1. You’re just an amateur, and that’s why your marriage isn’t perfect. The first meal I cooked was disgusting, indigestible—but I learned over time, and now I have the hang of it (with the occasional mealtime disaster). It’s the same with marriage, which is a much more complicated recipe to follow. Be patient with yourself and your husband, and be patient with the relationship. You’re in it for the long haul. Things that are worth doing take time to learn.
2. Do not mention divorce. Do not even allow words beginning with the letter “d” to cross your brain. If you’re hurt and angry with your husband, but it was a valid marriage and he isn’t doing any of the things listed in those abuse hotline posters in the YMCA bathroom, then remember that you married a human being, not a god. You can either work it out or learn to live with it, but no, you cannot leave.
3. Pray together every night, even if it’s just a three-pack (an Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be—the go-to evening prayer for tired or lazy Catholics). If your husband doesn’t want to pray, then snuggle up to him in bed and pray silently. The Holy Spirit sometimes appears unable to distinguish between two married people, and may react as if you’re praying together.
4. Don’t be anxious to prove that you have a happy home by producing instant traditions. Traditions take time to develop. It’s hard to have a complete-feeling holiday with just two people, especially with no kids around. Also, newlyweds are often poor. (Yes, the best things in life are free. Christmas trees, however, are expensive; and so are the other trappings of the holidays.)
5. Relatedly, don’t give undue weight to family-of-origin traditions. You may see your husband’s traditions and expectations as ridiculous and wrong, rather than just different (especially if you went straight from your parents’ house to your married home). If specific traditions are important to you or your husband, discuss expectations ahead of time, so you don’t end up spending Thanksgiving sobbing in the bedroom because he assumes you’ll be watching football, whereas you’re certain that anyone with a civilized bone in their body takes a walk in the woods (or whatever). Be prepared to compromise. The goal is to be happy together, not to check of the list of traditional must do’s.
6. Be patient with your sex life. If you were virgins when you got married, you have a lot to learn. If you weren’t, you have a lot to learn. If you had three children together before you got married, you have a lot to learn. As a married couple, expect a certain amount of self-sacrifice, and try to talk about it if there’s a problem. (If there’s a problem but your husband doesn’t want to talk, then wait until he’s in a good mood and warn him that, at a specific time, you WILL be having a needed talk. Then plot out one specific thing that you want to address, and stick to that for now.)
7. Don’t indulge in recreational man-bashing. It may seem harmless to dish with the gals, but think about what it does to your heart. How will you treat your husband after trashing men for the last hour? If you have a genuine problem, select one reliable confidante. With your other friends, set a good example by speaking lovingly and respectfully of the man you married.
8. Don’t gorge on lifestyle blogs, magazines and TV shows. You and your husband and your home and your baby and your yard and your dinnerware and your abdomen probably don’t look anything like the pictures in the magazine—because those things are fake, and you are real. Large magazines are designed for two things: to sell products, and to appeal to the widest possible audience. If you read a lot of this stuff, you are bound to feel dissatisfied, inadequate, guilty and gypped. Just indulge lightly, then switch to a good book.
9. Pick a role model. Find an older woman who appears peaceful and joyful, and either ask her advice, or ask yourself, “What would so-and-so do?” This method has its limits: After all, she is she, and you are you. But as long as you don’t idolize her or sell short your own unique good qualities, there is nothing wrong with some healthy imitation while you’re learning the ropes.
10. Don’t change too much just because you’re married. Decent men don’t want their girlfriends to become different people just because they’re now wives. Yes, you mature. Yes, you grow and improve. But don’t stop being the person your man fell in love with—and make it easy to remember why he did fall in love with you. And while you’re at it, remember why you married that guy you married, and let him know that you love him for who he is. Let him be himself, too.