I want my kids to grow up to have good marriages. I want them to have good relationships with their spouses, to love them and know them and cherish them in all their foibles. I hope they learn those things from my marriage with their father. We have our rough patches, but all in all, we have one of the best marriages I know of. We care about each other. We take care of each other. There’s lots of love and warmth going on. But that’s not the only thing I want my kids to take away from our marriage. I want them to know how we got there.
You have to be able to fart in front of each other.
A good marriage involves knowing the whole person, and that includes the smell of their farts. And when your partner does fart, you’re supposed to laugh and bust on them, not get all Miss Manners about it. Everybody farts. That includes your spouse.
You should shower together once in a while.
That doesn’t mean you have raging sex in the shower. It means that once in a while, in order to have an actual uninterrupted conversation, you hop in the shower together and have a chat. It also involves life lessons like maneuvering around one another, not spraying shampoo in each others’ eyes, and the jigsaw puzzle of leg-shaving while someone else washes their hair. In other words, it involves cooperation. My kids will find this all out one day.
Your “Does this outfit look okay?” should get a real answer.
An important part of marriage is honesty. You shouldn’t have to walk out of the house in a wardrobe malfunction because your spouse was too cowardly to tell you the truth. I tell him if his shirt is too tight. He tells me if my dress looks weird. I tell him he can’t wear Converse with a suit. Your spouse is someone you can depend on, and that dependence includes fashion advice (even if you disregard it). I need my kids to know they can tell the truth.
The answer to that question should be kind and diplomatic.
If I’m asking if I look okay, I already suspect I might not. My husband needs to take my feelings into account when he tells me that no, I do not look okay. Sugarcoat it. Tell me I’m pretty. Say that outfit would look good but the dress is cut weird. Tell me you’re not sure about the shoes. But don’t tell me it’s not working and I need to change. I might cut you. My kids should learn from my husband’s diplomacy: Tell the truth, but sandwich it between two compliments.
Tell your spouse they’re hot.
You don’t have to use the word “hot.” And your spouse doesn’t have to look like Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie. But you need to tell them they’re beautiful, they look good, they’re attractive, they won second prize in a beauty contest and should collect $10. It’s important to help maintain your spouse’s self-esteem, and to let them know they’re still bangable. Think of the old guy saying his wife is still beautiful after all these years. Tear up. It’s like that.
There is no such thing as bathroom shame.
You’re married. Two have become one. That one can look at the other while they’re pooping without being grossed out or traumatized (unless there were tacos involved, in which case a warning is necessary and polite). Forget sex. Poop is the most intimate of all human acts. You should be able to share that with each other, because when you’re married, you have no secrets. That includes the smell of…you know. You don’t need to hang out in there while it’s happening. But a run to get more toilet paper or retrieve a curling iron, shouldn’t be met with shame and disgust.
You alternate who cleans up the dog poop.
Or the baby poop, or the glitter, or that glue mess your kids made on the floor. Whatever odious task you’re talking about, you either alternate or play rock-paper-scissors for it. No one should have to clean up the poop all the time or scoop up all the glitter. If you love your spouse, you’ll get out the paper towels, the scrub brush, and the Clorox. Saying “I love you” is lip service. Scrubbing dog feces off the carpet is love in action.
You also alternate parenting duties.
Dad can put the kids to bed. Mama can give them a bath. Dad can play dolls and Mama can set up a model airplane. There may be one thing Mama or Daddy is particularly good at. But that shouldn’t mean that the other is incapable of doing it. For example, I do the laundry and my husband does the dishes. But I’m fully capable of pushing the buttons on the dishwasher, and he can manage a load without shrinking something or dyeing my white shirt. It’s lame. But you gotta share the load.
You make fun of each other.
You can’t take your relationship too seriously. Gentle teasing is the order of the day. You need to be able to take a joke from the person you love and stay certain in their love and good intentions. My husband tells me he was a 30-cent orphan and tries to make me cry through my laughter. I ridicule him for his boundless nerdery and love of the movie Dune. This is probably too much insight into my marriage. It’s probably also harder to accept than anything else. You can put up with someone’s fart smell, but their jokes? That’s a whole other level of love.
I want my kids to know about love. I want them to know about tolerance, honesty, and acceptance. Nothing says acceptance like dealing with someone else’s farts, bad habits, and poop. Nothing says love like cleaning up dog poop and ignoring someone’s taco dump. Love is in the details. And those details, a lot of the time, are messy. That’s what I want my kids to learn about marriage. The rest will come.