more than the constant verbalization of your refusal to acknowledge it.  When you say “divorce me” all you’re actually saying is “I don’t care about our commitment”.   I learned the hard way that when you threaten to leave, each and every time, you’re leaving in a way, even if it’s not physically, you’re still leaving a little bit at a time, with each threat…and if you’re not leaving, they are!

2.  Discuss and RESPECT your deal breakers.  

Every couple goes through unexpected hardships.  A deal breaker isn’t a curve ball, it’s exactly the opposite.  It’s what your partner tells you ahead of time is an absolute “will not deal with, put up with, handle, work through, work out”, etc…

Discuss them, know them and respect them!   Deal breakers are things that would make you no longer want to “work” on things.  Deal breakers make you question commitment.  Deal breakers make you want to “break the deal” and bonds of marriage.   Do you know your partners deal breakers?

3.  Eliminate the urge to merge.

It sounds sweet at first…to do absolutely everything on the planet together.  Those initial feelings where you can’t get enough of each other…and you still long for more…and then the honeymoon ends and what was once the most adorable little thing on the planet becomes the most annoying thing in the universe.

I believe that one of the things that have kept our marriage so strong is that we have kept our sense of autonomy throughout our relationship.  We have a ton of “common/mutual” friends but we also have a handful of our own individual friends and friendships that have not been merged.  We have a ton of common interests and she’s still my favorite person to hang out with, the go out with, to vacation with, to raise kids with, to take a walk in the park with, etc… but we also allow each other the room to be an individual.  I like to golf, she doesn’t.  She encourages me to find friends that I can golf with and go as often as I want.   Additionally, I also travel a lot for work and have since the day we met…the time apart has kept us stronger and most of the couples that we know that have incredible marriages have a degree of “time away”.  It helps you appreciate the other person, keeps your sanity and maintains your freedom.

We have a couple friend that literally eats and breathes together every day all day long and they said once that they can’t imagine being away from one another for more than a day.  Once separated I discussed it again and she admitted it was only because she thought he would cheat.

Listen, if your relationship is SO completely insecure and you’re that distrustful of your partner you have a much bigger problem on your hands.  I always say don’t choke someone with your tight rope, allow them enough rope to choke themselves.  Besides, do you really want to know someone was faithful to you just because you forced their hands at loyalty and monogamy? Come on now.

Offer your partner some room to be themselves…because I guarantee you that if you are choking them, they will eventually break free to breathe.  It is just the truth.

4.  Check your anger at the door, it’s not a public marriage

When I was a little kid my aunt separated from our uncle.  During their time of separation she yelled out at the dinner table, in front of the entire family, what a pervert he was and told us all about how he liked to dress in women’s panties.  They separated for about six months but then they got back together, and stayed together for many years…and all I could think about every time after that when I saw him was that underneath those cowboy wranglers he was wearing were pink little ruffles and lace lol  She is now divorced and remarried to a boxer briefs kind of guy ; ).

Listen, there’s a level of intimacy in your marriage that should always remain sacred.  There’s a level of loyalty that should always remain between you and your spouse, even when things go bad.  I get that we all have times of entertaining the concept of a double murder suicide but we should never taint the waters by allowing others into this sacred bond because you didn’t marry anyone else and therefore their feelings of the loyalty you should have will not be properly shared.    I have no loyalty towards your spouse like you do…and when we share stories, especially when we’re angry, they are inaccurate and shrouded by personal emotions that aren’t even necessarily true. Therefore I gain an opinion that’s not accurate and subsequently offer you advice you shouldn’t be taking, which leads you to feeling things that you shouldn’t be feeling.

Bottom line.  Check your anger at the door.  There are certain things you should not share with others, even your closest of friends.  You didn’t marry anyone else…you of all people should be the most loyal to your spouse, even when you’re angry!

5.  Couples that play together stay together

Another one we did right from the beginning.  My wife and I love spending time together, literally still to this day, years later, can sit around with a bottle of wine and make each other laugh out loud.  We never lost that sense of friendship, closeness and the ability to have fun together.  When your relationship starts to take a turn…remember why you married in the first place and go have a little fun, just the two of you. We always make a point to have “alone time” that doesn’t necessarily include “adult entertainment”…just fun “us” time!  It’s always worth it.

