Janet Hogan, co-founder with partner Ralph of Botanica Weddings, shares the big issues every couple needs to be aware of, before they say “I do.”
Right now, quite understandably, all your focus is no doubt on your big day. But what I’d like to suggest is that you take 3 steps back and focus on your big life instead – the life you and your partner are going to share once the white dress is safely packed away and the reality of what it really means to be married sets in.
Masses of research tells us that the biggest problem facing any marriage is that many couples don’t put the relationship ahead of the individual. Their self-interest fails to be modified for the collective good, which is why 50% of first marriages fail, as do 67% of all second marriages and a staggering 74% of third marriages!
And as so many separated couples go on to lament years later, “If only we knew back then what we know now.”
So let’s fast track back to the future and share some home truths that might save you lots of heart ache in years to come.
According to University of Washington psychologist and researcher, Dr John Gottman, the scary bit about living the rest of your life with someone else is that you will have to work through at least 9 potentially irreconcilable differences, some of which are easy to adapt to, but any one of which could well end up being grounds for divorce, unless it’s addressed early on.
Here are the 10 most common conflict zones.
1. In laws and extended family.
I’ll never forget the day our oldest daughter Hayley was just hours old and our hospital room became the focus of an endless procession of rellies from my side of the family who couldn’t help but comment how much our amorphous mushroom coloured bundle looked exactly like me or Auntie Jess or Uncle Alf, and bore absolutely no resemblance to her father. Poor Ralph felt as comfortable as a guy with dreadlocks at a Mormon convention.
Extended family inevitably mean well but there will be times when you need to gently remind them that you and hubby now come first and you will not ever compromise your now primary relationship.
2. Balance between home and work.
I came from a very loving and supportive family but they really valued academic achievement overall and so part of me believed I had to earn their love through hard work. It’s a belief I carried to excess well into our marriage and so I would spend every evening slaving over my inbox when Ralph would have much preferred have me hanging around the kitchen joining him in a glass of wine while he cooked the family dinner (yes, a true metrosexual before the word had even been invented!)
What saved us was we always worked together on the same projects.
Where it becomes dangerous is when one of you spends hours, even days or weeks away from home, or so distracted you become emotionally disconnected. Suddenly, the person you once spent every second with becomes a stranger and you end up leading parallel lives.
If one of you must work away for extended stretches, address this now – how will you deal with the separation? If you’re the partner who’s away, don’t presume that also entitles you to be distant. Call your companion at least once a day. It’s usually harder to be the one stuck at home with the everyday than the one who’s experiencing new things, people and places.
How familiar does this sound? You say: “Babe, can I read you this funny article?” or “Hon, want to go out for dinner?” and your partner just keeps checking their facebook and replies with barely a grunt.
Communication is a two way street, and, like a game of ping pong, it’s those couples who understand that you have to keep hitting the ball back and forth to each other, by engaging in animated conversations and building a culture of responsiveness and appreciation, who have the best chance of staying together.
Girls, we all need to understand that most men are essentially, completely and unredeemably decadent; they have a totally different sex drive from us and unless we take this on board and openly discuss it with our partners, it’s going to come back and bite us on the bum. For most of us women, especially after we’ve had kids, sex becomes relatively under control, like a fun train ride stopping every now and again at a nice little station; in the case of many men, it remains a runaway train. In his version of a perfect world, little Mr Twinky would usually like to be acknowledged at least once a day. In fact a well known study by psychologist Roy Baumeister reveals that:
Wives consistently reported that they were quite satisfied with the amount of sex they had in their marriages, but men on average wished for about a 50 percent increase.
So before you get hurt and angry next time your mate oggles a cute blonde in a micro shorts with unforgivably long legs, remind yourself that for him it’s no different than you drooling over a piece of triple layer chocolate cake. The way I see it, it’s a lot more flattering that he still finds other women attractive but still only wants you, than he stays with you because you’re all he thinks he can get.
My advice: if he feels like it more often than you (and this is usually the imbalance which evolves once you start popping out kids) don’t just ignore the elephant’s trunk in the room and go on about how tired you are. See the humour in it and talk it through, get creative and find out ways to keep him from going stir crazy and wandering off into the arms of someone else
5. Personal habits and idiosyncracies.
If only he would just stop doing... (FILL IN THE BLANK.)
One thing your marriage isn’t is a licence to change your man.
And yet so many of us valiantly believe that no sooner has he said “I do” than we start saying “You mustn’t.” We try to mould him into the flawless partner of our dreams. The truth is, our perfection lies in our flaws. Unless he’s doing something which seriously endangers your health (like causing you to fall into the toilet bowl in the middle of the night because he keeps leaving the seat up) learn to love him for who he is.
If whatever he is doing is still annoying the hell out of you, flip it around. Look for the good in it. If, for instance, you like to meticulously roll up the tube of toothpaste from the bottom and he prefers to mangle it in the middle, rather than chuck a wobbly every time you walk into the bathroom, ask yourself, where’s the positive in this? (How about…. you married a man who brushes his teeth!)
