5 Things you Need to Know to Live Happily Ever After

It takes having been married for a long time and making some big mistakes along the way to learn what works in a marriage and what, just, doesn’t. If you’d like to be with this guy for the long haul (and I hope you do, because it’s not better on the other side), here are some truisms you’re better off knowing sooner rather than later.

1. Your partner is not going to make you happy

He’s just a guy with skidmarks who loves you very much but is also trying to negotiate his way through this thing called life. He doesn’t have all the answers, and even if he did, it’s not possible for one human being to make another human being happy. Of course you can enjoy a good relationship which adds value and joy to your life, but that’s only part of the deal. The rest is up to you. If you don’t like your job and you have problematic friendships and you’re frustrated in whatever capacity, he could be Adonis spewing slabs of Lindt while he vacuums the lounge – you’re still going to be miserable. So, here’s the thing – you need to officially and mindfully absolve him of the mammoth responsibility of being the sunshine in your life. He is just a star – not enough to light your whole world. Figure out what it is you need to do to make your life a sunnier place and stop making the problem his.

2. If you don’t have respect, you have nothing

Remember your first date together when you looked every part of amazing, were the most delightfully attentive listener and nothing was too much effort? Over time this hallowed, romantic space changes to unwashed hair and farting in front of each other. While keeping the same level of mystery up as when you first met is impossible, it’s really kinda important not to relax too much into the comfort of your togetherness. Just because he’s made a commitment to you doesn’t give you license to whine, nag and nitpick. Or be self-centred or on his case or mean or hit below the belt. Your partner is as deserving of your respect as he was when you first fell in love. He’s a human being and he’s doing his best. Be nice, look nice, and don’t tell him to pull your finger. It’s just not sexy, and sexy counts for a lot.

3. Stop seeing him and he’ll cease to exist

The reason why people have affairs is not about the sex. You hear all the time about men who visit prostitutes just to talk and be heard. Affairs happen when people feel lonely and unappreciated. He might be as familiar to you as your favourite pair of granny panties, but try to remind yourself of how cool he actually is, and how many other women would give their left boob to have a kind, affectionate, honest, good-looking guy like him to call their own. He’s the business, and you’re lucky. And of course this goes both ways. Women look to other men when they feel like they’ve become invisible. We find ways to fill the holes in our lives, sometimes to devastating effect. If you can, somehow, keep seeing each other like you did when you first met you’ll automatically introduce a special kind of magic into your relationship. He hasn’t changed since that first day. Look past the familiar and get the person he is in the world.

4. Being attracted to somebody else doesn’t mean you have to have an affair

Forever is a long time, and when you exchange rings you don’t die or go blind. You’re still a separate human being, and it’s inevitable that, along the way, you’re going to meet at least one person you’d really, rather like very much to shag. Don’t do it. Being attracted to another person doesn’t mean you have to act on these feelings. And don’t, for the love of god, encourage the attention, irresistible as the affirmation might be – you’re just going to make things difficult for yourself and worse, incur pain on a number of people. A wise friend (who learnt this the hard way) said to me the other night, ‘I’ve revised my opinion on infidelity. It isn’t shades of grey. It’s black and white, pure and simple. You make a choice not to go there, and you don’t.’ Because if you do, even if the relationship survives, you create terrible cracks that never, ever go away. If you want to do this thing right you have to honour the trust between you. Look, imagine if you must, but don’t touch. You will get burnt, and it won’t be worth it.

5. Keep your eyes on the prize

A lot of people get divorced for a lot of reasons, but that doesn’t make it an easy option. A psychologist friend of mine talks about how divorce brings out the most primal feelings and the rawest kind of pain human beings virtually ever experience. Whatever you might think from the comfort of your so-so marriage, you’re not going to get out of it unscathed. It will hurt you, hurt your friends and families, and worst of all, devastate your children. The prize is this: a partner who loves you above all; who will be there for you no matter what; who (probably) fathered your children and therefore has only their best interests at heart; who knows you and accepts you; who sees your flaws and loves you regardless. In this world of loneliness, broken dreams and heartache, this is not a bad deal. Love him back. Be good partners to one another. Fight well and constructively, and remember how much you loved each other once. Accept that he’s going to infuriate you and that you’ll infuriate him right back. Watch your tongue and the words you use when you argue. Make kindness the default mode. What you have is special and might not come around again, so guard it with your life.

The most surprising thing about starting a blog

I kind of knew I was going to love blogging. After decades of writing for very specific markets and always having to ask myself whether a Cosmo girl would identify with what I wanted to say, or if I was being too ‘out there’ for the Clicks Club subscribers, or if a word I wanted to use would be understood by a younger audience, the sheer, unfettered joy of sitting down at my keyboard and thrashing out whatever thoughts I care to share using whatever words I choose to share them in is one of the most liberating things I’ve ever experienced. Creating without constraint is a heady feeling indeed.

But it also scared me, the notion of putting myself and my life out there in the no-holds-barred way I’m partial to. What would people say? What would they think? What if they hated my writing and told me so? Because, while I have a pretty big mouth I have a dangerously thin skin. Not an ideal combination. But for some reason I was compelled to head off into this very unknown terrain where anybody who cares enough can read your innermost thoughts, and enter the most private of private spheres – your head.

And I’m not brave. I might sound confident and courageous when I publish a post which is either deeply personal or a bit controversial (I mean, what white South African has the audacity to call themselves black?), but in reality I’m shitting myself and my stomach churns with every new comment I see awaiting approval. Because, maybe even more than other people, I’m terrified of not being liked.

And then an interesting thing happened which kind of changed the way I view the world. Everybody has been nice. Okay, not everybody. Of the nearly 10 000 individuals who have visited and viewed my blog since its launch three weeks ago, one person wrote me a cross letter. Which I pretty much deserved since I kind of tore their blog to pieces (it was my ‘Letter to a Hipster Blogger’. We live and learn). But that girl aside (and you know, dude, I’m sorry. I was totally showing off) everybody has been so freaking amazing. And supportive, and encouraging and share-y.

The love has poured out from all corners of the globe. I had a woman in Texas tell me her story about mothering; a few guys thanking me profusely for the piece about marriage (‘How Marriage Sometimes Feels Really, Really Crap‘); a French chef start a conversation about food . I’ve had a really insightful chat about flaming with a Huffington Post blogger (who is actually following my blog – how cool?); letters from people in China and Holland and Moscow and Tanzania. And the theme is always the same – of our sameness and shared experience of the world.

And it’s gone both ways – through blogging I’ve found blogs which I’ve come to know and love. At the moment I’m following the heart-wrenching day-to-day experience of a 26-year-old woman in the UK whose husband has just left her for another woman. Her writing is raw, gutsy and painful and, by virtue of being almost 20 years her senior and having learnt some stuff along the way, I’m able to see her situation in perspective and offer her the kind of loving, supportive advice older friends gave me when I was her age and equally lost.

It’s been an extraordinary experience this, and it’s revived my faith in humanity. Even when I knew a segment of people would disagree strongly with something I wrote or be offended by my penchant for colourful language, they allowed me the space to state my case in the way I saw fit, and I’m humbled and amazed. Loving what you’re doing and waking up to 50 e-mails from people telling you they’re also loving what you’re doing is the coolest thing I’ve ever known. To everyone reading this, thank you.