Having a Good Marriage

I’ve had a lot of thoughts on marriage for a long time, but have hesitated to write about it because I wanted to wait until I had more years under my belt. And while I know there’s still a lot for me to learn and experience, I think having a very stable and happy marriage for 6+ years is enough to warrant some sort of reflection. If I were to sum everything up to one sentence, I’d say that the key to a good marriage is truly being on the other person’s team. You want the best for them, you want for your partnership to succeed, and you put in the effort to achieve those goals.

The reason I felt so comfortable marrying my wife was because it felt like she was on my team as soon as we started dating. First, I’ll set the stage with a personal story that really exemplified to me just how good of a teammate my wife is.

I can’t remember the exact timing, but we had either just recently married or were engaged. I had to go to Hawaii to buy our property there, and I asked a bunch of friends to see if anyone wanted to come. One of my close female friends agreed to join last minute. I know that it sounds a little bit weird to go to Hawaii with a woman who is not your wife, but we had been platonic friends for a long time with zero ambiguity, and I even ran it by my wife to make sure she was ok with it.

On our layover I get a call from my wife, and she’s really upset. She was talking to someone who never met me, told them that I was going to Hawaii with another woman, and the person basically said, “Yeah, obviously he’s having an affair.” Our relationship was new enough that it planted a seed of doubt in my wife’s mind. And I don’t blame her— zooming out and looking at the situation, I agree that it looks sketchy. To make things worse, my wife and I didn’t live together yet, and my friend had been visiting me a lot in Vegas. My wife had never even met my friend, so she had no read on her character.

It was an awkward few days in Hawaii. I was excited about buying our property and trying to have a good time, but it was hard to resolve the issue remotely and I knew that my wife was suffering.

We got back and had a long talk about it. I agreed to never travel solo with my friend or any other woman she hadn’t met, and I asked in return that she try to remain unbiased when she meets my friend, and that she be open to me traveling with her in the future once she meets her. Based on my experience with other women, I assumed she would not actually be able to be objective.

But I was wrong. She proactively set up a lunch with my friend, met her, and realized that she was no threat at all. My friend visits us all the time, and I’ve traveled with her many times since then.

To me this is the perfect balance of being a teammate. She wanted to protect her relationship, but also cared about my friendship and was looking for ways to help me rather than punish me. It gave me tremendous confidence in our relationship and frankly inspired me to be a better partner too.

Being a teammate is so important that I think it’s universal to all relationships. Through friends and coaching I’ve been exposed to the inner workings of a lot of relationships, and this one factor is almost entirely prescriptive of whether or not the relationship will work. I also have other ideas on what makes a good marriage, which I’ll share below, but not all of them are universal.

Maybe the next greatest factor to our marriage’s success is that we have made our marriage what we want it to be, not a cookie cutter typical marriage. The biggest example of this is that we probably spend about 50% of our time apart. I’d say she comes on about a third of the trips I go on, and is in Vegas about 80% of the time I’m there. We obviously enjoy time together, but we also value independence and autonomy. It makes time together feel more special, and honestly I sometimes find it even easier to appreciate her in her absence. We also don’t usually eat dinner together (we cook separate meals and eat at separate times), which made one relative think our marriage was fake, but it’s just how our schedules and preferences work.

We keep our finances mostly separate. The primary reason is we both have enough that we don’t need the other’s money, and we both like having the freedom to buy whatever we want. I don’t want to ask when I’m buying pinball machines or random stuff for my next project, and she doesn’t want to ask me when she goes shopping or sends money to family members. We both invested enough money to cover house expenses and the interest goes into a joint account that pays the bills every month. Of course if she needed some of my money for some reason she’d be welcome to it, and vice versa, so it’s more like we have combined finances that we manage separately.

Overall we have fairly traditional gender roles (except I’m the flower arranger and interior designer and she kills bugs). She cleans my clothes and dishes, I maintain the house and build and fund most of the improvements and tend to lead most big decisions. She’s also a much better host to guests than I am, and even though our finances are separate, most of what she’s invested in has been initiated by me. I don’t think everyone needs to have traditional gender roles (and I think it’s much more important to build the unique marriage you want), but it’s pretty obvious to me that there’s a reason that they are traditional and that they probably work better more often than not.

In that same vein, we both contribute everything we can to the marriage without trading or keeping the score. Throughout our lives there will probably be phases where each of us can contribute more than the other, and we certainly contribute different things. But we’re building a marriage, not trading favors. This leads to a virtuous cycle because she does so much for me that I’m inspired to do more for her, and vice versa. When you see people trading favors and arguing about “what’s fair”, it’s a bad sign. Either one person is contributing so little that the marriage should end, or the two parties are too focused on themselves.

