Author Jo Piazza Unlocks The Secrets of How to Be (Happily) Married In Her New Book
Jo Piazza is the former editor of Yahoo Travel who traveled around the world to bring global readers articles about places they could only imagine experiencing themselves. When she was asked to go to the Galapagos and do a story about how to take selfies with baby sea lions (yes, really!), she couldn't say no. Off she went and on a boat in the middle of the ocean, she met her now husband Nick. Three months after dating, Nick proposed and Jo was whisked into the wonderful world of wedding planning, but she was more curious about how to be married and couldn't find anything more than "what to do if your marriage is broken" in the relationship advice section of bookstores. So she decided to take matters into her own hands and set off to 20 countries to ask married couples what it takes to be happily married. The result: her latest book, How to Be Married: What I Learned From Real Women on Five Continents About Surviving My First (Really Hard) Year of Marriage.
During our interview, we get into all the stuff no one else is talking about on the subject of marriage like:
What it actually means when people say "marriage is hard work"
How Americans are getting marriage WRONG
How to prioritize your relationship during your "wet cement" year & tons more!
You reference modern marriages in your book, what’s different today about marriage than before?
JO PIAZZA: In a world where we don't have to get married, we’re choosing to get married. We’re the first generation to be able to choose marriage as a path. Just 20 years ago, women still often got married because they needed a man to protect them and to provide for them, even here in the U.S. Today, we’re strong, independent women. We can pay for things ourselves and we can even have a baby on our own if we wanted to. When you choose your spouse, it comes with a lot more expectations about what you’re bringing into a marriage. A lot of people would tell me that equality is 50/50 before I got married, but what I learned through my travels is that equality can be 90/10 or 80/20. The important thing is to talk about what the role of husband and wife means to you in your relationship.
We hear “marriage is hard work” all the time, but breaking it down, do you have a clearer idea of what that phrase means in practicality from your research?
JO PIAZZA: When I traveled around the world, I learned that people don’t talk about marriage the way Americans do. A lot of the women told me that people in the U.S. complain about their marriages more than anyone else. Americans have turned complaining about our spouses and marriages into an Olympic sport! People in other countries don’t say it’s hard work. They just say what they do to make it work. It’s the little things like “creating a cozy home,” which is what the women in Denmark shared with me. Also, things like putting away your phone when you get home. Research has shown that a spouse feels snubbed when your phone is out. The French women’s advice is to be your husband’s mistress, which is initially off-putting, but it’s about thinking about how much we put into ourselves when we were dating and continuing to put that much focus into our marriages. Why should we turn into people who complain about the dishwasher? The work is about being conscious and prioritizing your spouse the same way you prioritized them before marrying them.
In the book, while you share a lot of advice about growing together in partnership, you also say it’s equally as important to maintain your independence. How is that helpful to a marriage?
JO PIAZZA: That was the most surprising advice. I got this advice over and over again from women in different countries and different cultures where marriage is wildly different. When you get married, you don’t become one. The couples who are happiest are those who stayed independent and kept their own lives. It improves communication because you have more to talk about with your spouse. Maintaining your independence also makes you feel more secure in who you are and what you do.
Here in the U.S., we expect our spouses to be everything. We use the word soulmate a lot and it’s a uniquely American word. It aligns our expectations with the fact that this one person is going to solve all of our problems. That’s a lot of pressure on one human being. When you have your own independence that takes the pressure off the other person. I end the book without my husband and I did that specifically because I wanted to show how important it was to still be myself without Nick around.
What are some helpful habits and behaviors for couples in their first year of marriage?
JO PIAZZA: I discovered the term “wet cement year” while I was reporting this book and I loved it because it solidified what I already thought — that the first year of marriage matters. That we’re setting patterns and habits for our marriage during the first year. A lot of cultures, except for ours, place a special emphasis on time during the first year to get to know one another and get used to being married.
One of the biggest pieces of advice I give to others now after my research is to prioritize their marriage in the same way they prioritize their job. They do that in other countries, particularly in the Netherlands and Denmark. They leave the office at 4 p.m. every day so they can do something they enjoy independently like reading a book or going to yoga and then they sit down and have an actual dinner together. We live in a culture where we let our jobs dictate how we do everything — where we live, how we interact with our spouse, where we spend our time. A lot of couples will adapt their lives once they have a baby, but it’s important to make space for you as a couple even before you take that next step.
The first year is also a great time to fine-tune your communication. We learned a trick from a world-renowned marriage guru named Bobby Klein in the Mexican jungle. He gave us this exercise called “five minutes” where one person talks for five minutes every night before bed and the other person just listens. The point is that it teaches us to listen to our spouses so we can take cues about their needs, wants and desires, which helps us form a greater partnership.
How to Be Married is the modern-day template for how to be true partners in love and life and I hope you'll give it a read!
“The World’s Best Advice for a Happy Marriage.” —Real Simple
“Newlyweds and couples looking to jump-start a foundering relationship will find Piazza’s analysis of marriage useful, amusing, and engaging.” —Kirkus
“Part poignant memoir, part enlightening anthropological study, and part entertaining travel journal, the book divulges some surprising discoveries about love, longterm relationships, and our own societal beliefs.” —Vogue
“[A] thoughtful, touching, and hilarious look at what people can learn from each other about love and marriage if they just ask.” —Cosmo.com
Weddings are amazing, but marriages -- those are worth fighting for.