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While many people who write into the Cut’s advice column, Ask Polly, are mourning the loss of love, just as many come to writer Heather Havrilesky looking for guidance about a committed relationship. Married readers want to know how they can have good, lasting unions, wonder how to be friends with an ex, or ask how to talk to their partners about specific problems like money or cheating or a mother-in-law. Read ahead for Ask Polly’s best marriage advice.
A reader says she has “a nice little life” with her husband, but that she wishes he took more of a leadership role in their household. In response, Polly points out that relationship roles aren’t black-and-white, asking whether the reader has given her husband the room to be his full self. This can start, she says, by appreciating who she is — “then you can make room for other people to figure out who they are and what they’re good at.”
Nostalgic Newlywed wonders, “What do you do with an ex you care about after you get married?” From the start, Polly identifies herself as someone who endorses friendship with exes. That said, there are situations where it’s not a great idea. The key, she says, is examining your motivations for wanting to maintain a friendship with an ex while in a committed relationship.
Slapstruck writes in to describe her problematic mother-in-law, who recently slapped the reader’s husband during the course of an argument about toys. As her husband’s wife and the mother of his children, what should she do from here? Polly says she can (and must) be the bigger person: “She’s irrational and she needs to be handled with kid gloves from now on. Lower your expectations and get practical.”
A reader who feels betrayed by her husband’s perception of her wants to know how she can move past those feelings. Polly is frank, saying she thought the reader was going to describe more of a catastrophe. “Instead,” she says, “you’re describing pretty run-of-the-mill marriage challenges, the sorts of things that inevitably pop up when one or both partners are under a lot of stress.” This doesn’t make the situation any easier, but it is, as Polly points out, a turning point.
“Aside from love,” one reader wants to know, “what makes love last?” Polly recommends being realistic but striving for greatness over mediocrity: “I want you to aim for a great marriage instead. I want you to aim to have an amazing fucking marriage, one that makes you feel grateful almost every day.” This is possible, she says, as long as she fosters a spirit of generosity.
A reader is fed up with her husband’s inability to deal with money and wonders if she should just accept it. She should not, Polly says, because there’s too much at stake. While financial situations require a healthy dose of practicality, they also require forgiveness. “You have to resist the temptation to shame yourselves and each other,” she says, “because, God forbid, you are both messy and incomplete and bad at some things, like every other human being alive.”
A woman calling herself “I Wish Hillary Won” expresses her post-2016 election frustration with all men, including the one she married. Polly cautions her against making the political too personal: “You can’t turn the story of ignorant white men into a story about your actual husband.” Instead, Polly suggests thinking about her own place in the world, worrying less about men in general, and focusing on the one man she has.
A reader haunted by her parents’ divorce wants to know what she can do to escape the fear of her own marriage ending. In response, Polly explains that there’s no sense in denying her past. “My feeling is that once you start treating the peculiarities of your past as interesting and valuable and worthwhile to explore and understand, you’ll find it easier to stop telling this odd story that they damn you to a broken marriage.”
A woman whose mother died recently is wrestling with an intense desire to get married. “As nice as it is to imagine a partner who will always be there for you,” Polly says, “I think you just want to know what WON’T disappear right now.” Explaining that a spouse won’t solve everything forever, Polly reminds us that there’s never any one thing that will.
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