There are a few movies I have to watch if I happen to flip by them on a lazy Saturday afternoon, and Steel Magnolias is at the top of the list. Who doesn't love that wedding—with bunting in shades of "blush" and "bashful"—and the crazy cast of characters surrounding poor Shelby as she gets ready to walk down a pink aisle to marry Jackson Latcherie, her Louisiana lawyer?
One of my favorite scenes is at the beauty shop the morning of the wedding when each lady passes on her "advice" to Shelby. Truvy laments that the last time her husband was romantic was in 1972. Clairee assures Shelby she'll be fine because "Louisiana lawyers do well whether they want to or not." And then the amusing Ouiser declares that men "are the most horrible creatures" who will "ruin your life."
It's probably not the best counsel a woman could get just before she exchanges rings. But then again, did anyone really tell you anything helpful before you said, "I do"?
My mom and I still giggle about the sage wisdom her mother passed on to her a few days before she married my dad: use two washcloths when you shower (as in one for "down there" and the other for your face). I don't think that washcloth warning had much to do with it, but my parents will celebrate their fiftieth anniversary in 2011.
Now that I've been married eight years, I've realized there are several things no one ever tells you about marriage. Not that I wouldn't have married Rich had I known about them, but it might have been easier to walk through the marriage minefield had I identified them in advance.
1. The lingerie you wear on your honeymoon makes a nice, silky drawer lining for the T-shirts you will don as sleepwear for the rest of your marriage.
I remember hearing this from a friend who married before I did—and I scoffed at it. Why wouldn't I want to wear the beautiful lingerie I received at my bridal shower? my naïve brain reasoned.
And then a few weeks following our wedding, reality hit. After working all day, making dinner, doing dishes, and folding laundry for an hour on any given evening, the idea of a night's sleep with spaghetti straps digging into my shoulders and lacy panties giving me a wedgy wasn't too appealing. Not to mention the fact that he was snoring away by the time I crawled in the sack anyway. So that's when I exchanged my negligee for his soft oversized T-shirt—and never looked back.
And that brings me to the next revelation.
2. Men are visual; women are not.
My T-shirt costume works most of the time. But when I see Rich looking a bit too longingly at the Victoria's Secret catalog in the mail pile, I know it's time to whip out one of my satin-y numbers for a little romance. I don't know if it's the effort or the effect or both, but showing some skin seems to transform me into Heidi Klum in his eyes. The (admittedly not model-like) body that was ho-hum in a T-shirt goes va-va-voom in a red teddy.
So while part of marriage is seeing each other at your worst, I've learned it's important to show yourself at your best at times just to make your visually-oriented man happy. And it doesn't always have to be for the bedroom—take a few extra minutes to do your makeup or your hair before you go out to eat occasionally. You'll notice he looks at you a little differently.
3. Some of your most satisfying "conversations" won't involve talking.
Before I was married I took note of couples who ate in silence at restaurants, feeling sorry for them, and hoping I'd never have such a "cold" marriage.
I was wrong.
In fact, the calm that comes from enjoying peaceful time with each other, whether that's at a restaurant or sitting on the couch gazing at a roaring fireplace, is unsurpassed. The stillness you can capture together as you shut out the din of the world brings you closer and reinvigorates you to face life's stresses as a team.
4. The best way to get your husband to read something is to leave it in the bathroom.
A friend's young daughter asked me, "Miss Christy, why does my dad spend so much time in the bathroom when he 'goes'?"
I shook my head bemusedly and told her, "Because he's a man, honey."
While I'm not a doctor and haven't studied the human excretory system, I'm pretty sure our bodies all "go" at about the same pace. But for whatever reason—it could be to escape our honey-do lists for a while—men like to camp out on the toilet. So rather than see this time go to waste (sorry, I couldn't help myself!), I ever so subtly began to position material I wanted my honey to read within arm's reach of the bowl. A vacation pamphlet? Done. Catalog with paint ideas for our bedroom? Check. And the best ever placement: a daily devotional magazine. (Hey, didn't the Lord tell us to go into a room, close the door, and pray to the Father? And I do so appreciate when that particular door is closed!)
5. Your marriage will need to be reinvented.
I can hear you now: "But he's my soulmate. Why would I need to change that?"
The answer to that is sticky—as in glazed doughnuts. Who doesn't like an occasional doughnut, right? Just the aroma makes your mouth water, and then a bite of the sweet pastry slides down your throat in a wave of goodness. But what if that's all you ate? For the first few days, it might seem really great—all the doughnuts you can eat (calorie-free, of course) any time you want. But a week or so into this diet, and you'd be wondering where the meat, vegetables, and fruits are.
Doughnuts are wonderful, but not for every meal.
