When my wife and I first started dating and it was clear it was turning into something serious, we sat and had a long talk and set up ground rules. We both had (have!) a lot of baggage and some bad habits from past relationships that we didn’t want to repeat with each other because we really, truly, sincerely wanted our relationship to work. There was a lot of crying involved but not because of anger, just because relationships, especially new, can be scary; especially if you don’t want to fuck things up.
Those ground rules became the bulk of our wedding vows. We remind each other of these rules periodically when needed. I’m going to share the first one and talk about it a little bit. This particular rule is one of the hardest for me and Nicole reminds me at least every other month.
I promise not to keep my feelings, good or bad, to myself.
I am shit at talking about my feelings. For most of my life, I insisted that I didn’t even have feelings.
So this rule, this promise, means I not only have to admit I have feelings, but I have to tell my wife about it, even when, especially if, the feelings are about her?!
What, like, I’m supposed to just waste my talent for holding things in and keeping my feelings to myself and building resentment until I explode at something mildly annoying yet completely benign?
Apparently the answer is yes, I am supposed to waste that talent.
We fully recognize each other’s need to process alone, to figure out how to say things in a constructive (read: non-accusatory) way, to have a cool-down period, etc. We also know that both of us would jump at the opportunity to extend that time to weeks and weeks.
So we have a 24-hour grace period. If we are having some feels about something, especially each other, we need to share them with the other within 24 hours to stave off resentment. It is not my favorite, but I do it. I made a promise in front of a judge, after all.
I want to point out that this is for good feelings too. There is no need to be stingy with compliments. We tell each other how much we appreciate each other often. I still write love letters to my wife and we’re coming up on 8 years since our first date.
Is this the secret to a happy marriage? Fuck if I know. Have my wife and I ever fought as in, like, raised voices and said unkind words to each other or stopped talking? We have not. Not once.
I also try to implement this rule with my friends, because I value my friendships deeply. I tell my friends I appreciate them. If I’m having some icky feelings, I try to share those too.
I am by no means perfect and I’m constantly a work in progress but, and I’m going to return to this again and again: it all takes effort. It takes showing up. Showing up looks different to everyone. With one of my friends, it’s texting each other “good morning” every day. With another friend, it’s the frequent exchange of cat gifs via DM.
Next I’m going to try to do this with family members. I’ll let you know how it goes.