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Civil Marriage

In a civil society, citizens generally participate under a broad consensus - articulated in some cases and simply understood in others - for the shared good. The product of this participation is a feeling of safety in self-expression and of protection from intrusive expressions of others -- though there is a fluid understanding of where that line is drawn. The manifestations of broad participation are evident in institutions like government, the judiciary, and the rule of law. In the simplest terms, if we are courteous to one another, if we stop at red lights, if we vote for our leaders, if we share holidays, life will be orderly and we can operate with a broadly shared and reasonably reliable understanding of how life is organized and how things work. You and I are very lucky people to be living in such an environment.

Civil marriage is a little simpler, thank goodness, but just as important. We all know intuitively what it takes to make a marriage civil, but I can tell you that many couples who are having troubles in their marriage have lost the thread. Sometimes that's the entire problem.

This is so obvious that you may be inclined to stop reading. Please don't.

The first rule of a civil marriage is the easiest to explain, but one that is rarely upheld.

no swearing, no fighting in front of kids, no fighting when intoxicated, admit when you realize you're wrong, no d word, use sandwich approach, no cutting loose, use acknowledgements, say i'mm sorry.

1. No Swearing

This is not because I am some kind of goody-goody (is that still a thing?). It is not because I don't swear. I do swear, sometimes. But not swearing is a simple and measurable way to show respect for your marriage. You are treating it like it is something more -- more precious and more fragile than any of your other relationships. Swear with your friends. Swear with your siblings. But keep swearing out of your marriage and away from your spouse, and your house.

2. No name-calling, and no comparing your spouse to a disliked parent.

Stick with the issues, okay? Insulting your spouse just suggests you were really dumb to marry him/her. So insult yourself. And comparing your spouse to her parent -- again, poor form and a low blow. Are your points regarding the issue at hand that weak?

3. Never use the d-word unless you really do mean it.

Making reference to the possibility of divorce is an ugly and hugely destructive way to try to gain power in your relationship or in an argument. If divorce is mentioned, it should be in the context of a very sad and very serious conversation about the reality that your marriage is failing. I hope it will never get to that point. You'd better hope so too.

4. No yelling at all, ever.

Many, many couples seem to think this is an unrealistic expectation. It's not. Just don't yell. Take a break when a discussion or negotiation is getting heated. Read my Blog post entitled "Seven Steps To Great Arguments" to learn more about managing disagreements in a more productive way. Believe me, in marriage disagreements never end, so you might as well get good at them. And never yell. Never yell. Never.

5. Treat your spouse at least as well as you would treat a wait-person at a nice restaurant.

Some of us grew up in families where people said the cruelest thing they could think of to hurt each other. That's never okay. See marriage isn't really about complete openness. It is about restrain, respect, and consideration. There are things that cross your mind that you don't have to share. Many things. If you spouse is a happy person your life will be better. If your spouse is unhappy, self-doubting, insecure, angry, or defeated, your life together won't be fun. Marriage isn't a contact sport, and winning in marriage isn't the point, actually.

6. Never, ever fight in front of your children.

Of course, I don't want your children to grow up depressed, self-loathing, and with intractable anxiety disorders, but that's not my point here. Again, like swearing, being responsible for where and when you fight represents important self-control, and it expresses the reality that the safety of your marriage and of your family is more important than the outcome of any argument. You control yourself with colleagues at work. You can do it at home if you surrender your (imagined) entitlement to "lose it."

7. Learn how to be a giver in marriage.

This begins with affirmations. Relentlessly point out your partner's strengths, including their intelligence, their work ethic, their loyalty, their beauty, their sense of humor, their sensitivity, their creativity, their good taste, and a thousand other characteristics. Stop worrying about power. Be a giver.

8. Admit when you are wrong.

Go on, it doesn't that much. Admitting you are wrong and saying you are sorry are such wonderful gifts for your partner. And they are free!

9. Sandwich your complaints and requests.

A good rule of thumb is compliment-compliment-request/complaint-compliment-compliment. That's complaint sandwich.

10. Stop drinking too much.

By the time your 25, haven't you proven you're a grown-up? By the time you're 30 it's enough already. Okay, so you get a pass on New Year's, I suppose. But really, what's the point? A drink or two, sure. But much more than that and you are looking pretty shabby and lost. Just sayin'. So now that I've had my little snit, let me just say this: no arguing when you are intoxicated. Never. Arguments can wait.

These rules are easy to live by. Wait till you see the difference they make!

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