I’m getting married again. Here’s what I’m doing differently.

I asked my partner the other night if he thought it was crazy that we were getting married given our first go-round (to other people) didn’t stick. Mind you, I lobbed this question at him a full nine months after getting engaged, with a venue booked and a killer dress in the hands of the alteration lady.

He raised one eyebrow at me in exactly the way I deserved. “What’s up, babe?” he asked.

“Ack, I don’t know. I want to get married,” I sighed, moving closer to him on the bed. “I just talk an awful lot about how marriage isn’t great for women, you know? But I still want to do it, and I worry that makes me a hypocrite.”

He nodded, urging me to talk more. He knows me well enough by now to know that if gives me enough reassuring head motions and stays quiet, I’ll talk myself through most things.

“And I don’t want to do it from a place of fantasy. I think we both are clear on that. And I don’t want to do it because we feel like that’s what the world approves of and that we have to legitimize us to anyone else,” I went on.

He considered. “I hear you, and of course I feel the same. But let’s go back to why we decided that this was what we wanted.”

“Okay,” I said, cocking my head. “What do you remember?”

“Well,” he laughed, “First I remember that I love you and this is the best relationship I can imagine, and I’m excited to be married to you.”

“I also remember that you and I, we never hated marriage. We knew our previous relationships had problems, ones neither of us knew how to solve, but we still wanted to commit to each other. And yeah, marriage as an institution is far from perfect, but it’s what we have in our culture. And there are the insurance benefits.”

I leaned my head onto his shoulder. “Those romantic insurance benefits,” I murmured.

We talked for a while longer, reminding each other of the number of other reasons we’d decided made this choice. This conversation was far from new. I just seemed to need to have it every few months to make sure we were on a conscious path.

When I’d first gotten married at 23, the reality was that deciding if to get married wasn’t really a conversation in the context of a committed relationship. It was the only path, it seemed, if you loved someone.  Honestly, having the awareness and perceived freedom to really choose felt like a major difference in how I was entering into this union.

After that conversation in bed had ended and I was tucking kids into bed, I thought about writing out for myself an essay on why I was choosing marriage again, given all that I experienced and know. But then I realized that it was something different that I wanted to write. I wanted to explain, mostly to myself, but for others who are in partnerships too, not why but how. I didn’t need to explain why I was doing this again. I hadn’t failed the first time, after all. However, I did want to examine how this was different.

It feels important to say that none of these are absolutes. They don’t exist on a binary of totally untrue in my first marriage and always true now. But they do feel significantly different in this new season and relationship in my life. And for that, I am grateful.

I practice seeing my partner as a whole and distinct human being with separate experiences, desires, and needs.

One of the hardest things to acknowledge about my experience of my last relationship was that I struggled significantly to honor the fullness of who he was. I knew conceptually, of course, that he was his own person, but in practice, particularly in moments of tension or intense emotion, that reality could easily disappear.

I’ve had two teachers in this area – the infamous Esther Perel and the wise Jordan Dann. Dann talks often in her work about differentiation – the ability to see our partner as distinct rather than merged. And Perel talks about the importance of holding paradox, the space where two truths can co-exist at the very same time.

If you would have asked me ten years ago if I had skills for both, I would have said yes, and I would have been wrong. When I became triggered through upset or conflict, I’d regress to a place where I could only really see my own truth. I’d need him to understand it, to validate it, and ultimately to hold it up as the final and real truth.

Growing for me has meant being able the midst of hurt to regulate my own emotions enough to see – fully see – that there is another human on the other side whose thoughts, feelings, and beliefs were valid, even when in seeming opposition to mine. I’ll be honest, it’s annoying AF to do. But it’s been the only way to have a mature partnership.

I make direct requests rather than expecting him to read my mind or anticipate my needs.

Smart people and relationship experts have been proclaiming this forever, but it took me a while to get over the hump. Writer Anne Lamott said, “Expectations are resentments waiting to happen.” And therapist Terry Real says, “Great relationships mean more assertion up front and less resentment on the backend.” 

When I got messily honest with myself, I realized how little I actually communicated my needs to my first partner, passive aggressiveness notwithstanding. Now, I was no stranger to telling him that I needed him to pick up the playroom or plan a date once in a while, but I didn’t know how to talk about the needs underneath these requests. I didn’t know how – or felt safe enough – to share how important it was for me to feel seen or romanced or one of a hundred other things.

