Remember He's Just Not That Into You? The book-turned-movie convinced us that Justin Long could be sexy, but, most importantly, dropped valuable relationship truth bombs like "we're not the exception; we're the rule" and "you have been dumped."
Welp, author Greg Behrendt (who penned the above book and was also a consultant for Sex and the City!) is at it again— this time joining forces with wife and fellow New York Times-bestselling author Amiira Ruotola — with a newlywed self-help manual aptly titled, "How to Keep Your Marriage From Sucking."
The humorous, no bullsh*t approach is the same, but the cynicism is balanced with just the right amount of romantic earnestness. You'll still believe in happily-ever-afters at its end, but you'll appreciate that those babies are earned, not found.
And that earning starts at the very beginning — before you enter into the "bonds of terminal togetherness," as Behrendt and Ruotola have coined marriage.
"We wrote this book because our own marriage was sucking," Ruotola tells BRIDES. "When we went back and CSI-ed the forensics of our relationship, we figured out we made all the mistakes in the first five years."
So, before your I dos, learn from Behrendt and Ruotola. Below, the couple talks us through questions you and your partner should discuss before walking down the aisle, and continue discussing long after. Some you ask of yourself and some you ask of each other, but all will increase your likelihood of marital success.
Grab your significant other and some snacks, and get to chatting. As Behrendt and Ruotola note in their book, "A conversation, even if it seems like it's silly and unnecessary, is not just a conversation. It's a sign of respect."
1. "Is This a Person I Can't Live Without?"
Get this: In their book, Ruotola and Behrendt reveal that most of their divorced friends agreed they'd marry the same person over again; they'd just do things differently. Thus, most of the following questions will focus less on determining if your person is "the one," and more on establishing certain thought and communication patterns early on. Still, we can't overlook the importance of a responsible choice in your life partner.
"You can live with a lot of people," Ruotola says, "but if you can't live without that person, then you're on the right path."
2. "Is This Person Who I Think He/She Is?"
The "honeymoon phase" feels like an escape from reality in which you'll never run out of facts to learn and love about each other. But remember the message of another cliché: love is blind.
"You amplify the good in order to nullify any of the less-than-good," says Ruotola. "We pretend we don't know the truth about our partner's flaws because it's inconvenient."
Ask friends and family if they see any red flags, and consider whether you feel a natural authenticity in each other's presence.
"It's hard to suddenly hyper-judge a person when you've been enjoying the fact that you don't have to hyper-judge them," acknowledges Behrendt. "But you're doing it for them too. They don't want to come into this thing under false pretenses."
3. "Why Are We Getting Married?"
It seems obvious—you're in love, there are tax breaks—but you might be surprised to find that your betrothed has different expectations of marriage than you do. Are you roommates with a signed piece of paper, or are you co-captains committing to something grander than yourselves?
"We all sometimes ignore motives," says Behrendt. "We assume others do something for the same reason we'd do it, or we fail to check our own motives." Understanding the why will help you comprehend the how. While having this discussion, "think about what a therapist would ask," says Behrendt, "someone who doesn't have a personal investment and whose only concerns are your honest motivations and mental health."
4. "How Did Your Family Handle..."
Fighting? Money? Chores? Holidays?
"You don't come from the same family, so there's no way you have the same reference points or meaningful attachments," says Ruotola. When everything leading up to a marriage feels effortless and euphoric, she warns, "you can steamroll over another person because you've assumed that just because you match in many ways, you match in all ways."
Take the time to dissect various traditions and tendencies. Which ones are going be part of your newly-formed family's "normal"?
5. "What Are Your Pet Peeves About Me?"
The toenail clipping habit is weirdly endearing now, but give it a few years.
"We went into marriage like, 'This is love turned up! Our love's going to take care of everything,'" says Behrendt. "'Slightly annoying things we ignored about each other will be fine because we're married.' It's not going to be fine."
Don't nag and nitpick, but don't shy away from speaking up when something bothers you either. Making accommodations won't feel good every time, and if bad behaviors go on too long, you'll convince yourself they're on purpose—just to F with you.
