People think your soul mate is your perfect fit. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that is holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life.
-- Elizabeth Gilbert.
Very soon, our daughter will be married. In my life, I have attended only a handful of weddings where I was certain it would last. This will be one of them.
And yet, ever since we reached the halfway point in the planning, I've found myself wishing to offer some parting gift of wisdom. Not the birds and bees talk of yesteryear, of course. More of a nests and hives talk.
An argument has evolved between my mother self which is used to sharing wisdom the minute I earn it, and my better judgment, which reminds me that unsolicited advice is tolerated more than it is followed. People in love blaze their own path, thank you very much.
And, adds my better judgment:
Nobody should purport to be an expert on another couple's relationship, even if they've been married nearly three decades. I've made my mistakes and I could offer as many don'ts as do's. Maybe more, unless you ask my husband, who claims not to remember the don'ts because he is very good at marriage.
And, in a discussion of "what marriage is and isn't", is it better to caution against the things that are sure to damage a marriage? Or share the discoveries which made you understand that marriage is not just something you have in common, but a place where you feel more honored, accepted, understood and loved than anyplace else?
And, in considering the reach of my advice, should I consider how much difference do's and don'ts advice made in my own life, which was none?
And, yet, says my mother self:
In three days, I will watch my daughter walk into the arms of her man. Knowledge is for offering, like fine food that you prepared with your own hands. You put it out there, and whoever is hungry can eat. And so, from the dog-eared pages of my own manual are the ten things about marriage I consider most worth mentioning.
Be who you are. You came to the relationship as whole people, with identities and a purpose in life. Feel complete in your relationship, share your happiness, look forward to everything you'll do together, feel better about everything when he walks in the room, miss him when he's gone. But honor your individuality. He loves things about you that you're not even aware of.
Know your marriage. As you know yourself, know your marriage - why you love each other, what you need, what you have learned to give and take - and realize that very, very little of this is visible to others. When people tell you when to buy a house, or when to have children, or why your marriage should be like theirs, remember how much information they are really working with, which is practically none.
We love differently. People can love each other equally and show it very differently. Women of words can be married to men of action if each knows they are loved the best way possible by the other and wish to stay that way.
Talk. Tiny amounts of honest communication - all the time - even when you're not together will keep you in sight of each other. Absent or lazy communication - all the time - even when you're in close proximity to each other is worse than silence.
Listen. Learn to listen as much as you wish to be heard. You do this now, but life will get noisy. There will be distractions. Listening is not just making eye contact and waiting for the other person to stop talking so you can tend to something else. That's just hearing.
Show your belly. There are plenty of times when you should play your cards right, not give yourself away, not expose your belly. But in a marriage is not where to do that. Show who you are. If it's hard to do that sometimes, you're doing it right.
Bring it up. Even if you are sure what is in his heart, never think you know what's in his mind. Don't let something go just to avoid "clashing." Give each other a chance to be understanding and allow yourself to be surprised.
Use Humor. When stuff seizes your attention that won't matter in a year from now, do your best to treat it with humor. Humor heals, humor binds, humor relieves everything in the world and makes life easier. It also improves your facial expression.
Ask. When you do get upset with each other, start conversations with these words: "I'm having trouble with something but I think you can help." It's amazing how responsive people can be when they are invited to help you, rather than defend themselves.
The most important thing, what will keep you attuned, what will assure you live within the hearts of each other, as well as in the same house, is this:
If it's happy, if it's loving, if you mean it...
You make me happy.
I appreciate you.
I love you.
I'm glad I married you.
And in almost three decades, when you are about to watch your daughter walk into the arms of her love, do what I plan to.
Turn to your husband and say:
I would do it again.