My two oldest sons both got married this summer. Both weddings took place in August (which nearly caused me to have a nervous breakdown). One was outdoors and one inside. One was a traditional Chinese/American wedding and the other was a non-traditional artistic expression of being united. Both of my sons chose beautiful brides to share their lives with; each possessing exactly the personality I would have imagined my boys would choose.
Of course, neither son has asked for marriage advice – not before and certainly not since their weddings. Since I am divorced from their dad, it probably makes sense not to look to me for instruction in this area. But, those that know me know this won’t stop me from offering what I think is the best marriage advice out there. After all, I collectively have 25 years of marriage experience under my belt. Since I wanted to make sure not to repeat the same mistakes in my second marriage that I made in the first I read a lot of books in between. Those points alone make me qualified to dole out advice.
We all know that every marriage has problems. I believe that the more you know about combating those problems, the more likely it will be that you can not only survive but thrive in the midst of those problems. While you can’t plan for every situation in life, you can plan for what you know. You can also plan for a few “what-if’s” along the way.
That said, this advice is for my sons (and the remainder of my children who will eventually tie-the-knot) on how to deal with what I believe are the top 5 marital problems.
Remember when your momma said “be careful who you marry, you’re actually marrying the whole family”? She was trying to warn you that in-laws can bring some stress into your otherwise blissful marriage. It could be your nosey mother (yep, I’m owning this) or her overbearing father; in-laws defiantly produce some serious tension. Now that the honeymoon is over you may begin to realize that dear old mom might have had a little bit of insight when it comes to crazy in-laws and it may be time to set some boundaries.
Accommodating her family’s tradition of bi-weekly giggling in front of Skype may have been fun during the dating phase, but now that you’re married, you just want to watch basketball, football or NASCAR from the comfort of your couch – in your underwear, without expectations of having shaved. (This scenario is totally made up stuff. If it remotely resembles anything actually going on in life, it was just a lucky guess.)
Try to recognize that it may be very easy for you to be critical of her family and somehow overlook the stress that your own family causes. Although it may be entirely possible that your family is totally normal and hers is completely insane, it is much more likely that you’ve become immune to our particular brand of craziness.
When it comes to dealing with in-laws the best rule is to compromise as much as possible; tread lightly, offering her family as much grace, compassion, patience and understanding as you expect when dealing with yours.
Now that you’re married, you have to agree on living quarters. Weather you plan to rent an apartment or buy a house, the housing situation can be an ongoing battle. This battle can change from month to month, year to year. Where do you live? Close to family? Hers or yours? Or far-far away? Beach or Hills? City or Suburb?
While housing is expensive – probably the most expensive part of marriage – it is unavoidable. Expert planning in this area can make or break your marriage. You have to consider not only the mortgage, but property taxes and maintenance. You have to consider financing options, length of stay, work commute, family commute, build or buy and always return on investment.
Before you even think about buying a home, make sure you can afford it. Burying yourselves in unmanageable debt is the number one reason marriages go belly up. Avoid a lifetime of stress and live within your means.
Speaking of financial stress, you don’t have to own a house to experience money troubles. The source of money woes could be anything from do you open joint checking accounts or maintain separate ones. Do you share the responsibility of paying bills or do you divvy them up? Who is responsible for paying off all those student loans? Who is going to work? Whose career takes precedence? How much debt are you comfortable taking on?
The Bible says “money is the root of all evil.” It is also the root of most marriage problems. The solution is to agree on and make a plan – budget for everything (even emergencies) and live within your budget. Almost every marriage has a spender and a saver. Avoid arguments by recognizing which role you play and own your weaknesses. Support one another and compromise. You have got to be open and honest with every major purchase. Set up a limit for each spouse’s discretionary monies and honor that limit. Transparency is the only sure fired way to avoid financial ruin.
- The Rut:
Every so often in your marriage you will come up against the rut. This is when life is actually going as planned: your jobs, your home, your in-laws and your finances are all under control. The rut happens when nothing new, exciting or challenging is going on – life is predictable. You would think life would be grand and you couldn’t be happier, but you find yourself falling victim to boredom. You may not have thought this possible in the first months or even years of your marriage: learning about each other and learning to compromise proved challenging and ultimately fun. You or your spouse may encounter what is known as “the seven year itch”. (It comes around every seven years, so technically it could be the 14 year itch, the 21 year itch, etc.) It’s a strange phenomenon where married people start yearning for something more out of life. They start to wonder if they are missing out on something or someone better.
The solution to this problem is prevention. Keep fanning the flame. Learn what makes your spouse feel loved and do that! Do not accept the rut as a way of life. When you start to notice that comfort is becoming uncomfortable, shake things up. Try a new hobby, a new vacation spot, or just checkout a new hotspot in town. Create regular opportunities to have fun together. If you don’t have kiddos by now, maybe you start reproducing – maybe not. If you have kiddos and find they hinder your adventurous side, get a sitter and go out. Better yet, include those offspring in some new activity. Whatever your situation may be when the rut rears it ugly head, remember that adding a new “friend” is not the solution. The enemy is routine – not your spouse.
To have or not to have. Sooner rather than later? One or Two? (In some cases more.) The offspring issue can be the most challenging struggle for any married couple. Even if you have talked about this in detail, multiple times, and have the kid topic mapped out down to the names of your future son and daughter (exactly in that order) you could find that life doesn’t always go as planned. Changes to any plan can be stressful. Changes to the kid plan can be devastating!
Infertility may become an issue. Unplanned pregnancies may come along at inconvenient times. Illness, fatigue, crankiness and all that is grumpy can come out of having -or not having – kids. Views on child rearing are often very different. Even if you’ve discussed this over and over and over again. You agree that you will not ever raise your voice, let alone your hand to your adorable little mini-me. This is just good practical parenting and you are both very practical people.
But, when little Johnny openly defies your 200th attempt to re-direct him from jumping off the bookshelf onto his baby sister’s head, something inside of you could snap. Your head could spin around and you may spew words at volumes you didn’t know existed. Your face might turn purple and you could possibly forget all the promises of remaining calm and collected under any circumstance for the next 18 years. (Minimum)
If that happens, you could blame it on the fact that you have not had a good night’s sleep in over 2 years. You could blame your spouse for wanting to move to far-far away: away from the grandparents who would help babysit. You could explain that you haven’t had that overdue date-night or even sex in 6 weeks. You could argue that you can’t afford a sitter since you’re working overtime just to make ends meet. Whatever your excuse, she would have witnessed as you lost it and yelled like a mad-man at a little boy in batman PJ’s yelling Geronimo. You would ultimately get a look of disgust as your spouse rescues both of your children from your explosion and throws a blanket and pillow out the bedroom door.
Kids have a way of turning everything upside down. The best advice on this one is to work through the first four problems long before you introduce kids into the mix. Unless of course, that surprise pregnancy comes along. If that happens, just hang on, enjoy the ride and get Skype up and ready for grandma (or move much much closer).