"Assigning motives that aren't there is a trap that everybody falls into," says Ruotola. "You decide they're doing the thing you haven't spoken to them about because they hate you. Suddenly something small turns into a wound that keeps getting re-injured. "
Steer clear of that by being honest and transparent upfront about the little stuff in addition to the big stuff, because burying it is like "planting landmines for the other person to step on later," Ruotola says.
6. "Even Though You're Better At This, Can I Try It Sometimes?"
One of you will inevitably be tidier than the other; that doesn't mean the neat freak does all the cleaning. Delegate household responsibilities based on skills and interests, sure, but be sure to switch it up every now and then.
"Come at marriage like 50/50 shareholders," says Behrendt, "because if you make somebody carry the burden of it, they can't help but get resentful. If they argue that they're better at a task than you, then you go, 'I know, but I need to be able to do this too.'"
Do it for your partner, who deserves a break, and for yourself, to avoid what Behrendt calls "learned helplessness" when your other half has particularly dominant, decisive traits.
"When one person is pathologically self-sufficient, you leave no room for the other to grow that part of their own personality, or to be able to support you when your self-sufficiency gives out," says Ruotola.
7. "Did You Change Your Mind About...?"
Love isn't about memorizing every random piece of trivia about each other. It's about making the effort to continue discovering new tidbits.
"There's some arrogance that goes along with both people thinking, 'You're supposed to know me!'" notes Behrendt. "That's actually not true; my partner is my constant study. She changes and grows, and I need to be attuned to that."
Leave room for people to change their minds, and be willing to accept that you might not ever "get" why they did. That's ok. Mind-reading is not a pre-requisite for marriage.
8. "What's Really Going On Here?"
That being said, you know your partner better than anyone. If you notice an off behavior, especially one with potential to start a fight, consider the real impetus behind it.
"Rather than just reacting, ask yourself, 'What do they mean by this?' and 'Are they intending to hurt me?'" instructs Behrendt. He gives the example of someone panicking about money or complaining about not having enough sex. "Usually, they just want to know that you're scared about money too, and you're willing to work on your finances together. Or, they want to hear that they're attractive or loved or noticed, and sex is just a means to an end."
Stay conscious of that and "learn what triggers insecurities in your partner," says Ruotola. "Can you help them heal those parts, or what can you do to step away from those areas?"
9. "How Do We Both Win?"
It's easy to forget you're on the same team when the trash talk gets particularly filthy.
"Keep in mind you either both win or you both lose," says Ruotola. Don't treat each other as though someone has to be a victor and someone has to be a villain. Figure out how each of you can walk away feeling like a champion. "Marriage is a practice, not an institution," Ruotola says. "It's like yoga or meditation or writing in a journal — something you are mindfully aware of trying to improve every day. Then tomorrow, you get a clean slate."
10. "Can This Just Be Between Us?"
We're not forbidding venting sessions with friends, but remind yourself that the most important relationship in your life is the one with your spouse. Treat it that way!
"A lot of times, people make decisions based on how it looks to the outside world," says Behrendt. "But at the end of the day, people want to gossip, have opinions, and feel better about themselves. No one cares more about you guys than you guys."
Respect the something special you have with your partner by keeping some stuff private. "It's fun to have something that's 'you guys' thing,' and over time that has equity," says Behrendt. "Loyalty and strength comes out of you two being in on something that nobody else in the world gets to know. That's special."
11. "Is Now A Good Time to Ask a Question?"
Our final takeaways: 1) Keep asking questions after you're married. 2) Know when to ask said questions. 3) Don't just ask questions.
"'Is now a good time to ask a question?' is a question I should ask myself much more often," jokes Behrendt. But it's true that you should only engage your counterpart in a serious conversation when it's appropriate to do so. Are you still too friggin' angry to think straight? Do you have adequate time to discuss the issue before yoga class starts? And while Q&As are step one, don't forget to implement an action plan.
"Don't waste time asking too many questions; just do," says Behrendt. How great is it to be surprised with exactly what you needed from a best friend who knows you so well?
"I find that Amiira would sometimes prefer not to have discussions," Behrendt says. "If I just do, and she doesn't like what I've done, then we can talk. Discussing first ruins it. Actions are everything."