Relationship books will tout this one often, reminding us to ask for what we want. But I want to go a layer deeper. Because for me, acknowledging the need to ask was part of the challenge. And that was hard for me – and, I believe, for many of us – because I was holding on to a fantasy in which my partner was supposed to be so attuned to me that he could know my needs without me having to make them known. We could think of this as the fantasy of having a fully emotionally available parent, someone who not only meets our needs, but anticipates them. For those of us who didn’t have this, which is perhaps most of us, this need can feel unresolved, and we might be seeking it in our partner. But, of course, because they are human and in fact, not our parents, they will stumble even with the best of intentions.

Resolving this means, to me, acknowledging the wish for a fully mind-reading, selfless partner who will meet every need before I know I have it, and then turning to my real partner and thanking him for just doing his best. 

Meanwhile, I am leaning into the idea of reparenting each other.

The concept of reparenting has gotten some airplay in a more therapy-savvy world these days, but in case that sounds foreign, let me very briefly explain. Reparenting is the idea that we can resolve some of the deficiencies or deficits in our early experiences of being parented by giving some of those things (like attunement, compassion, even hygiene practices) to ourselves as adults.

While I just said how important it was to acknowledge the fantasy of making a partner into a parent, there is a way in which we can absolutely help to heal each other from the wounds of our early experiences. No one is bottle feeding each other or anything, but we are staying very aware of the ways that we trigger each other’s core wounds and then trying to address those needs in the ways that are most helpful to each other.

As one example, I know that my partner can clam up in conflict because he often felt overwhelmed as a kid, like he didn’t have space to breathe. So I actively work to regulate my fight response in those moments knowing what he needs is the opportunity to process so he doesn’t freeze or flee.

I’m recognizing the limits of the institution of marriage.

We know that marriage as an institution is limited, but do we know it? That marriage doesn’t resolve challenges, it often intensifies them? The gift of age, experience, and being a therapist has given me a deep appreciation for how imperfect the construct is. But it hasn’t made me eschew it, exactly. It makes respect it more fully for what it can offer and what it cannot.

Recognizing the limits means know that the data shows that women end up doing more housework when married vs. unmarried or even cohabitating, for example. So, my partner and I did the Fair Play system and continue to regularly review the division of domestic labor at home.

We are also signing a prenuptial agreement, something that could certainly be the subject of a whole essay itself. But here  I’ll simply say that I’m approaching a prenup not as a way to kill the romance or a way to have an escape route, but rather as a signal of respect for each other and an honoring of the full autonomy of each of us. I plan and hope to be together forever and ever. And if divorce – and life’s twists in general – has taught me anything, it’s to know that we can plan and the universe can laugh. Neither of us should have to suffer if that’s happens.

I’m not celebrating my wins when they mean we are losing.

There is a saying that goes, “Do you want to be right all the time or be married?” Well, I’ve had both and now I’m choosing married.

I’m consciously choosing my partner over work.  

This one might seem a little “duh” to some, perhaps particularly to my younger millennial or Gen Z friends who were more consciously raised to prioritize relational health over accomplishment. But as someone whose framework historically was that relationships serve as the steady backdrop to the real work of life, this has been a damn hard practice for me. I didn’t see people in my early life doing work on their relationships. I took that to mean that relationships were fine unless they weren’t. They were the at-home stuff and your value and your time should be spent in the not-home world. Your family was there for the weekends and to celebrate your accomplishments.

Consciously putting away my laptop or shifting focus from this problem I can’t solve at work so I can listen more fully is getting easier for sure. The practice of it is paying off. I can see how much better it feels not only in my relationship, but in my own psyche, and that helps reinforce it. But I suspect it will for a very long time need special attention from me to protect it.

I’m building in rituals for connection and voraciously protecting them.

There’s some great data on the power of rituals for maintaining bonds, but perhaps the most important data is our own. I personally feel reconnected and rejuvenated by regular practices, like the Sunday Check-In that my partner and I do. You can read more about what’s involved in the Sunday Check-In and access the list of 100 questions we often use to do it.

You can probably tell, but I’m proud of the work that my partner and I are doing to enter marriage in a different way than we did before, and a in a different way than we personally saw modeled in our society. It makes it feel like marriage – as complicated and imperfect of a system as it may be – can be our own.

I’d love to hear from those of you who have redefined your marriage or entered a new marriage or partnership with different practices? What’s have you done differently?

Dr. Ashley Solomon is the founder of Galia Collaborative, an organization dedicated to helping women heal, thrive, and lead. She works with individuals, teams, and companies to empower women with modern mental healthcare and the tools they need to amplify their impact in a messy world.

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