(This post is part of the Happy Wives Club Blog Tour which I am delighted to be a part of along with hundreds of inspiring bloggers. To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! )
I, too, am a "happy wife" -- married 11 years now --and my marriage is the most important and most nurturing relationship in my life, without question. (Shhh. Don't tell my little kids.)
I believe that the most helpful contribution I can make to the Happy Wives Club Blog Tour is to talk about the work that I do counseling brides-to-be, Emotionally Engaged.
There's a lot going on for brides-to-be, and it's not just the stress of planning a wedding. If you're married, you remember this: you're also learning how to live and love in a deeper, more intimate, more permanent, lifelong way. And of course, you're a complete beginner at this marriage thing.
So in my 2006 book, Emotionally Engaged: A Bride's Guide to Surviving the "Happiest" Time of Her Life (which I've adapted here), I write about how a brand-new marriage grows.
If you're a bride or newlywed, you'll see yourself in this blog; if you've been happily married for a while, take a moment to savor how far you've come from those first days, months, and years.
Discovering Your Marriage's Personality
You and your fiance come into your marriage with disparate histories, different ideas of what's right and wrong, and strong convictions on how things should be done.
Your job, as a married couple, is to create together a new reality that accommodates, respects, nurtures, and works for both of you.
The Apache blessing that is sometimes read during wedding ceremonies offers the right sentiment -- "Now you are two persons, but there is one life before you."
But this implies that the "one life" appears -- poof! --instantly, as soon as you say "I do.'
In actuality, over the first months and years of your marriage, you and your husband together create your one shared life -- day by day, discussion by discussion, negotiation by negotiation.
Discovering the personality of your marriage and of yourselves as husband and wife occurs through the small details of everyday life. Maggie Scarf, author of Intimate Partners: Patterns in Love and Marriage, describes it as "the marital conversation that moves from bed to breakfast table."
During the first year or so of your marriage, you and your husband are in a constant dialogue, working out how you're going to live together as a married couple.
As you parse out day-to-day responsibilities, such as who takes care of the car, feeds the dog, and writes the monthly checks, you're building your marriage.
As you learn to trust each other with money -- "yours," "mine," and "ours" -- you're cementing the foundation of your marriage.
As you negotiate how much time you spend with family and friends and what aspects of your private life are okay to share, you're co-creating your future together.
As you deal with your individual needs for sex and solitude, you're discovering differences you perhaps were not aware of before you married. In short, there's a lot going on inside the cocoon of your marriage.
Your marriage gains its identity as you develop ways of caring for each other that are unique, ways of living together and loving each other that are private, personal, intimate, and sacred to the 2 of you.
These small acts may not be different from what you did when you were dating -- you still have "your" TV show that you enjoy together every Thursday, and you still go out on walks every night after having dinner together -- but that are imbued now with a sense of permanence.
After making a lifelong commitment, these small activities and gestures, repeated with love and affection again and again, build a sense of family. And often, it's the tiniest details -- a loving wake-up routine involving a few minutes of snuggling; or someone receiving a nice hot cup of coffee in bed; or a Post-it note on the dashboard that says "I love you" -- that help your family of 2 develop and flourish.
The process of building an emotionally engaged marriage often begins with play; the goofy games you play together actually make your marriage uniquely intimate and private.
Play often gives a marriage part of its personality. When Sarah's under a lot of stress, for example, her husband Jake hides an orange pom-pommed hat in her purse or by the coffeemaker, somewhere he knows she'll find it, laugh, and lighten up. (Then the hat is Sara's to hide at a later date. The game continues.)
When Alex brings Carrie of plate of cookies, he'll often place one of the favors from her bachelorette party -- a suggestive swizzle stick -- on top of her stack of Oreos, cracking her up every time.
If Cynthia leaves a pair of animal-print underwear on the floor at night, when Brian steps over it, he pretends he's being attacked by a leopard.
Would anyone else want to play these games or even think they're funny? Hardly. But these small, silly moments help to build the foundation of your marriage because they're something you and your husband share alone, in the safety, privacy, and intimacy of your marriage, with no one else's awareness.
Take a moment to reflect: How do you and your fiance or husband play? What do you do behind closed doors that is uniquely "you"? What silly games do you play? What routines do you stick to?
These little, loving moments are the foundation of your marriage. They help glue together, day-to-day, the big concepts of sharing love, life, values, and family.
Being conscious and cognizant of them only serves to strengthen your marriage.