We didn’t sign a prenup. It never really crossed my mind until she proactively offered to sign one. In my mind if I don’t trust a woman to treat me fairly in the case of divorce, I definitely shouldn’t be marrying her. I don’t mind a disincentive to divorce, and I’m very happy to have a strong incentive to choose a good partner. If I am such a bad judge of character that she’s not who I think she is and she wants to divorce me and take half of my money, then I’d say I deserve it. On the other hand I have a friend who got married and he made a provision for his wife to get a certain amount per year in the case of divorce, because the plan was for her to quit her job and be a mother. I thought that was a really fair way to take risk off the table for her.

We argue VERY infrequently, maybe once per year or so. Our biggest “fight” was the one I opened the blog post with, and it was resolved really well as soon as we could. I can actually only think of one or two other arguments, and they were like an hour long or so. Over time our conflict resolution has gotten much better and now I’d say that on the rare occasion we do have a conflict we leave optimistic and motivated. So many couples argue every month, week, or day, and I just can’t imagine it being healthy. People justify it by saying “marriage is tough and it takes work”, but what they don’t realize is that the work should be 99% on building the relationship, not repairing it.

When my wife and I first met, it was obvious that we have very aligned principles. To me that was an absolute prerequisite for a serious relationship. We agreed on finances, kids, where to live, priorities, etc. We’ve never argued once about any of those things. We didn’t have that many activities in common, though. Something I’ve found useful is when I find something we both enjoy, I go all in on it. For example, we enjoyed playing pinball so much at my friend Noah’s house that I came home and built a virtual pinball machine primarily because I knew it would be a fun thing to do together. Now we have an arcade room with five pinball machines and we have a tournament together every night. She enjoyed learning to ski, so we get season passes every year and go out as much as we can. Principles are really hard to change, but finding hobbies to do together is pretty easy if you put in the effort.

While I think it’s beneficial that we don’t spend all of our time together, I also think it’s important that we have a good default routine that we share. In Vegas we tend to do our own things until afternoon, and then we play pinball together, swim and use the spa together, and sometimes watch an episode of a show. The swimming and spa time in particular is a nice opportunity to make sure we get to talk about anything on our minds every day.

I’m grateful to have such a good wife and such a good relationship with her. These are my perspectives on it, but I do also believe I’m playing on easy mode because my wife has such a great character and puts a lot of effort into our marriage. I can’t imagine being married to anyone else.

If you’re thinking about marriage or are in a marriage that needs work, focus on partnership, building a unique marriage that suits both of you, make sure your principles are aligned, and put everything you can into the relationship with blind faith that your partner will do the same.

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Photo is our pet Tortoise, Daisy. She’s around 53, has three legs, and my wife reports that she is 30% happier when Daisy is not hibernating.


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11 responses to “Having a Good Marriage”

  1. Taylor Levinson Avatar
    Taylor Levinson

    Hey Tynan, I really appreciate you sharing your views on relationships/marriage. “Being on the same team” is a complete gamechanger. So cool that you’re enjoying the fruits of this relationship every day.

  2. Nancy Avatar
    Nancy

    I find these reflections really interesting both in how they mostly align but in some ways differ from my approach to my marriage with my husband (8 years of an also very stable and happy marriage).

    Your 50% of time together approach is so wildly different from how my husband and I function and structure our lives, which is like 99% together since we run a small company together and have mostly the same friends and hobbies so we are rarely apart except from the occasional errand. What I find so cool and interesting about this is that while I don’t think spending a ton of time apart would work for us given our personalities and the way we really heavily rely on each other for so many things (to the point that my husband carries my ID and keys for me), it clearly is what works best for you and your wife and your unique lives and personalities. Both of our approaches differ from the default in opposite directions, and I imagine some people would call my marriage problematically co-dependent and yours concerningly separate, but clearly they work for us since they have lead to marriages that are happy and free of excessive stress or conflict.

    The only point I probably actually disagree with is the assumption that traditional gender roles are what they are for a reason (and the implicit presumption that there is some innate reason men prefer to do home projects and women prefer to host, etc). I personally think that in many cases we end up falling into those traditional roles because of societal conditioning, not an innate preference or inclination. For example, I tend to worry more about the house being clean and tidy when we are hosting people, even though my husband is actually innately a more clean and tidy person than me, but I have it ingrained somewhere deep in my head that if our house doesn’t look a certain way it will reflect badly on me in particular, whereas my husband doesn’t have those same hangups. I’m defaulting to traditional gender roles out of obligation rather than desire, but I think it would be easy for my husband to assume that I am more naturally inclined to housekeeping chores if we didn’t analyze it and actively work to align responsibilities’ with our real preferences and not just what we’ve been conditioned to care about. We are both happier if I let my husband do the cleaning, which he actually enjoys, so I can have the time to maintain our yard, which I actually enjoy. At the end of the day, I agree with you that the most important part is for each couple to build the marriage that suits them as individuals whether they align or are opposed to traditional roles.