6.  Have sex, whether you want to or not. 

Everyone has great sex in the beginning, gay or straight but then life happens. And those sexy fun nights where you throw the mattress down in front of the fireplace and drink wine and watch your favorite movies and have wild, awesome, fun, amazing sex that you think would put porn stars to shame turns into reality and life and kids and demands and work and family and stress and “when could you possibly find the time” and besides “it’s the last thing on your mind”.  The rule: do it anyways…even when you don’t feel like it.  If you notice your sex life is starting to fall apart, put it on the schedule and make it happen!  

First of all, there’s nothing quite as unfair as demanding your spouse be “monogamous” with you and expect them to only have sex with you but then you refuse to ever give it up, put out, say “yes”.  I’m always amazed by these women that refuse to sleep with their husbands but then act completely victimized when their husbands cheat on them.  Your husband was the victim first with your demands of monogamy and then refusal to be his partner in that area in life.

But life happens in all relationships.  It’s not so fun and sexy being physically intimate with someone that just disappointed the shit out of you…but you have to work it out and make it happen!  Tina and I went from having incredible sex to a definite lull in this department where it was as sporadic as “only on vacation”…and then we talked about why we stopped…and started scheduling it.  Scheduling leads to wanting it more, which naturally leads to just getting back in the groove of doing it more consistently.

And yes, we will literally say “this Friday is “date night”.  No kids, we’re going to dinner, and then coming home and locking ourselves in our room all night.  And that’s what we do…and you know what, we have NEVER been disappointed that we scheduled sex lol….make it happen!  It also helps to be more open minded in this category.  I don’t care who you are or to whom you are married, everyone wants a fun, crazy sex life.  Be open about sex, talk about it.  Have FUN!   You shouldn’t always want to look each other in the eyes and whisper love poems…BOOOOORING!  Throw your spouse for a curve ball.  Have the candles lit, wine poured, bath drawn, and get out the FUN! But remember, if you’re not having sex with your spouse, someone sel will!

7.  THE BUBBLE

Everyone we know personally thinks we are ingenious for coming up with the concept of “the bubble”.   They have all adopted it for the most part and I’d like to take credit in saying I created it.

We initially actually created it for our kids and then eventually adopted it in our marriage.  The Bubble is a place you can request to go into and say ANYTHING YOU WANT free of consequence.  You’re not ALWAYS allowed access into it but once you’re in, it’s a free for all.  There’s only ONE RULE in The Bubble and that is that there are NO consequences allowed for anything said in the Bubble!  This rule can NEVER be deviated from no matter WHAT or it will ruin the point of it all together.

We made it so our kids felt like they had an all-access pass to ask us anything they wanted.  We have a very free and open family and discuss everything from sex to racism to life to bigotry to politics, etc…with our kids.  But the Bubble was specifically designed so they felt “totally free” to say anything or ask anything they wanted…and trust me, THEY HAVE lol.  They have asked everything from “what the ‘N’ word means” to “certain things they heard about sex in school” to “just wanting to yell a bad word once” to “displaying their honest feelings about something we are doing” to literally ANYTHING.

We started the Bubble when Logan was in 1st grade, he’ll be in junior high next year and let me tell you, it is amazing!

We have such an open family that it’s very rare anyone asks to go into the Bubble anymore but it’s purpose is still served.  It lets us know that they still feel like they can come to us for anything while also letting us know that often times these things discussed are “private” and shouldn’t be shared publicly.

So the Bubble was implemented into our marriage.  If Tina says “I need to say something inside the Bubble” what she is saying is “I need to say something openly and totally honestly that may cause a debate but it has to be said without consequence”.    The Bubble has actually saved our marriage.

If you implement the Bubble for your kids or for your marriage you absolutely CANNOT NOT NOT abuse it.  You must adhere to the one and only rule which is you cannot have consequences to anything said inside of it.  It’s fun!  You should try it!

8. Discuss your life goals often and make sure you’re both always in alignment!

You shouldn’t assume you always know the person you go to bed with every night and wake up to every morning.  When was the last time you asked your partner what his or her desires are for the future?  Where do you truly want to be in five years?  What changes would you like to see, if any, in our marriage or our family that we could start working towards?

9.  Pick and choose your battles carefully. 

It’s something we’ve all heard a thousand times but it’s true in a marriage.  Truth is, there’s always something to fight about, especially if you’re looking for it.

