After 7 years of marriage I can honestly say that I would do it again without changing much. Well, maybe we would have spent our money a little more conservatively but as far as the the decision on marriage – it was a perfect one.
Unfortunately, as I consider our acquaintances and their marriages, it’s clear that all marriages are not created equal. Cheating, drug addiction, financial woes, and chronic fighting surrounds us and often times we are stuck in the middle as these people come to us for advice.
Here are a handful of things that have become common themes. My assumption is that you’ve already talked about religion, having kids, sex, etc. If not, you really need to open up the communication.
So before you say “I Do”, make sure you have at least considered these:
- Ability to Compromise
There are subtle changes that most people can make in their lives in order to make their spouse happy. This is part of the never ending compromise phase that is critical.
When single, I’d watch football games at bars every Saturday and Sunday (and sometimes Thursday). Once married, I toned it down to one day. This is a manageable change that I was willing to make. However, had my wife insisted that I give up all sports entirely, I would have resisted and eventually resented her. That resent would have spread and ultimately influenced my overall attitude towards her.
The same is true for just about everything. The willingness of the other person to compromise today (of the lack thereof) and your reaction to it will prove to be a precedent setting event. If someone is absolutely unwilling to compromise on minor issues, you should expect the same for larger issues. Don’t be shocked and appalled by it when it happens three years from now- you knew this going in and you accepted it!
Yes, we all want it but once we have it who controls it. My wife started direct depositing her paychecks into my account after 3 months of dating. I actually don’t recommend that so soon but she was bad with money and she admitted it. For us, it was a matter of getting our credit into shape (we had 640 credit and back then, now its 800+) and we needed a strategy to pay off her college and my personal debt.
Once that debt was paid off and we moved into our house, I turned the finances back over to her after a crash course in on time payments and credit. I never looked back. I enjoyed the strategy part of it but not the day-to-day grind of bill paying. She actually enjoyed it because as a stay at home Mom, it gave her the insight she needed to plan for grocery purchases, clothes for the kids, etc.
So before you get hitched, what is your plan today and 5 years from now? Who is handling what?
- Who cleans the toilets?
Toilets and the remainder of the housework is a constant issue. It all needs to get done and it’s not the most fun. Setup a plan for this in the beginning. My suggestion is a weekly rotation – perhaps you’ll come up with something different. The point of this is to set the expectation on both sides so that someone doesn’t feel like a housekeeper. Chores need to be shared regardless of the work and income situation. Being a woman doesn’t mean the wife has to handle at all.
- The plan
In talking to people, it became pretty apparent that their initial goals were in line but after the kids are born and careers take off, there is a fork in the road. I agree that all plans change and there is no way to write a script for your marriage but a lot of the confusion can be removed by having a 1, 3, 6 and 9 year plan. You should have this conversation now and then revisit it all the time. This does not mean you only review goals at these intervals. These are simply due dates.
I am often questioned as to why 1,3,6,9.
- 1 Year Plan: This one is obvious. After the wedding, where will you live, where will you eventually live. Who handles what, what is the combined income, what can we afford etc.
- At 3 years: You are no longer newlyweds and you are perhaps considering kids. Heck, you may already have a kid at this point. You need a plan for that, a plan for who works, who stays home, what type of daycare, etc. This is also around the time that your first condo or “couple’s house” loses it appeal. What kind of house do we want? Where? Can we afford that? How are the schools? What is Plan B if someone gets fired? Do we know what utilities cost?
- 6 years: We have all heard of the 7 year itch. Therefore, it stands to reason that you have a plan set with a deadline of 6 years. Where do you want the marriage to be in 6 years? Communication habits, sex life, careers…everything. Talk about it now and periodically consider making adjustments based on the the success of your approach. Plans are meant to be changed.
- 9 years: Again, where do you want to the marriage to be in 9 years? Why? What will life be like? How many kids will we have by then? Are we sending them to public school? What if someone’s parent dies? What is one of us becomes seriously ill?
Just discuss how and where you will celebrate holidays. This is a battle for nearly everyone I know.
Are we spanking the kids, are we talking and coaching or are we doing both? No matter how happy you are now, if you’re against physical discipline and your spouse is not, you will slowly learn to resent and dislike him/her each time a spanking is doled out. Discuss it NOW and avoid a surprise.
- Ok, religion
How important is it and how will we teach the kids?
- Communications, cheating
I don’t care how many conversations you have, no one will ever openly state that they “may cheat”. A key here is to be undoubtedly sure that the precedent is set for open communication. If a wife is not happy, the FIRST action on her part should be to talk to the husband (and vice versa). The only way to do this consistently is to talk; not yell, not argue, but talk like civilized people. If you become enraged every time your spouse tries to talk to you, you are pushing away an opportunity to fix a problem. Take time out and actually LISTEN. Marriage is not an argument or a punishment unless you make it one.
There are clearly a lot of other things to consider. Bad choices are going to made regardless of how thorough you plan; that’s life. You wouldn’t go on a 1,500 mile road trip without putting some thought into it and your marriage should be thought of in the same way. By planning and talking, the aim is to minimize the possible obstacles by first identifying them and getting them out in the open before they reach a critical, war-type, level.
What do you wish you discussed or planned before tying the knot? Feel free to leave an anonymous comment – perhaps it will help others.