We talk a lot about weddings. But what about advice about the marriage, that thing that happens after “I do”? A new book by journalist and bestselling author Jo Piazza does a deep dive into how to survive your first year of marriage. Written with heart and honesty, this witty and hilarious take on modern marriage has become a go-to wedding present for new brides.
The book follows Jo and her husband Nick as they crowdsource marriage advice from 20 countries on five continents around the world. Jo was a travel editor when she got married, so asking people questions in far-flung destinations like Kenya, Israel, Chile, France, Tanzania, Denmark and Holland was part of her job.
We talked to Jo, who met her husband in the Galapagos islands, got engaged in three months and planned her wedding three months after that about what she learned about marriage by traveling around the world.
- 1. A Happy Marriage Takes a Village. You Can’t Do It Alone. The Kenyan Samburu and Maasai tribes told me they felt very bad for Americans who tried to juggle marriage, family, and work without the support of elders, cousins, brothers, and sisters in close proximity. “All of the children call all of us mama,” one Samburu woman told me. That seemed idyllic for me as I was planning to have my first baby and figuring out how to pay for childcare. So many of us live far away from our families in order to live closer to our jobs. But this means we don’t have a support structure to help us get through the times when marriage can be tough, having a kid, losing a job, getting sick. It’s important to build a strong community around your marriage and to have role models with great marriages who are just a few years ahead of you who don’t mind answering your sometimes tricky questions about how to make a good marriage work.
- 2. Put Away Your Phone. The Danes told me this over and over. It’s part of what they call hygge, or building a cozy, comfortable and happy life. Too many Americans are working more hours than ever before. We stare at our screens when we aren’t at work and ignore our spouses. Quality time equals binge watching mediocre television. We claim we want a work-life balance, but we don’t do enough to make that actually happen.
- 3. Keep All Screens Out of the Bedroom. Making the bedroom a welcoming, comfortable place free of screens, phones and the distractions of work just naturally lends to a better married sex life. “If both of you are staring at your phones and your computers in bed all of the time you might as well just be looking at porn,” one Danish woman told me in her very practical Danish manner.
- 4. Maintain Some Mystery. The French women I interviewed told me to behave like my husband’s mistress. This seemed confusing and difficult. What they meant was to try to maintain a sense of mystery in your marriage. Don’t use the bathroom with the door open. Spend time apart, develop your own hobbies and interests. Make him feel like he is still chasing you every day. They told me to toss my gross old sweatpants and buy some sexy lingerie. I’m still working on this one.
- 5. You Need to Stay Your Own Person. I heard this over and over again in every single culture, even the more conservative ones. You have to maintain your own life outside of the marriage or your marriage is much more likely to fail.
- 6. Get Rid of Your Expectations. Too many good relationships suffer because one spouse has extreme expectations for what they’ll get out of a relationship or how it’ll look. At one point while reporting this book, I was spending time with women in a small village on the Brahmaputra River in India, a river that regularly floods and washes away entire villages. I told them that Americans think marriage is such hard work. They laughed and laughed. They said we were just silly. Why couldn’t we be grateful for the things we did have? Their entire lives could be uprooted in a flash flood. They had a better perspective than most of my incredibly privileged friends and family members.
- 7. Equality Isn’t 50-50. I spent a lot of time interviewing stay-at-home dads in Sweden. There are a lot more of them there because the country has generous family leave policies that extend to both dads and moms. It was these wonderful stay-at-home dads who taught me that equality in a marriage isn’t fifty-fifty all the time. When I first got married, I worried that my feminist card would be revoked if my husband and I didn’t split things right down the middle. Now I realize how ridiculous that notion is. There are days, weeks even, when I do all of the housework (laundry, cooking, bed-making) because Nick is swamped with work. Then we switch. Sometimes I nest, sometimes he nests. While I was in Scotland Nick completely transformed our house by wallpapering the bathroom, installing shelves in the kitchen, and buying new picture frames for our bedroom. Our responsibilities change on a daily basis and we try to be outspoken when one of us feels overwhelmed. It’s still a constant conversation. After one month of cooking dinner every single night I got a little agitated and brought up the fact that I felt relegated to the kitchen. Nick was surprised. “I thought you were just getting into cooking,” he said. The truth is we fell into a rut, we discovered it, and switched things up the next week. And to be honest, I do like cooking, I just didn’t like the idea of it automatically falling to me. Balance in a marriage isn’t about a spreadsheet, it’s about both partners feeling supported. Our motto is: “If you see something do something. Don’t say something. Why are you talking about it? Just do it.” This goes for everything from making the bed to feeding the dog to paying unexpected tax bills. No one should expect praise or a medal for helping make both our lives run more smoothly. The balance of who does what will ebb and flow and the most important thing is to be conscious of how it changes.
- 8. No One Has a Perfect Marriage. I started this book believing that somewhere, someone has figured out the secret to the perfect marriage. Now I know that everyone, no matter how good their relationship, struggles to make it work. If you visited my Instagram in my first year of our marriage, you’d see a cute couple with a ridiculously good-looking dog traveling to exotic locations together, climbing mountains, strolling along Dutch canals, eating too much delicious food. You’d have no idea that I lost my job, that I had a shitty medical diagnosis, that the doctors told me my dad was close to dying three times, or that my mother had a nervous breakdown. You wouldn’t know about all the times I fought with my husband or drank too much wine and cried myself to sleep, confused about whether I’d made any of the right decisions in my life. I hope this book shows some of that. Because that’s what the first year of marriage is really like. Yeah, it’s hard. But it’s also an amazing adventure.
- Want more? Get Jo’s book now available on Amazon.
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