“Maintenance” is not a word you commonly hear about marriage. It’s so unromantic. It’s so mechanical. So dry.
“Maintenance” is a word your hear about taking care of cars. Like “change your oil every 3,000 miles or 3 months.”
To the degree that maintenance is taking care of things that are important to us, based on time (3 months) or triggers (3,000 miles), “maintenance” applied to marriage should be a very romantic idea. If marriage is important to us, then we will work to maintain it at a certain level of health – and improve its health if possible.
Just as you maintain your car to avoid the engine seizing up, you should maintain your marriage to avoid your marriage stalling. Why do some people take better care of their car than their marriage?
Sometimes in a post like this it is popular to say that there are X number of leading causes for divorce. The truth is that researchers and demographers can’t agree what is the leading cause for divorce. Is it years of small wounds or is it one major wound? How do you tell the difference from a statistical level? You don’t.
Every divorce has layers of pain in it. Likewise, every healthy marriage has layers of protection in it. Here are a few layers worth protecting, and some tools to help you do it.
I have organized these in what I think of as an upside-down pyramid. The most frequent but least important fights first, and the least frequent but most important fights last.
To fit the “maintenance” metaphor, you should aim for regular check ins with your spouse about how each of these areas are doing. I suggest at least the following:
How often you need to have each of those discussions will be influenced by the level of stability or chaos in your current phase of life.
Money fights are actually value fights. Do you value the future or the present? If you value the future, you’re a saver. If you value the present, you’re a spender. Both have benefits and both have problems. It is usually the case that opposites attract (during dating anyway), then opposites agitate (once the honeymoon is over).
Remember that your spouse is not wrong, just different. (I owe Norm for that one). Do your best to play to each other’s strengths rather than drowning in each other’s weaknesses.
The economy is a moving object. Which makes careers and jobs moving targets. To make a good career choice for yourself, you need to know three things:
To make a good career choice in the context of marriage, you need to know the same three things for your spouse, plus how the two of you fit together. It’s that last part, how the two of you fit together in terms of your career, that can cause conflict in roles and expectations.
Who works to bring home the bacon? Who stays home with the kids? Do both work? Do both share in the chores? Who takes the garbage out and mows the lawn? Who cooks and does laundry? Who disciplines the kids? Do you have a date night? How often is it?
Notice that I am posing questions, not answers. The answers depend on the two people involved, their individual maturity, their maturity as a couple, and the present challenges they are facing together. Even answering the worldview question, “Are you egalitarian or traditional?” doesn’t steer your answers to the above questions as much as you might think (there is a third option by the way, complementarian).
Regardless of how you answer those questions, be sure that both of you have made your expectations clear. Once you can agree on reasonable expectations, there are numerous apps and other tools to help you communicate the nuts and bolts (just one app suggestion below).
I can’t seem to decide whether marriage or parenting is the hotter crucible for personal growth. Both present challenges to our individual maturity. Whether the main challenge is handling discipline, passing on values, or protecting your children from dumb choices, parenting is hard.
Some people tend to read “intimacy” as a tasteful euphemism for sex. But there is a whole lot more to intimacy than just sex. There is intimacy on an emotional level (the premise of the first book listed below). There is intimacy on a spiritual level. And there is intimacy on a physical level.
There is a metaphor about this part of marriage that is just as true as it is cheezy. You, your spouse, and God are points on a triangle; the closer you both get to God, the closer you get to each other. Cheezy. True.
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