Twenty-two years of marriage has earned me a place at the table of a bride-to-be. In lieu of a bridal shower she has asked for five women with years of marital experience to share our sage advice with her. Presumably we all have stuck through our relationships because we are still in love, we have found a way to make it last, or at least we haven’t given up when times got tough.
I waited until I was late in my twenties before marrying, and thirty before I had my first child. I wanted to have a career first, and simultaneously. I never wanted to put it all on hold to raise my children, and I’ve always looked at my marriage as a partnership that would allow both of us to share in the responsibility of raising children and going after our own dreams. Luckily we met in graduate school, so it was easy to jump right on the career tracks without either one of us having to “sacrifice” so that the other one could get the degree they wanted. When I think back on the big events in our lives like births & houses, jobs, etc. those are not the things that have gotten us to where we are today.
For me it sugars off like this:
- Make the big decisions together: Life changing decisions should always be done together. If you are on the same page when when the big decisions are made then the smaller ones are easier to handle. Decisions like- What town you are going to live in? Will one of us stay at home with the children? Will one of us work part-time? Should our daughter be allowed to go to boarding school? Should we take in an exchange student? Should I apply to that position that will change our family dynamic or cause us to move? … This seems obvious but I can tell you that I have seen lots of couples not be on the same page about a decision that changed the family life and then suddenly they were not a family anymore.
- Work out the finances & always have your own money. It’s fine to have a joint checking account, but everyone needs a sense of independence, a feeling that they can put some money away for themselves. Cover your family obligations first and have your own savings account, retirement, whatever. It really doesn’t matter who pays which bills, or keeps track of the bottom line as long as someone is doing that. Play to your strengths. If it’s a combined effort great, if one of you is better at managing the money than the other that can work too. Develop a financial plan and practice that will work for both of you and don’t let finances be the reason for arguments.
- Talk about the little things. Newly weds sometimes feel they have to accept everything about each other. Its okay to get frustrated with something the other person does or says, but don’t let it build up overtime. That little thing he does, like forgetting to wipe out the sink after he shaves may be exactly what triggers your misplaced rage in a year when you are not on the same page about a big decision. (Review #1) Don’t sweat the small stuff as they say, and yes it is all small stuff, but you DO have to TALK about the small stuff. Don’t let something little turn into a big hairy lump under the bathroom rug!
- Go out and have fun- with each other and with your friends. Make fun a part of your lives. We can get so busy being grown ups, paying bills, making those big decisions that we forget to let go and relax. Plan special outings for the two of you, long after you have said your vows. Spend time with friends, yours, his and make new friends. Finding other couples that you are compatible with is important to a healthy marriage. And don’t give up your girls’ nights- that time to reconnect with your girlfriends will help you keep your balance of who you are in the marriage.
- Keep your sense of humor and humility. Being in a lifelong committed relationship is hard and there will be days that you have to work at being nice to each other. Remember that you too, are not the easiest person to live with… and maybe the reasons that brought you together, (because he can see through all of your shit, and still loves who you are, and you can see through his) is worth it in the end. Each day is a gift, and we have no idea what kind of barriers will be put before us, but a sense of humor will go a long way in getting you through the tough times with each other.