In the same way, no matter how terrific your marriage is, after a while you will want to alter the menu a bit. This might not come as a conscious effort, but more of a discovery. For example, a few years ago Rich and I found we really liked taking long walks together. We began looking forward to that useful time of exercise and conversation (or silence—see #3 above). And then last year, he joined me as co-gardener when he bought a couple of fruit trees that needed tending. Now we revel in our fragrant, colorful patio, knowing our joint effort created it. More recently, we've been having fun researching and testing various restaurants' "happy hour" food, trying to find the best combination of value and quality.
None of our reinvention moves was intentional—but each new activity brought us a fresh way of looking at what it means to share a life together.
6. Sometimes it's better to say yes when you'd rather say no.
When we bought our house in 2003, we had to settle for a fixer to get the space we wanted at a price we could afford. While I understood this reality, I really didn't want to give up our brand-new rented townhouse for someplace that would inevitably suck every penny and weekend for years. Oh, and did I mention I'm a control freak who needs to have everything done her way?
So imagine my discomfort when our agent showed us a spacious but dated—as in 1937, and I'm not exaggerating—Spanish-style home in a good neighborhood. I thought I might need to pop a nitroglycerin tablet as we toured the house and I could sense Rich attaching himself to it.
"This is the one," he said confidently as we lingered on the driveway.
I wanted to scream no—and sometimes I still do—but I'm so glad I said yes. We indeed have sunk many dollars and hours into our little casa, yet we never could have found a home in our budget if I hadn't suppressed my no and allowed Rich to lead with yes.
When Rich stands firm on a yes that I desperately want to be a no, I end up feeling better later for letting go, whether it's a house purchase or what to have for lunch. Fortunately, he's happy to say yes to my making most of the day-to-day decisions—or at least he lets me think I am!
7. You will have more than one honeymoon.
No, I'm not talking about that long-awaited getaway to Hawaii, or the weekend in Chicago to celebrate your anniversary. I'm referring to those times your marriage hits a rough patch and the glow you feel after you get to the other side.
Maybe this "lost lesson" is crisp in my thinking because Rich and I recently experienced it. A few years ago, we remodeled our kitchen and had several other stressers attacking us as well. By November we were at each other's throats, and unfortunately this impasse lasted a few months.
I don't recall what it was—perhaps a gradual thawing caused by prayer—but by mid-January it was as if we were newlyweds again. We started holding hands more, we cuddled on the sofa as we watched TV, and we made an effort to be more verbal about our appreciation for each other. In short, it was like a honeymoon without all the thank-you notes to write and gifts to put away afterward.
Like a wedding, the path to that honeymoon is agreeing to say the vow. When you endure the pain with your partner, you strengthen your bond by letting the other know you intend to let nothing destroy the promise you made. And who doesn't like the reward of those honeymoon feelings?
8. Marriage is easy.
When I was single I remember all my married friends saying how "hard" marriage is. I was puzzled—What's so difficult about making dinner and watching TV? I thought.
Well, we all know marriage is much more than the good times. But I don't buy the "hard" argument. Which is easier: telling your husband you love him or crying about how he doesn't appreciate you? Is it trickier to acquiesce or to create a fight over who is right? Will you feel better at the end of the day if you nag him about his socks on the living room floor or is it easier just to pick them up and forget about it?
A friend who is a widower says he doesn't understand why people make marriage so complex. And if you knew him, you'd appreciate his wonder even more—his wife, who died a few years ago, suffered from a mental illness that made her combative for most of their marriage. Instead of giving up or trying to change her, he rolled with the punches (sometimes literally), relishing the few good times and overlooking the bad. He often advises me and his other married pals that it's so much easier to do the right, loving thing than to deal with the conflict that results from selfishness.
So after the butterfly feelings of young love go away, you can let your marriage turn as hard and stale as that old bread you forgot about on the kitchen shelf, or you can choose to explore what long-term love looks like. When I set aside my ugly human nature and truly allow myself to love and be loved, I find marriage really is easy.
That simple truth is poignantly portrayed after the wedding in Steel Magnolias when Shelby and her mom, M'Lynn, are in Shelby's bedroom. As the soundtrack reaches an emotional peak, Shelby asks M'Lynn to help pin the corsage on her pink going-away suit.
"Well, this is it. You're finally rid of me," she says to her mother.
"You make that Jackson Latcherie take good care of you," M'Lynn replies, her words holding a truckload more weight than viewers might assume until the story unfolds further.
But isn't that really the best of advice? If we all just took "good care" of our spouses—choosing a path of love, as my widowed friend directs—we'd be modeling exactly what the Lord intended when he created the marriage relationship. And when we do that, we're representing more than just what a good partnership should be—we're illustrating Christ's love to everyone who sees us.
Christy Scannell, freelance editor and writer, is co-author of Katt's in the Cradle (Howard Books/Simon & Schuster). She and her husband, Rich, live in Southern California. http://www.ChristyScannell.com
Copyright © 2010 by the author or Christianity Today/Kyria.com.
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