Man if I could turn back time this is one of the things I’d change…how contentious I used to be about everything.  And then life happens and throws you curve balls and you realize you have a whole world to fight against…you don’t need to be needlessly fighting at home.  Tina taught me this too.  Pick and choose which battles are worth fighting for…which ones are actually worth the energy and time.  You’ll discover soon enough that most battles we fight are NOT battles worth fighting…I used to argue about anything and everything I initially didn’t agree with.  Now, I always take a step back and first consider if it’s worth the devestation this is going to cause by engaging.  Sometimes the answer is yes, more often than not, it’s no.

10.   NEVER take your spouse for granted…because someone else will choose not make that mistake. 

It sounds simple but it’s probably one of the number one reasons people leave marriages.  Being taken for granted is exhausting and it kills your spirit.   Never forget to say thank you.  Never forget to acknowledge the things your spouse does.  Even if it seems little.  Little things add up.  My wife is the cleanest human being on the planet, she literally follows us all around cleaning up after us all and every single morning I wake up to, or always come home to, the cleanest freaking house on the planet.  I appreciate it so much I tell her as often as I think of it…I also remind the kids to thank her.   No the house doesn’t just clean itself lolol….acknowledge that!

She’s also the “bug police”.  If and when there’s a spider, the kids and I turn instantly into marathon runners, moving faster than we’ve moved all year, doing acrobatic moves just to stay away, hiding behind doors so we can keep our eyes firmly planted on its location until she comes to save the day.  Last night she removed a spider from my sink with her bare hands.  Seriously, she’s incredible!

From every little detail of every bit of the woman she is that I love and appreciate so much I feel the need to tell her as often as I can think of it.  She’s amazing.  Have I said that yet?   Trust me on this one…show a little more gratitude and your spouse will return the favor.  She’s always reminding me of what a great parent she thinks I am, how lucky she was to have found me and to be raising kids with me…and no matter how many times she’s said it, each and every time it just goes straight to my heart strings.

People forget to say thank you to the one person you should be thanking the most.  Write down the things you are most thankful for your spouse for and make them sit down with you and read them out loud.  Eventually the surface of you will become the depth of you and you will both find a common ground of gratitude above all things, this will keep your marriage alive and well though out your days.  And don’t just do it for yourselves, make your kids apart of the attitude of gratitude as well.

I’m telling you it’s one of the biggest mistakes you can make in any relationship.  My wife’s ex husband made this mistake. When they met she was a teenager, and he was 9 years older, but always disparate in character from the beginning.  He assumed everything, never said “thank you” and took everything about her for granted.  He was also one of those guys that always tried to keep her in a small little box.  Never paying her compliments, never making her feel worthy of or good enough. Always at the bar, instead of being home.  Never appreciated her presence in his life.  He would even often go on exotic vacations without her.   Thinking that if he kept her in her “place” she would always stay right there.  WRONGOLA! Literally ignoring most of her needs and refusing to acknowledge her…and then one day she said “I’m done”.  And she was.  And he was “shocked”…

We have a pretty good relationship with him and his new wife now (that’s 18 years younger than he is) and we see his habits haven’t changed at all.  He rarely acknowledges his new wife.  He is insanely inappropriate around us and incredibly disrespectful when he refers to his wife now and he still refuses to be the kind of man that acknowledges anyones needs but his own.  It’s really sad.  So we know it’s only a matter of time and maturity once again for his new wife.  Don’t be like him.   Tina looks at him every single time she sees him and thinks “what a bullet she dodged” in life.

When you don’t treat people like they deserve to be treated, they will eventually run into someone that’s willing to…and when your spouse leaves you for someone that is just “kinder” and “nicer” and “more appreciative” you can’t be mad…because you refused to follow this rule.   Saying “thank you” and being “grateful” doesn’t make you “less than”…it makes you “more than”.  

The bottom line is that whenever you choose to marry someone hopefully that means that you take the bonds of matrimony seriously.  It means you’re ready for a full commitment to work through the hard times and stay strong during the bad times.  But it also means that you’re willing to “participate” in that marriage and whether you are gay or straight participation is mandatory!

Let’s be honest, times are a changing’.  Marriage isn’t like it used to be where it was also a matter of survival.  I didn’t inherent my wife’s farm and our kids don’t plant and hunt to eat.  We live in a digital world where the reality of life is that the grass always looks greener and more manicured but the reality is, like all marriages, the lawns that look the best are the ones that are tended to the most!  

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