Just leave criticism and judgment outside (which is where I’ve finally learnt to leave my dirty shoes.)
6. Sharing household responsibilities
I am a product of the 80s, the feminist decade that had all us women believe that doing anything vaguely domestic was decidedly beneath us. I could no sooner prepare a 3 course dinner party or select a washing machine cycle than stand on my head and play the ukele. So Ralph really got the short end of the chop stick in our relationship. The thing is, nowadays traditional roles have been turned inside out and upside down.
Sharing the work at home fairly is down to negotiation, so best to discuss and delegate all those domestic molehills before they become a mountain of laundry and unpaid bills.
And do put your hand up for those jobs you are better suited to. If the feminist in you would rather rewire a lamp than truss up a turkey, then go for it, sister!
7. Outside friendships
This falls into the same category as in-laws and extended family. There’s your inner circle – your new family - and then the outer circle. The danger is when friends start to insinuate themselves into your inner circle, suddenly the precious bond between you and your significant other is stretched, often to breaking point. Create boundaries about what is and isn’t acceptable. Having his mates around for a few tinnies in front of the footy grand final may be ok, but if he then invites them to stay for some KFC when you’d planned a romantic dinner for just the two of you, it’s probably not.
If there’s one golden rule I’ve learnt to live and love by, if you always put your partner ahead of your friends, they will like them more and encourage you to have more and more to do with them.
8. Political views
Having different political or religious views may seem harmless enough, but like the classic iceberg, it’s the tip that is often a clue that something much more worrisome lurks beneath. And you need to know before you marry how intractable or inflexible each of you really is.
You may find his conservative leanings, for instance, indicate someone who is fearful of change. How many of you would cope if he thinks women should be stay at home mums and only the man should be the bread winner. How will he react to your faith if he doesn’t believe? (Remember Tom and Nicole…?)
None of these things is right or wrong, they’re simply opinions, but if you have too many differing ones, you could eventually wonder what attracted you to each other in the first place.
Have you ever really compared your values? Most often these are assumed or glossed over but if you’re not sure, take a test and see where you differences lie. Apart from anything else, it’s a lot of fun to do.
9. Money and debt
Money – losing it, mismanaging it or not having enough of it - is the number one cause of conflict in a marriage. And yet when you think about it, we tend to be attracted to someone who is our opposite, (if you married someone just like you, one of you would be unnecessary, right?) So chances are you will have completely differing points of view when it comes to managing your finances.
I was fascinated when I met Ralph to discover his complete disregard for money. He threw all his takings from his restaurant into a box under his bed and had no idea how much was there. He’d simply stuff cash into his wallet, like used tissues in the waste bin. I always took out his notes and carefully smoothed them out, wondering why he seemed to have so little respect for these hard earned dollars. Of course we inherit our attitude to money from our parents, and his mother was always referring to it as “dirty” - and on the verge of bankruptcy accordingly. Little wonder Ralph had an attitude of reckless financial abandon, verging on contempt.
In the same way we have different behaviour profiles, eg extrovert vs introvert; cautious vs impulsive, we also have different money profiles: amasser, hoarder, spender, avoider, money monk. Two people who have differing profiles are bound to lock horns but in fact this point of difference could be the very thing that makes yours a winning combination. Better for a spender to be married to a hoarder than a fellow spender. Two spenders may have lots of fun forking out on lavish gifts, but who’s checking the bank balance at the end of the day?
Best to enter your marriage as open and aware as possible about each other’s fiscal foibles before they escalate into major problems. A good place to start is to take an online quiz and see just how “money compatible” you are.
10. Disciplining children
Remember “The Slap”, the book that became a movie that had the whole of Australia up in arms? The very subject of disciplining children carries with it such heightened emotions: the veiled frustration of the father; the overly protective mother…negotiating your way through this minefield of mixed messages is like watching a Greek tragedy unfold.
My personal belief is deal with your child, as you would your partner or yourself, only ever out of love, never anger or resentment.
That means caring enough to set boundaries, being consistent, and leading by example. And whatever you do, and this is probably the key to growing happy children, don’t ever become the critical voice that will haunt your child in years to come.
I will leave the last word on having a great marriage to Arielle Ford, author of “Turn Your Mate Into Your Soul Mate.” She and her husband, Brian, use code names when they start acting annoying or annoyed with one another. Apparently, they’ve had many heated moments when this strategy has worked extremely well.
After he’s called me Sheila or I’ve called him Wayne, we usually look at each other and laugh, because we’ve recognized we’ve both learned behaviours that shoot us into orbit.
Which reminds me, I must go and see what Vera Vague, erm, sorry, Ralph, is up to. If he’s gone and bought more cacti, there’s going to be hell to pay.