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The Rules of Marriage

November 19th, 2007 . by maria

In response to some recent articles I’ve seen, and thinking about some people around us who might could use some advice now and in the future, I present the rules of marriage.

Life isn’t fair. This isn’t the 1950s with the woman as a slave/homemaker getting the man’s slippers. But, if you subscribe to the modernist thought that things are 50/50 you’re bound to be disappointed. You’ll be keeping score and constantly coming up short – and so will your partner. That’s because to me, running the vacuum is an awful chore that rates at least a -10, but to my husband the least I could do is run the vacuum and it rates about -1. I’m willing to do cat litter and laundry every day if I can get someone else to vacuum. On the other hand, when it comes time to remodel, I’ll paint every surface of the house, and my husband can’t stand painting. Neither of us like to balance checkbooks and pay bills, but I’m the least likely to freak out while doing so, so it became my job. The first year (or 7) of your marriage will be spent figuring out what ranks highest on each other’s “pain scale”, and dividing up the chore list in a way that works. Don’t get it into your head that things will be fair. Instead, work out a balance that you can both live with.
Decide what is important to you. Do you plan on having children? Dogs? Living in the city or country? Driving new or used cars? What kinds of vacations and how often and with whom. What to do with your free time. (Do you like to spend time at home, or will you fill every evening coaching little league, playing bball with the guys, and stopping a tthe bar on your way home?) What you are, and are not, willing to do to finance all these plans. I’m not talking dreams about your life, but what scenarios would NOT work for you? It is unlikely everything will go according to your plan. However, if you know what you REALLY want, you can take steps to work towards it. And what you really DON’T want, you can take evasive action. But, more importantly, if you find out that your fondest plan is your spouse’s worst nightmare, you can draft a new plan that you both can live with. You wouldn’t want to find that out AFTER you bought the dog/crib/condo, right?
Use your own yardstick. Don’t measure your relationship against someone else’s. What works for you, works. Don’t worry if it is not what works for someone else. My MIL and FIL are joined at the hip. They have even been known to dress alike. While I think that’s all cute, and sometimes I think I’d like that, I admit that I’d lose some respect for my DH if he allowed me to dress him. And that he’d drive me crazy if we spent EVERY night in each other’s company. It doesn’t mean that our relationship isn’t as good as theirs. We’re just different. The same goes for cleaning, finances, yardwork, children, etc.Familes have their own culture. I’ve heard that in certain cultures, pointing your index finger at someone is similar to what we mean when we point our middle finger in the air. It’s a cultural difference that you better learn if you don’t want to look like a jerk. Similarly, families have “cultures” of their own. Your wife’s family had a certain way they celebrated Christmas when she was growing up, certain things they did on Sunday afternoons, certain “inside jokes”, and even certain blind spots to certain family member’s problems. Your family has their fair share of these things too. Some of these will be obvious, and others won’t. Try to figure out what are the important traditions and touchy hotspots, and treat them appropriately. Even if you don’t know going into things what these are, if you know to look for them, you’re better off. It’s kind of like if you forget what fork to use at a fancy dinner, so you watch to see what everyone else does. If you’re ever confused, or offended by something, look to your spouse as an interpreter. Treat times with your wife’s family like that, and you won’t go wrong.

It is NOT all about you. Your husband’s bad mood might be a sugar low, or an argument with a friend. Your wife is supposed to spend 99.9% of her time with the new baby.When your wife visits her family, it is not to take a vacation with you. Your kids are supposed to get all the presents at Christmas and birthdays, and you’re lucky if they remember yours. On days that you resent these changes, remember that your spouse feels the same way. Do what you can to change it, and someday they’ll return the favor.

It IS all about you (plural). Gone are the days when what you did only affected you, and only reflected on you. If you leave dirty socks on your bedroom floor, you’ve essentially just tossed a dirty sock onto your wife’s bedroom floor. You wouldn’t have done that when you were dating, would you? If you fail to open the door for your wife, you aren’t just being lazy, you’re showing her friends that she has a thoughtless husband. Likewise, wives, if he goes to work dressed badly because you didn’t have the laundry done, it reflects poorly on both of you. Did you ever work one of those jobs where they said “remember that when you’re wearing our uniform, you’re representing our company”? Well, 24/7 you are representing your family, so don’t do anything that wouldn’t represent well. But more importantly, remember that what you do or say reflects how you feel about your spouse.

Be honest, but be flexible. Tell your spouse when something bothers you. But be able to get over the little things. Recognize the things that are important to his heart, his sanity, his self esteem. Find ways to allow him to have those things without crushing yours. Find ways to let him know what’s bothering you that acknowledge the fact that YOU are the one feeling insecure/inadequate.

And Finally…

The grass is not greener elsewhere – you just aren’t seeing it as closely. It’s so easy when you’re having trouble making things work to think that things would be better with someone else, or even by yourself. But it isn’t true. Here are some reasons why:

If there were things you didn’t know about your spouse that now make you dislike him, don’t you think the same might be true of others? Even if you make sure you don’t have the SAME blind spot, you’ll probably find out you overlooked something else.
Separation is just adding to the problems, not subtracting from them. Once you are married (and especially if you have children), you will always have a relationship with that person. If you separate and take up with someone else, you now have TWO relationships/families to deal with. NOT easier. Just different problems. Are you SURE the problems you are having now are bad enough that you want to make your life that much more complicated? Remember, you’ll still have to deal with your “X”, you just won’t have to live with him/her, and the bargaining chips will be different. Even if you separate just to be “by yourself” for a while, and end up back together, it will always be a sore spot between you. Better to spend the time hashing things out, if possible.
It takes two people to have an argument. You were one of those people, and no matter where you go you will still be you. Take a good look at yourself and see if perhaps you aren’t the problem – or at least part of it.
You’ve gotten this far. There are already a lot of things you’ve found out, worked out, shared, and worked through. Do you really want to throw all that away? Do you really want to go through all that again with someone else?

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