Getting married soon? Or are you a newlywed? This is the kind of relationship advice millions of divorced or married-but-unhappy women and men wish they had gotten sooner, when they were single.
If you’re in a committed relationship, and marriage is on the horizon (or you got married in the last couple of years), this is a heads-up. A recent article in Brides Magazine got my attention. The article lists the 6 biggest problems in marriage:
- spending habits,
- going in different directions,
- intimacy, and
From my experience, I can agree – it’s a good list.
Are you experiencing them yet? If you haven’t yet, you will! It’s inevitable…but not hopeless, if…before you that walk down the aisle, you take some time together to think things out and make some agreements. What about? Read on…
Are these the same relationship problem?
Of the six problems listed, three of them – disinterest, boredom, and different directions – are in the same family. That means they could have the same root cause: a lack of caring and/or excessive self-interest or selfishness. Think about it. If you are into something and I’m not part of it, why not? Do I see it as “that’s your thing, not mine” and disengage? Or do you just not want me to be involved in things like your career, hobbies, friends?
Either way, eventually one of us is going to feel hurt, then I’ll get angry or bored – first with what you do, and then with you. Next I’m going to feel resentful. After a while I’m going to think “screw you” and find something that makes me happy. I decide to “do my own thing” – without you. Before either of us realizes it, we’ll have our own lives and, if we stay together, our common ground for conversation will be the kids. We’ll only get together as a couple for dinner with friends, holidays, weddings, and funerals.
It happens. A lot! You already know at least one married couple like that, right? Maybe that’s what you saw your parents do when you were growing up. Or are watching it happen now to your best friend.
OK, you think, “that’s about them but it won’t be me.” True…for now. Today it seems like you won’t ever lose interest in your sweetie because s/he is so smart or funny or whatever. And you love football or soccer or dancing or music too (or whatever s/he is passionate about), so no problem…right? Wrong!
A few years from now, when life invades your love pod and you have a thousand things on your plate with four of them pressing hard on your brain, you won’ t give a flip about the latest news related to that passion. In fact, just hearing about it will set you off and could easily result in an argument and some icy feelings.
You don’t want that to happen, right? It doesn’t have to, but it’s up to you and your partner.
What Can You Do About Your Marriage Problems Today?
Your marriage is a partnership. Like all good partnerships, both partners look at the known problems and figure out how to handle them before they happen. It helps you in the short-term because you’re creating a pattern for problem-solving between you. Down the road, when unknown challenges come you way, you’ll already have a format for solving them and some history of success.
Figuring how to handle a problem in advance is a behavioral technique you are probably already familiar with from Weight Watchers. What WW tells you is to recognize what you crave (like chocolate or pizza) and, being honest, know you’ll crave it at some point. So, before you get into trouble, figure out a good alternative to that thing, e.g. a WW treat or low-cal pizza. Then, when you get that craving, you already know what to do and won’t sabotage yourself. The same with emotions. If you know you always eat when you are angry or depressed, WW tells you to recognize the “trigger” or warning sign and set up a system of what to do instead of eating that hot fudge sundae.
Of course, your marriage isn’t WW but the concept is the same. You look at a well-known issue (like any of the 6 mentioned here) and figure out a solution. You ask “how will we know it’s happening?” or “what are some things we can do to prevent that from happening?” And, like WW, you have regular meetings – Family Meetings – where you step away from your daily routine and focus on your relationship.
Big Benefits for Making Relationship Agreements
What you two are figuring out is how to create equality in your partnership. When you start early – while living together, during your engagement, or even early in your marriage – you get into a healthy pattern. You do it before anger, resentment and hurt feelings dominate, or before you think you’re being ignored or disrespected.
In addition, and this is one of the beauties of the Five-Year Marriage, you already know that things in life and in your relationship, are going to change. So you talk about them in advance and start figuring out your how-to-do-it and create a set of agreements now. Over time, some of those things will naturally need adjustments as jobs change, children come along, money problems creep in and more. As you live your life, and your marriage, you can make conscious adjustments along the way In The Five-Year Marriage: Shifting the Marriage Paradigm there is a whole chapter dedicated to things you need to talk about together, including lifestyle preferences and your agreements. Taking time to discuss those things is crucial to the long-term happiness of your relationship. Admittedly, planning your marriage is not as much fun as planning your wedding, but it’s way better than planning a divorce.
The Agile Marriage
Marriage is like life (with or without a partner). It’s a series of challenges, and a lot of curve balls get thrown your way. The secret of success for your Five-Year Marriage, for any marriage, is that you two regularly review your agreements. You decide what’s working and what’s not. You can either keep them as is, renegotiate parts that aren’t working, or ditch the bad ones and make new ones. You aren’t stuck “’til death” with any of them. And, because you’ve been working together, it isn’t scary or uncomfortable.
The difference can be profound, The choice is yours.