Monday, October 14, 2013

Open Letter to My Cousin, Shortly After His Wedding Day

Dear Cousin,

Congratulations! You and your new bride are about to begin a new phase of life together, and as a member of your family, I couldn't be more excited for you. Weddings tend to bring out the need in people to give unsolicited advice; also, you never had a big sister, and I can't claim to have been someone who was close to you growing up, or told you what to do like a sister; still, in keeping with those traditions, I'm going to lay on you some lessons I've learned in my short time being married.

Marriage is the greatest, most fun, and exciting choice you can ever make. If you've chosen a life partner who makes you laugh, whom you can talk to, who helps you to be a better version of yourself, you are in for an exciting and life-changing ride. You might have thought you were having fun when you fell in love with one another, and after you got engaged, if you two are anything like us, you had the most fun being engaged. But trust me when I say that being married is better. Way better.

Having said that, marriage is not a fantasy, nor is it like what you imagined it.When you consider the life-long relationship that you and your wife are building together, remember this: your marriage is your own. It's not your parents' marriage, it's not your cousins' marriage, it's not a perfect marriage, and it's not (thank god) a Kardashian marriage. It's yours. You and your wife decide what it means to love each other, to support and take care of each other, to be faithful to and honest with one another. You get to build it any way you want. Let go of "what it means to be a husband," because the only thing that's relevant is what it means to be Elizabeth's husband; don't consider what it means to have "a wife", consider only what it means to be loved and cared for by your wife. You will encounter a lot of social programming about what you think marriage should be--some of it from friends or parents or relatives, some of it even from inside you. Listen to it, but ultimately, trust your intuition to guide you to the best relationship.

Marriage is not a state, it's a choice. You two slipped rings on fingers and now you're enjoying the sand and the sun. It's lovely, but soon you will return to real life. Real life is hard. To be married means to wake up and choose every day that you will do life with your partner. When you become complacent, when you begin to treat your marriage as static and unchanging, it stops growing and it stops serving the two of you. Every day, make the same commitment to yourself and your wife that you made in front of your families and your community, that you will do life together.

Don't be afraid of conflict. You're going to hurt each other. This is part of what it means to be in relationship, so don't be surprised when it happens. When it does, communicate clearly, respectfully and openly. When you're angry, it's hard to do this, but listen closely to each other. Really listen. Let go of the notion of being right, or being wrong, because it just doesn't matter. What matters is your connection to each other, how you treat each other, and how each of you works to sustain a relationship good for both of you. If you have behaved badly, apologize quickly and sincerely, and if you need to, forgive quickly and sincerely. It's okay to fight, because conflict is growth trying to happen, and if a thing stops growing it stops living. Use moments of conflict as an opportunity for each of you to be a better human being, and for both of you to move closer to each other.

Laugh together. A lot in this world makes you serious, or angry, and so it is SO important that you and your bride have fun. Don't take yourself, or each other, too seriously. Take serious what is serious, and laugh at what is funny. Be nice whenever you can, and don't ever take each other for granted. Say please. Say thank you.

A wise woman I know says that marriage isn't even about love, but it's about serving as a developmental object for each other. That's psycho-babble, but what it really means is that romance is nice, affection is nice, but your work, as people married to each other, is to heal the baggage you bring into marriage and to help one another grow into the best possible versions of yourself. Often this kind of growth won't be comfortable, but it will make you a better husband and a better human being. The love and support you get from a good partner who wants to help you grow is indescribable. It's what allows you to do things you never thought possible, and what helps you to recover from sadness you never knew you'd experience.

I love you, cousin. I'm so happy that this experience is a part of your life. I am so grateful to have been a part of your community. It means something to me that I am someone who bore witness to the commitment you made, and I want to support you in any way I can in your new chapter of life.  I'm not much older than you, but I'm happy to share what I've learned.

I am always willing to be any help I can to you and yours. Please don't hesitate to ask.


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