Flawed Advice from a Flawed Wife

IMG_2399Well, in this, the over a quarter century mark of being in a relationship with my husband Eric, I thought I would provide unstructured, untested and surely flawed observations on what it means to be married for “a long time,” however you might define that.

Backstory: Eric and I have been married for 23 years this August, and we’ve been together for over 26 years as of this past June. That’s a long time.

Let’s put this in perspective; these events also happened in 1988:

  • The American soap opera debuted its first interracial marriage
  • Ronald Reagan was president
  • Russia was the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia still existed, and there were two Germanys
  • The TV great ALF was half-way through his stardom
  • The longest game in Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium history occurred on the day we met, June 4, 1988 (the Os beat the Yankees 7-6)

With that in mind, here are three random thoughts on marriage:

  1. The traits that so endear your partner to you will ultimately become the traits that irritate you the most.

Eric was, and is, very laid back. He talked me in from countless ledges when we were in our twenties. What a blessing.

Guess what? Now sometimes that laid back nature bristles my controlled (and controlling) nature. And it’s a two-way street. I provided him with needed structure and goal setting in our twenties. Now I can see the smoke practically rising from his (mostly hairless) head as I lay forth a plan for what the family should/must/should not/must not do in during the ten days I will be in Kenya this month.

The point is, this is all okay. This is normal. The real question is this: what are you going to do about it? I’ve met (and you have to) countless older couples seemingly tolerating each other, and sometimes they don’t even try to hide their bubbling contempt for each other. I don’t want to be that way. My advice, admittedly iffy and unprofessional, is this: have it out. Talk about, even disagree about, how your spouse is controlling details that are completely unimportant (or, if you are me, how you CAN’T STAND that certain small details which, in your mind, dictate the rotation of the Earth, remain unattended). Note to self: discuss balancing the checking account for the ten days I am overseas. 

We’ve always operated under the belief that our children should see us disagree (not be disrespectful to each other, though we’re not perfect and that has happened, more so as a result of my words than his). But our children should see us disagree and ultimately work out our disagreement after one person bends to accommodate the other. How else will they learn that disagreement between partners should not be the end of a relationship, or at the other extreme, the daily course of one’s life?

  1. Usually, when one spouse is “down,” the other is “up,” but when both are “down,” talk to a third party.

When I was on the proverbial ledge, Eric was almost always in a state of emotional health to talk me in and kindly advise how silly I was being. But sometimes life events get in the way of what I think is God’s gift to couples-that when one is not well, the other is well enough to carry the burden. When both are emotionally unwell for a period of time, talk to a third party, preferably a neutral one. I firmly believe that counseling is for those who have the courage to be well. The weak-minded do not seek counseling as they should. We’ve done couples counseling once for a period of months, and it was a very good experience.

Christian readers may wonder, “Should this counselor be a Christian?” My response: maybe. We actually went to a Jewish counselor and she was a great fit for us. There was the commonality of the Judeo-Christian belief system in our favor, I guess, but I’m not sure that was the biggest factor. However, if having a Christian counselor is important to you, email me. I know some good ones.

  1. If you have children, make your finances an open book.

I guess I should back up from this and say first that if you and your spouse don’t have an open book policy on finances with each other, you must start there. Our biggest marital strife was over finances, how we handled them, and how we didn’t always disclose everything to the other spouse. After we got our financial house in order about fifteen years ago, we worked hard at full disclosure. When our children became old enough to understand the concept of money, we did two things:

  • We required that they, like us, give away 10% and save 10% of what they received, and they could do what they wanted with the rest (within reason).
  • When our oldest was in middle school, we started holding open family meetings where our income, giving, savings and spending were discussed.

Yep, you read that right. Our kids know what we make, how much we have saved for retirement, what is owed on our mortgage, and how much (little, as it turns out) we managed to save for their college education. They see us discuss what we can spend money on and even disagree about that. They have seen us debate how much we should give away.

They were counseled that not all families operate this way, and that regardless of how other families operate, it is not appropriate to ask your friends’ parents how much they make or how much money is in their friends’ 529 accounts. But they know in our house, there are no money secrets.

We learned this the hard (the very hard) way. We want them to benefit from those lessons.

I’m one flawed person with some marriage thoughts. There are many more out there. Please comment: What marriage advice do you have that I missed?

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