    I also agree that being on the same team and having aligned principles are the biggest keys to a successful partnership. All the other stuff either falls into place on its own or can be easily adjusted with minimal effort as long as those two key things are in place.

    1. Tynan Avatar

      Hey Nancy,

      I definitely don’t think traditional gender roles are necessary and most relationships probably have some mix of them. I get your point that you feel more responsible for some things as a woman, too. I guess maybe I mentioned it because it seems these days couples are very focused on everything being exactly 50/50, but specialization works and biological differences seem to often make traditional gender roles a natural fit in many cases.

  3. Jim Avatar
    Jim

    A well thought out and interesting article as usual. The part about communication is great. I have to admit though, as someone who’s married with kids, my initial thought was “what marriage advice would I possibly have needed for the years before we had kids?” Sleeping in on weekends, working late on any given day if we wanted to, deciding to go on a weekend vacation and packing our bags in under five minutes. I guess we may have had some contentious issues back then, but I can’t recall any. 🙂 Here’s to another happy six years for you guys!

    1. Tynan Avatar

      You’re right! I’m definitely playing on easy mode with no kids. That said I do see a lot of kid-free couples have way more issues than they probably should.

      1. Jim Avatar
        Jim

        I think a key to happiness is focusing on helping others instead of focusing primarily on yourself. I think married couples without kids can easily get caught up in the trap of just thinking about themselves. Having kids just unintentionally and forcibly ends up taking the focus off of yourself. You seem to accomplish this through your blog, seminars and videos.

  4. Marilyn Avatar
    Marilyn

    Tynan, a lovely article. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Phoebe* Avatar
    Phoebe*

    TYNAN! Long time! Left Amazon to come search your website for the electric portable water boiler for tea you wrote about some odd years ago (I’m selling everything and moving not-sure-where and want to trade in my large electric kettle for something minimal and trust your judgement on minimal gear and anything tea related). How fortuitous to come to your page the day of this post. Thank you for being so transparent about your marriage, even dropping tips.

    People keep telling me if I want to get married, I need to quit traveling and settle, that because I still talk about where I want to travel next I “don’t find off marriage vibes”. This seems like rubbish because ‘settling’ is probably a big reason there are so many unhappy people in unhapppy marriages plus I don’t see why being married and traveling have to be mutually exclusive. In my mind, they aren’t. And your post keeps my hope alive that both are possible in a happy, successful marriage. Thank you for sharing again. It’s good to hear you are happy in your marriage life.
    And now I will go find your affiliate link to that potable kettle rod. Peace.

    1. Tynan Avatar

      Hey Phoebe! I actually think that it’s almost impossible to get married while traveling. I got extremely lucky and happened to meet a woman during a period where I was at home, and she was used to long distance relationships so it didn’t seem too strange to her. If marriage is a priority I would honestly stay in one place that would have likely candidates and focus on marriage… and then start traveling again either together or separately.

      I really didn’t care about marriage and was surprised how much I enjoyed it, but I don’t think everyone needs to get married. If you don’t really care, you may as well keep traveling take your chances.

  6. Ashish M Avatar
    Ashish M

    I don’t understand separate finances within a marriage – I can’t reconcile this setup with the presumed goal of “lasting forever.” How a couple manages and shares money seems a much bigger deal than who kills bugs.

    This isn’t a criticism, just an observation. I’m not good at discussing or negotiating these things, and might be missing something.

    1. Tynan Avatar

      Yeah, it’s a fair question and it’s actually very hard for me to find the root of it. On one hand I do believe we’ll be married forever, but on the other hand it would feel very strange to send a huge amount of money to my wife for no reason.

      Maybe it’s that our earning has been so separate that it “feels” like it belongs to an individual vs a unit, in the same way if we order at dinner it would be weird if I just started eating her food.

      I’ve really been thinking a lot about this since you left your comment and I feel like it’s one of very few things where I can’t come up with a good answer, even to myself. My aversion to it seems to come from enjoying managing money without feeling like I’m risking someone else’s money (my wife is a bit more conservative with her money) and spending without feeling like I’m making a decision for someone else. I think my wife feels the same from the conversations we’ve had on it.

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