The Marriage Notebook

Ok, so this post has little to do with confidence, but it seems a lot of people I know are recently married or engaged. My wife and I tied the knot nearly 16 months ago and, while we obviously can’t speak yet about how to keep the fire alive or have long-term happiness, we can talk about how to get through that first year much more easily. Many count their first year of marriage as the hardest, especially those who don’t live together before getting married.

Knowing this, I had an idea that really helped Leah and I quite a bit. It’s called the Marriage Notebook. What you do is buy a notebook and write down important areas or areas that will see a lot of change when you get married. A lot of people go into marriage thinking that because they get along well after being together a few hours every day, they’ll get along being together a lot more. It can be true, but many couples have at least one surprise waiting for them, and these surprises can easily lead to fights.

For example, Leah’s parents got pregnant with her on their honeymoon, so Leah grew up thinking that as soon as you got married, you started having kids. I’d wanted to wait three years before trying. There’d have been a lot of tension if we’d gotten to our honeymoon and she wanted to get pregnant, then heard how long I wanted to wait. By talking this out before we got married, we were able to get past each other’s expectations and our own and settle on waiting two years. No fights, no arguing, no hurt feelings or huge disappointments – just a simple compromise that suits us both.

Our notebook included 17 categories:

1. Spiritual walk
2. Finances
3. Children
4. Chores
5. Entertainment
6. Privacy (what we can say to others about our marriage and to whom)
7. Health
8. Rules of warfare (for arguing)
9. Family relations / holidays
10. Sex (frequency and what is / is not allowed. You don’t want to go in expecting it three times a day for the first few months while the other person is thinking twice a day during the honeymoon, then four times a week after that.)
11. General habits / cleanliness (so you can avoid nagging about leaving underwear on the floor or whether the toilet paper goes over or under)
12. Intellectual / personal growth
13. Work-life balance
14. Travel / vacations
15. Decision Management (what happens when we disagree and there is no possibility for compromise. Who makes the final decision? How should the other person respond, especially if the decision turns out poorly?)
16. Home Life (pets, decor, inviting friends over, etc.)
17. Bucket List

Naturally, your list doesn’t have to mirror ours, but I’d strongly recommend #1-4, 6, 8, and 10. For all of these, we sat down together and talked about what our expectations were. We recognized that some expectations existed because that’s what our parents did and we did our best to disregard those and instead think about what we wanted for ourselves and thought was right. We didn’t want our parents’ marriages; we wanted our own. Sometimes, what we wanted was what our parents had, but more often, we were modifying certain things to better suit our personalities and needs.

We tried to go pretty deep here, too. Our page for kids became four pages, as we discussed not just how many we wanted and when, but whether we’d put them in home, private, or public school; penalties for certain behaviors; ages at which we thought certain things, such as water baptism, were appropriate; and much more. We’re not locked into these rules, but we have guidelines we’ve already agreed on, which not only takes out most surprises, but strengthens our feeling of being on the same team.

Make compromises both of you can live with. Be sensitive to the other’s feelings and upbringing (knowing that some beliefs about marriage will be deeply ingrained) and remember that you’re on the same team. Know that going through this will likely take a few weeks. If a topic gets into a heated disagreement, you can always put it away and go back to it later. It’s much better to discuss it before it actually matters than try to hash it out when a decision really has to be made.

I’ll talk about rules for warfare and decision making more tomorrow.

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