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In my years as a psychologist and advice columnist, I've seen a lot of individuals in unhappy marriages. In some of these cases, there are particular crises that have led to the strains: the loss of a loved one, difficulties with child-rearing, unexpected health problems or financial setbacks. But in other cases, the early warnings of potential friction were there all along, in the form of personality conflicts or day-to-day incompatibility.
If you are thinking of committing for life — or even just living together — it may be very helpful to contemplate some of the issues that can frequently drive a wedge in long-term relationships. Often, in the throes of passionate romantic love , it is hard to envision that the daily, unromantic grind "Why do you always use up the last of the coffee without letting me know? Below are some issues that you may not have thought about, but you must, before committing to someone.
None of these should be seen as deal-breakers. After all, love itself and even commitment can provide motivation to work through virtually anything. But the more that you can anticipate friction beforehand, the more proactively you can work to resolve it and have a plan for how to keep it from wrecking your relationship. Don't put on blinders when it comes to compatibility. Even the deepest love can't prevent certain conflicts over decades of living together: It's how you anticipate those conflicts and how you're willing to work on them that will determine whether your marriage can go the distance.
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The irony of passionate romantic love is sometimes the qualities that are most different from us are the very things that can draw us most intensely to a partner. Maybe his spontaneity is exciting, since you tend to live by an itinerary. Maybe her willingness to ditch responsibilities for a mental health day is refreshing, when you've typically worked even when you have the flu. From different spending styles to different social lives to vastly different sleep schedules, careers, or hobbies, the idea of someone being opposite from us is sometimes particularly attractive in its novelty and exoticism.
But eventually, our own habits may remain what we're most comfortable with — and if our partner's style continues to be quite different, what used to be enticing may turn downright annoying. What's your partner like when they're stuck in traffic?
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When they've had a bad performance review? When they haven't had enough sleep, when their parent has a health scare, when they get an exorbitant parking ticket, or when they have to call customer service for a defective product? Often the rosy period of early romance has everyone restraining themselves to be on their best behavior. This makes the early romance sweeter, of course, but it denies us a glimpse into who they are when they're under pressure. And decades of marriage and life, in general, can bring plenty of pressure.
Even more important is how the two of you handle stress together — do you retreat and isolate, or connect to resolve things as a team? What is my partner's relationship with drugs , alcohol, and gambling? Sure, problems with substance abuse and gambling can crop up unexpectedly in a marriage, as we sometimes see when new casinos come to town. But all too often, the signs of potential problems with alcoholism or addiction were there all along but were willfully not talked about or even acknowledged — perhaps out of fear or denial.
Or maybe what seems reasonable for a young, childless couple in terms of partying and drinking no longer seems reasonable with two toddlers underfoot, and yet one partner can't seem to change their lifestyle. Take a hard look at your partner's — and your own — relationship with substances. As much as you might want to ignore potential problems, it is invariably true that the earlier they are addressed, the better chance there is that they can be dealt with successfully.
But, I would argue that getting along as roommates — though not sufficient for a marriage — is still vital and necessary. How well do you compromise about what the temperature should be? How do your sleep schedules work out? How do you resolve issues about cleanliness, decorating styles, chores, guests, pets , and food preparation?
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Who takes responsibility for the bills or finding a plumber when your toilet has leaked all over the place? Virtually everyone would acknowledge that opinions about whether or not to have kids should be openly discussed and clarified before getting married. But you may be surprised how often this becomes an issue anyway, because of one important and often overlooked phenomenon: People change. It's important not just to discuss your preferences, but to assess how much wiggle room you each have.
If each of you vaguely imagines having two children, that might sound like you're perfectly compatible on that score. But what if after one child, one of you absolutely wants to stop? What happens if infertility is an issue — how hard will you continue to try, and how do you feel about adoption? What happens if one person still has the itch for more children after the second one? What happens if one person unexpectedly wants to be a stay-at-home parent?
2. What one event, big or small, in the past year are you going to tell your grandchildren about?
It's important to dig deeper. Few people outline ground rules about how much "private business" should be spread to other friends and family when they are first dating. And this is a good thing, as keeping strong emotional intimacy with friends and family can provide a safety valve for those that are in a controlling relationship not to mention provide endless entertainment with stories of dating that are good, bad, or ugly.
But once married, lots of people's expectations change. Will you consider it a betrayal if your wife spills everything about your sexual intimacy problems to her best friend? Are you okay with a husband who asks his mother for marital advice? There is no right answer about how much to share with friends and family, but the more you are on the same page, the better off — and less blindsided — you will be.
Have you gotten in the habit of a certain type of arguing? Does one of you stonewall the other? Is one of you always the first to apologize? Does one person express their feelings and the other holds them in until resentment builds? Is one of you prone to yelling and getting it all out in the moment, while the other person wants space to cool down before talking things through? In general, the healthiest marriages have respectful and honest communication without game-playing, passive-aggressiveness, personal attacks, or power trips.
Examine your styles of handling conflicts and see if there is room for improvement. You need not experience rapturous admiration for your spouse's family though if you do, how lucky you are! What if your partner has a very conflicted relationship with her parents, but you find them hilarious and harmless? What if your husband wants to still spend two week's annual vacation with his brothers' families, and you can't stand their politics?
