Friday, January 19, 2007

Questioning a Good Marriage

"Keep your eyes wide open before marriage, and half-shut afterwards." Benjamin Franklin

My husband and I are approaching our 25th wedding anniversary, so a recent article in the New York Times Questions Couples Should Ask (Or Wish They Had) Before Marrying rang my bell.

After 25 years I figure I've got the creds to contribute some value of my own to their list. Here are the experts' questions and my expert answers.

Have we discussed whether or not to have children, and if the answer is yes, who is going to be the primary care giver?

First, don't agree to get married if you don't agree on children. "Surprise, Honey, I'm pregnant!" is not a viable option.

Second, as to who will be the primary care giver, get real. It'll be Mom or a Nanny. And I say Nanny with ZERO judgement. I had one. Couldn't have managed without her. And my husband was a dedicated hands-on father. Still is, bless his heart and soul.

So if you agree you want kids, the real discussion should be about a mutually serious commitment to cooperation and genuine participation. If I hear one more father say "I have to baby-sit the kids," I might deck him.

Do we have a clear idea of each other’s financial obligations and goals, and do our ideas about spending and saving mesh?

Arguments over money create huge strains on many marriages, but not in our house. I've found it's just another logical area for agreement, compromise and mutual support between two adult partners.

However, if one of you is chronically unemployed, has an expensive drug habit or is a compulsive spender, your marriage will be in big trouble.

Have we discussed our expectations for how the household will be maintained, and are we in agreement on who will manage the chores?

No matter how many promises, agreements or even signed contracts you have, this will never work out to the woman's--and thus the couple's--advantage. Avoid potentially toxic resentment over this issue and hire a cleaning person or service. If you don't, you'll end up spending that same money down the road on counseling or divorce.

Have we fully disclosed our health histories, both physical and mental?

Full disclosure is not only necessary NOW, it provides a critical window into future expectations. If your potential mate can't handle your PMS, he will surely divorce you during menopause. And if she shudders at the word Herpes, she's likely to hit the road when you get a painful case of Shingles in 30 years.

Is my partner affectionate to the degree that I expect?

If not, leave now. Or accept that you can manage with what you currently get. No matter how much you think you can change the amount of affection your spouse displays, you can't. Really. Not ever. Well, in one case: bug him/her too much about giving you affection and you're sure to get even less.

Can we comfortably and openly discuss our sexual needs, preferences and fears?

If you can't fully and completely approach and achieve mutually satisfactory sex without shame or embarrassment, you will never have a happy marriage. Period. This means if he wants latex or whatever, at least try it once. But this does not include pain. Unless you're into that. And if so, you're on your own.

Will there be a television in the bedroom?

I don't get this question. Maybe because I've always had a TV in my bedroom, single or married. So has my husband. We have bookshelves too. And a great deal of connubial bliss.

Our only TV issues are decibel levels and the occasional dispute over Letterman versus the History Channel.

P. S. I think a more pertinent question should be: Will there be a CD player and candles in the bedroom? And a good solid lock on the door.

Do we truly listen to each other and fairly consider one another’s ideas and complaints?

This is nice in theory and next to impossible in real life. It's why God created therapists.

Okay, yes of course you should be able to communicate thoughts, preferences, likes and dislikes without the neighbors calling the cops.

A lively political debate can add spice to your relationship. But you must air personal complaints in complete sobriety, calmly and with constructive requests and solutions or you'll give--and get--nothing but grief.

Have we reached a clear understanding of each other’s spiritual beliefs and needs, and have we discussed when and how our children will be exposed to religious/moral education?

A no-brainer. Be very clear on this with each other. And make sure your families know what to expect ... and are respectfully but firmly told what you expect of them in support of your decisions.

Do we like and respect each other’s friends?

Wow, excellent question. In case you've missed the obvious, a person's friends provide a living tableau of his/her presumably similar values, morals, intelligence, sense of humor, interests, goals and habits. If his friends all drink to excess, find Monster Truck rallies entertaining and have multiple tattoos, that would be a nice set of clues.

Do we value and respect each other’s parents, and is either of us concerned about whether the parents will interfere with the relationship?

This is a very big deal. More than most people realize. I have given two crucial pieces of advice about this to every married person I know:

1. Once you're married, you are a husband/wife first and a son/daughter second. Do NOT side with your parents or other members of your family against your spouse. Ever.

2. Never say anything mean or critical about your spouse's parents. Even if he/she is ranting about them, say you're sorry he/she's upset or in pain. That's it. Don't agree. Don't add your own disparaging remarks.
Trust me on this. Everything bad you ever say about your spouse's parents will come back to haunt you when they die.

What does my family do that annoys you?

Per my advice above, be very careful here. If his sister smokes in your house or his brother curses in front of your kids, speak up pronto. If his own family tears your spouse down, be supportive and say it's too bad they can't appreciate how wonderful he is. If they're Republicans, wear ugly clothes or pick their teeth, just shut up.

Line in the Sand
Are there some things that you and I are NOT prepared to give up in the marriage?

Hmm. Interesting. Easy to agree on, in principle. Harder to live with in real life. Really think about this one and try to be Very clear. If your spouse is the jealous type, figure out how he/she can come to grips with you spending an evening with friends without private detectives entering the picture.

If this is about reading in bed, guess what ... it's potentially a big deal too. Figure out a compromise. Eyeshades, a book light. Whatever.

Point is, come up with a list of absolutes, compromises and solutions. Don't expect things to just work themselves out. They won't. You will have to. Usually after you're both really really angry.

If one of us were to be offered a career opportunity in a location far from the other’s family, are we prepared to move?

This is hard. Too many variables. How old are you? Do you have kids? Are one or both of you potentially sole caregivers to your parents? Is your joint focus on family or career? And are we talking about a move from New York to LA? Or from Philly to Uzbekistan?

No matter how sincerely you agree in theory, be prepared for a fight if it actually happens down the line.

Does each of us feel fully confident in the other’s commitment to the marriage and believe that the bond can survive whatever challenges we may face?

Everybody always says yes to this question. People may feel nervous and uncertain, but most brides and grooms start off believing they can handle anything. Especially if they've just made it through a big wedding. Maybe they're right.

On the other hand, if you have persistent niggling inner doubts that can't be explained away as pre-wedding jitters, listen to them. Take a close look at the person you're about to marry and at the relationship. Canceling a wedding is a lot easier and less traumatic than ending a marriage.

And yet. Marriage tends to grow stronger when adversity is faced and overcome together. Kids, careers, each other's families, each other's good and bad habits, good and bad friends, good and bad choices. They're all a challenge and an adventure.

Marriage is a journey. If you're smart, lucky and determined, it can be a satisfying, exciting and fulfilling lifetime trip.

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Blogger Suzie said...

25 Years! Amazing, but not surprising. I've still never met your husband (blink) but I know how lucky he is in the marriage department. Congrats.

Now if me and mine could get past the whole moving thing... ;-)


11:55 AM  
Blogger Sally Swift said...

The actual date in fact is 1.23 (I chose it so the hubster couldn't ever claim he forgot ;)

You will be seeing him shortly as I post some memorable photos from marriage memory lane.

Don't forget to review my suggestions here before you make the leap into marital hyperspace.

12:58 PM  

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