This relationship, by all accounts, should be a total nightmare. It wasn't supposed to work out. We did everything wrong and had everything against us. First, was our six month courtship - three months of those were long distance and in that duration, we became engaged. People laughed when I told them. I listened to heavy metal, dressed in "early goth" and was a fairly liberal feminist. He was a punk in cowboy clothing who called me "Ma'am" and opened doors for me. Up until that point, I hated cowboys. I still don't much care for them, but he's outgrown his Wranglers by now. Check out his tats!
We lived together for three more more months before calling up the courthouse, asking how much it would cost to get married, and securing the first available date they had on their roster. No one tried to talk me out of it, I don't think anyone was all that surprised. By that point, we were inseparable. Our families humored us - but no one brought their camera to the reception. Within a month of wedded bliss, we announced we were pregnant. With that, we caught some flack. My family especially expressed concern and it was the first and only time my little sister ever told me off.
Besides the rush job when we were dirt poor and still in our teens, the thing that makes our marriage most unique is how different we are. I cannot exaggerate that enough. If I like something, he hates it. If he likes something, I can't stand it - at least 95% of the time. We can't agree on music, clothing, hair (his or mine), or movies. I like hiking, reading, gardening, painting, sewing, cooking and a great many interests; he likes watching tv and working on his truck. I would prefer to spend the day walking around an art museum. He would prefer watching sports or listening to music - loudly. I hate loud music.
Our differences and preferences extend far beyond our hobbies and interests, and into just about every facet of our married life. I prefer to eat very healthy (and would take it to the extreme, if allowed), he craves greasy fast-food, sugary processed snacks, energy drinks and diets sodas. We have different tastes in home decor and paint colors for our walls. I prefer to not take medicine unless I absolutely need it, he reaches for an aspirin at the slightest ache or pain. I think you get the point. These differences are present in every co-decision, no matter how large or small that we make on a day to day basis. And yet, what may surprise most people is we almost never argue. We do, but very rarely and only over things that we feel extremely passionate about. That's not to say we haven't hit our share of marital snags, every relationship gets it's bumps and bruises as it travels through life. But we have, by and large, a peaceful loving union even when we are constantly disagreeing with each other.
So how does this work? I question and examine that frequently, believe me. I consider the following things crucial to not only getting along, but getting the most out of our marriage.
I learned that one early on. Dr. Phil (yes, I'm going there) used to say on his show, "You can be happy or you can be right." This is one of the best pieces of marital advice I've ever heard. Honestly. It makes me stop and think about just how important IS this choice? So what if I absolutely hate the wall color he picked for our bedroom? Most of the time I'm in there, the lights are out and I'm sleeping or involved in activities that... well let's just say if I'm worrying about my wall color at that point in time, I have a way bigger problem!
How does this translate into parenting? By not sweating the small things and micromanaging my family members. I don't like it when my kids play in the creek behind my house, drink soda or eat junk food, or watch t.v. shows that I myself find too distasteful to sit through. I can use these instances to insert my opinions and leave it at that. I think in terms of what would be more detrimental to my children at this point? Junk food and trashy t.v., or nagging and fighting, creating a tense and discordant environment where everyone is miserable (even me, even when I got my way).
Trusting my partner, even when I just plain hate his ideas.
I used to cringe when he would explain a project idea that in my head, I knew I wouldn't like. But more often than not, it came out quite well and as it turns out, he is really bad at explaining a concept he is seeing in his mind. And when he makes changes to our routine or our household that I strongly dislike and continue to dislike as time goes on, I can remember that this is often a small and temporary thing. A year ago, he bought some green outdoor carpet and built up a pitchers mound in the back yard. It was so ugly! And he put it right in front of my beloved watergarden, wrecking my view. I chose not to make an argument out of it, and within the year, it was removed. By him. Because it turned out he didn't like it.
How does this translate into parenting? By always remembering that he is just as much a parent as I am and he has a right to raise his children in ways that he sees fit. He is always respectful (well, most of the time) when he disagrees with a decision I have made, therefore I owe him the same courtesy. Besides, we both love our children and only want what's best for them. I want our kids to understand how lucky they are to have a father that goes to the lengths theirs does to provide them with a happy and stable upbringing. They cannot get that message if I am constantly undermining his decisions or putting him down. I tell them frequently that my biggest hope for them is to turn out like their father, and in turn, he often praises me in front of the children as well.
Celebrating our differences.
Because we are so often on a different page conceptually, we have ideas (about politics, diet, education, activities, etc.) that the other could never have come up with. It sure does keep things interesting and keeps us from getting bored with each other because we are constantly offering something new to the marital table. He teaches me to think in ways I had never considered, and I'm sure I do that for him as well, even if he hates to admit it.
How does this translate into parenting? By realizing how broad the scope of our childrens vision is becoming by having two parents from entirely separate schools of thought. With my husband, they are exposed to Beegee's, seventies and eighties rock, country and some pop. With me, they are exposed to techno (yeah, I said that), classical, and less mainstream musical groups like Ludo or MGMT. With my husband, they get McDonald's, Little Debbie, and fattening dinners like potato soup and hot dogs. With me, they get beans, fresh vegetables and more whole foods. With my husband, they get fishing, baseball games, Family Guy, and lessons on car maintenance. With me, they get hiking, gardening lessons, art and culture - and sometimes political lectures which I am sure they just love. With me, they learn to MAKE rather than buy, and when that is not possible, they get lessons in bargain shopping from their dad - he is a pro at that!
Compromising and disagreeing is an art form.
Most of the time, when we have a disagreement (not argument, those are two different things) we can find a happy middle. This takes effort on both our parts because it often means that neither is getting what they wanted but finding a solution we can both live with. Because of this, it tends to actually simplify things as our choices become limited. For instance, when we order pizza: I hate Pizza Hut, he hates Dominoes (and pretty much everyone except Pizza Hut). Ergo, we almost never order pizza and isntead, opt for Chinese. Problem solved! If we have to come up with a compramise, we will often do this seperately. We will discuss it to the point of realizing an agreement cannot be made, and then go to our own metaphorical corners. Obviously, this does not mean dinner choices, but big decisions that can be slept on and mulled over. Realizing that an agreement doesn't need to be made right away allows us room to fume and get angry without an outburst, and after careful thought we are usually able to come to a middle ground to present to eachother the next time the matter is discussed.
How does this translate into parenting? Our children can see how we are able to reason things out with each other. They are getting many lessons on getting along with people who have different mentalities. They are learning flexibility, open mindedness, tolerance, and how to communicate peacefully. And yes, we are imperfect. Therefore on occasion, they get to see how a more impassioned display of disagreement, and how that can ultimately be resolved with love and understanding.
One final thing - we laugh. Everyday, throughout the day. Making light of our differences, similarities and the crazy situations we sometimes find ourselves in, is incredibly important. Knowing how to laugh at myself and not take things too seriously is truly the best lesson my husband has taught me. It's almost impossible to be angry and not enjoy one another when we're so busy laughing at ourselves, each other and the world around us.
Although Joe and I are very different people sharing a house, family and our whole life experience through completely different lenses, we get along wonderfully because of the strong and stable foundation of our union. There are things that we both whole-heartedly agree on that make our marriage work. Love, of course! Mutual respect and adoration. Loyalty (that is BIG). Raising our children with love and kindness. Tolerance and patience. Above all, commitment and what the "experts" have always told us is a very unnatural and unhealthy co-dependency on one another that I cannot honestly explain.