What role will your in-laws have in your potential children's lives? What happens as your spouse's parents age and need care? What happens if they need to borrow money — or instead they give you an amount that changes your dynamic?
Often, the planning of the wedding itself is the first arena where inter-family squabbles develop. Don't brush it off, but take it as an opportunity for practice. I cannot tell you how often I have worked with someone whose marriage is falling apart, and they say, "Well, she's always been kind of selfish, but I thought it would get better after having kids" or "He's never been a responsible person with money, but I figured once we owned a home he would grow up.
Think again. Maybe they will, but the motivation has to come from them, not you. And if you choose to marry someone, you must choose to take them as they are, end of story — without fooling yourself that there are conditions that will eventually be met. How compatible are we in our money styles, and how will we handle finances once married? I have written and spoken about money issues in relationships — and the conflicts they can cause — so much, because they seem to be among the very top ways that a marriage can be strained.
From different spending styles to how big a house to buy, from different attitudes about debt and "retail therapy " to hidden accounts, childhood baggage, and differing expectations about how much should be lent to friends and family and even how much to tip the refrigerator delivery guy, money conflicts can be killer to deal with. Money is often tied up with all kinds of emotional importance, and it can carry the weight of its association with everything from freedom to security to autonomy to power and status.
The more you talk about it, and the more honest you are with yourselves and each other about what you bring to the table in terms of your money attitudes and how they will be resolved, the better foundation you build in your marriage.
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It's not traditionally thought of as one of the hot buttons of marriage, and yet I see it causing conflict all the time. From big ways — he is used to four or five hours of golf on weekends, or she wants to continue to occasionally go on weekend getaways alone — to small ones — she needs 10 minutes of pre-coffee silence in the morning, or he likes to work out by himself, not with her.
There is a wide variance in how much time people need to themselves or with their friends. So, how well do your styles fit together? Big differences can be accommodated if there is respect and understanding and communication. But if it's never talked about, then two years into the marriage when he is still on his weekly guys' night out, and she is frustrated to be home alone with Netflix, because she always assumed he'd eventually give those nights up once he got married, that could spell resentment that could become serious.
Bickering over household chores once married has become a cliche, but it couldn't be more real for many couples. Unfortunately, even couples who have a comfortable division of responsibility pre-marriage can often be thrown into resentful conflicts once circumstances change: The addition of a baby, a change in a partner's job or commute, or a bigger house with new types of maintenance needed. I also see that in many heterosexual marriages, gender stereotypes when it comes to divvying up housework may gradually seep in after the wedding, even if they weren't there when the couple first lived together.
There will be conflicts over chores; count on it. But how will you continue to work on it? How well do you communicate about them?
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Will you be able to have an evolving dialogue that takes into account both people's preferences and annoyances in terms of divvying up responsibilities? And if one person falls into the role of the "default" parent the person who is always on top of the birthday cards and dentist appointments , are they okay with being that person? How stuck are we in each of our jobs, and what would happen if we got fired or wanted to leave? Layoffs, promotions, pay cuts, job transfers, firings, burnout , corporate mergers — they can all change a person's employment status in the blink of an eye.
The good life is almost always a function of good relationships, so if you really want to have an amazing year, you need to focus not just on self-improvement but also on improving your relationships, notes the Art of Simple. It's a great and, again, repeatedly scientifically verified point. So don't just ask yourself about your own goals, strengths, and weaknesses. Also devote some time to pondering what you can do to better support your most cherished relationships and strengthen your bonds. That's creepy, some might respond.
But imagining your funeral is actually a very powerful if not incredibly cheerful way to dig deep into the question of values -- what do you want to be your legacy? What are the most important things for you to accomplish here on earth? You could just ask yourself, "How do I want to be remembered?
One way to snake your way around your brain's many crafty justifications and obfuscations is to ask this question from author Brian Johnson. And knowing what you really want, deep down, can be the first step to pursuing it. If you're biggest hang-up really is money and time rather than fear , try asking yourself this variation of the question above.
A business coach friend once did this to me over dinner, and I was totally startled by what came out of my mouth. It might be just as revealing for you. Hurt, rage, and suppressed bitterness don't just hurt your relationship with whoever wronged you. They also siphon off your energy and hurt your chances of success in life. Do yourself a favor in the new year and forgive whatever grudges you've been holding onto. You've probably heard this truism before, but when is the last time you've really sat with it and observed how it makes you feel? If this old adage makes you uncomfortable -- if you find yourself resisting it with justifications and "Yes, but This question comes from a viral blog post by Elle Luna.
I've written about it before , but I think it deserves a re-airing for the new year. On the other hand, "must is who we are, what we believe, and what we do when we are alone with our truest, most authentic self. It's our instincts, our cravings, and longings, the things and places and ideas we burn for, the intuition that swells up from somewhere deep inside of us.
Which will take the reins in the next? What advice would your year-old self give your current self? What do you need to stop doing this year? How will you nurture them this year? What will people say about you at your funeral? If you were guaranteed to succeed, what would you do?