When Jo Piazza got engaged at age 34, she had trouble finding books on marriage that resonated with her, much less any that discussed how to be married after the wedding cake has been cut and the honeymoon is over.
“Every book written about marriage is awful and doesn’t relate to a modern woman,” Piazza, who got engaged three months after meeting her husband on a boat in the Galápagos islands, told Fox News. “They don’t give you advice to make a marriage work before it’s broken, before everyone’s sobbing on the floor.”
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With that void in mind, Piazza decided to take matters into her own hands, gathering advice from successful married couples around the world.
“I thought, ‘We crowdsource everything else in our lives these days … so why can’t I crowdsource how to make a marriage work?’” the travel journalist recalled. “So, that’s what I did.”
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The result is Piazza’s latest book, “How to Be Married: What I Learned from Real Women on Five Continents About Surviving My First (Really Hard) Year of Marriage,” in which she shares the insight she gleaned over the course of a year interviewing women in places like Africa, Scandinavia and Latin America.
Here, Piazza divulges some of those proven ways she’s learned can help make a marriage last:
1. Take care of yourself.
When Piazza traveled to politically embroiled Jerusalem, she met Jewish women whose children risk their lives daily walking to school as bombs frequently detonate in the street. It may seem counterintuitive, but to deal with that reality, they make self-care a priority, as Orthodox Judaism mandates. For example, their religion asks that women refrain from having sex with their husbands during certain times of the month in lieu of taking time for self-reflection, Piazza said. “It’s like what the flight attendants tell you on the plane: ‘Secure your own oxygen mask before you secure another person’s,’” she explained. In Jerusalem, “Their world is typically more dangerous than ours, but the world is generally hard and dangerous, so if you’re trying to be someone else’s caretaker, you have to take care of yourself to make sure you can do that.”
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2. Don’t lose your identity.
In France, the married women Piazza spoke with advised spending one night away from your husband, either alone or with girlfriends. “When you’re in a marriage, there are too many people who don’t talk to their friends at all,” Piazza said. “Everyone else told me to take vacations away from my husband.” In her case, Piazza has found the old adage “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” to be true: “[My husband] is on a business trip — now, I’m so excited to see him.”
3. Maintain a sense of mystery.
Also in France, Piazza expected women to be relaxed about cheating and having an open marriage, but, she said, “They debunked that myth right away — no one wants to be cheated on.” But what they did say helps keep the flame alive in their marriages is acting like a mistress. In other words, don’t let your partner know what you’re doing all the time and don’t resort to wearing sweatpants all the time. “Find ways to make him intrigued, put on makeup, get dressed up, wear sexy lingerie, don’t go to the bathroom in front of him,” she said. “I don’t feel anti-feminist saying that the more you feel sexy and vibrant, the better you’ll feel too.”
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4. Communicate — but also, listen.
A lot of couples in the United States don’t communicate, but even fewer listen, Piazza said. In Tulum, Mexico, marriage guru Bobby Klein posed a five-minute listening exercise in which one person speaks for five minutes and the other person has to listen without speaking. “It’s been one of the best things we’ve used in our marriage,” Piazza said. “It feels like a mini therapy session.”
5. Don’t let your job dictate your marriage.
The Dutch and the Danes know a thing or two about disconnecting for the good of their marriages. Of course, Northern Europeans have shorter work weeks than Americans. But more important, their jobs end when they leave the office, and for the many of the couples Piazza spoke with, cellphones aren’t allowed at the dining table or in bed. “They value quality time more than we do,” Piazza observed. “Americans create more busy work instead of prioritizing their marriages.”
6. Build a support system.
In Kenya and Tanzania, Piazza met polygamist tribes from whom she learned the importance of having a support system beyond the immediate partnership a marriage affords. “In America, we often go off into these tribes of two, and it’s you and your partner against the world,” she said. But in Africa, “What I learned was the importance of community and delegating labor … your spouse can’t be everything for you, and you can’t be everything for your spouse. It’s important to have other people around you to help you take care of yourself, your spouse and your kids.”