If I could start my marriage over again, some of the things I would do (in no particular order) are:
1) Not take things so personally. Understand that often her moods or her unhappiness aren’t about me (even if she thinks they are). Learn to listen to her venting, her expressions of frustration, or her overly-emotional descriptions of events without taking them literally.
2) Try to learn to love unconditionally. Not to have so many expectations. Be more willing to let my wife handle her life in her own way. Not be so quick to offer the benefit of my experience or my brilliant philosophies – to let her learn her own lessons on her own schedule. To not try to control her by deliberately letting my hurt or disappointment show. To not try to “fix” her or change how she feels by explaining that her reaction to action A by person B is irrational, self-defeating, and counter-productive.
3) Be more romantic. Learn to love the cards/flowers/presents thing. Sweet nothings in her ear, poems, compliments. Learn to let go of my tendency to be logical, to focus on the concrete, to prioritize & organize, etc – to learn that, illogical though it is, a $40 bouquet (or even a $4 card) can speak more loudly than a $5,000 paycheck.
4) Start couples’ counseling before the wedding. Lots of problems I could have side-stepped if I’d understood more about human psychology and the differences in the traditionally male and traditionally female view of the world. Lots of bad habits we could have avoided if we’d learned other, better patterns early on.
5) Learn to state my needs and desires clearly, completely, and without embarrassment. To own and honor them unashamedly regardless of my partner’s reaction to them.
To be willing to say “I feel X when you say/do Y.”
To say “I would like Z – is that something you can do for me?”
To say “I don’t care for that – you do what you like, but that’s not for me.”
To say “I disagree with you about this issue – how might we find a compromise?”
6) Not be such a nice guy, not always try to smooth things over or avoid conflict. Sometimes confrontation is necessary, whether or not a couple is good at resolving problems in a healthy way. Sometimes you have to stick to your guns, to call people on their immature or selfish behavior. I’m convinced many men do themselves a grave disservice by putting up with their wives’ badgering or bitchiness – not just because they don’t get what they want (peace and civility), but because rather than appreciating or emulating their husbands’ politeness, wives lose respect for them. As Neanderthal as it sounds, I think most women prefer that their men stand up for themselves, even if sometimes it means saying “Step off, Girl – I love you but Homey don’t play that tune. You want a man that puts up with that, you want somebody other than me...” I’ve come to believe that many times a woman will give her husband a terrible time, and then be unhappy with herself and resentful of her husband for letting her walk all over him. The first time I was scolded, I wish I had said “Let me propose something to you. I won’t tell you what to do, and you don’t tell me what to do. Let’s learn to make requests of one another, in love. If you’d like me to take my boots off, all you have to do is ask – but don’t give me orders in my own house, and I will offer the same respect to you.”
7) Wait till I was older. If I’d had more experience with more women, I might have been prepared for what I view as the inconsistent, irrational, emotion-driven approach to life some women have. And just as importantly, waiting would have allowed me to mature, to become more emotionally and financially secure myself, and to understand more completely what I expected out of marriage.
8) Wait a while before having children. I love my kids and wouldn’t want any other, different ones – but I wish we’d waited until we were married a few yrs before firing up the baby factory.
9) Find a magic 8-ball to tell me how much sex my wife was going to want. – especially after the babies were born – so I could make a more informed decision, or at least prepare myself mentally for the adjustment.
The above sounds as though I regret getting married. I don’t. I like who I am now, and I might not be this person if I hadn’t gotten married. Besides, we have two terrific kids who are more precious than life. My wife is a good person, and I respect her honesty, her grit, her talent, her courage. She has not had an easy time living with me, either. The above is just what I would do differently if I had it to do over...