Philip Van Munching from Darien, Conn., is a finalist in the Dear GMA Advice Guru Contest. Read his response to a viewer-submitted question below!
Question from Tara in Mt. Pleasant, S.C.: "My fiance and I dated for seven years and we're getting married in March. We've lived in different states for the past four years and are excited to be soon living together. What's the best way to make sure we don't take our time together for granted and what challenges should we look out for as we readjust to being together all the time?"
Philip's Answer: Congratulations, Tara! And not just on the wedding: congratulations also for being smart enough to realize that a successful marriage will take some effort … and for being so eager to do that work.
Here's the problem most folks face in the first weeks and months after they've said "I do": to borrow the title of an old Winona Ryder movie, reality bites. When you were first with your fiancé, he was perfect! He was exactly everything you'd always wanted in a partner, and he'll likely stay that way until, oh, a few months into living together as husband and wife. Then, that shining armor will start to rust. He'll do stuff that bugs you. He might not be as attentive, or as willing (or able) to read your mood. You might find that he has moods that you've never seen before. You'll think, "Wait: where's Mr. Right?" The thing is, Mr. Right is still right in front of you. He's exactly the same guy you married, and all that's changed is that your fantasy of him is having a hard time surviving in the same space as the real guy.
So what do you do? Basically – and you've already done this – you realize that great relationships take work. So communicate: tell each other about the little stuff that bugs you before it has the chance to become the BIG stuff that bugs you. Also, make an effort to learn each other's hotspots … you know, those things that can be counted on to set each one of you off. (Constantly being late, being talked to like a child, etc.) Once you've found those hotspots, avoid them whenever you can: consider them the minefield…and stay out of that minefield, even when you're angry. It's also a terrific idea to start easing off the word "me" when you think about life's bigger decisions, and instead, break out a few new pronouns: "we" and "us." As in, how should we approach this, and what would be best for us?
You asked about how to make sure you don't take your time together for granted, and I think the answer lies in the old cliché: marriage is a marathon, not a sprint. In other words, accept that not every moment is all that important…or certainly all that exciting. Instead, focus on the moments that make all of your effort – and even your occasional disappointments – worth it. After 21 years of marriage, I've come to realize that one trick to a successful marriage is to spot those moments, and to understand that the things that strengthen our bond are beautiful and miraculous, and deserve to be treasured. Another trick, of course, is foot rubs.