I remember my first holiday experience with John’s family shortly after we first got married, because it was probably the first times my expectations of marriage were met with the reality of marriage. Sitting around the quiet Thanksgiving table with just a handful of immediate family was totally not what I was used to. At my Thanksgiving celebrations, there is no such thing as quiet, or dining room tables for that matter—just one, long, loud and crazy buffet line. Thanksgiving with his family was quiet, intimate and more relaxed than anything I’d ever experienced.
It was hard for me to adjust. I remember escaping upstairs during our first holiday together as a married couple and letting out a few tears in the middle of a lifestyle difference I was learning to adapt to.
No matter what aspect of lifestyle we’re talking about (social life, hobbies, preferences, activity levels, timeliness, cleanliness and so on), these differences can easily cause hardships in a relationship because of the nature of two different people learning to become one. But then again, they also have the power to connect two people in an intimate way. John and I have learned to see the extremes of the different families we come from and have decided to create a new family culture with a balance of social time and family time that works for us.
For some couples, particularly those who come from a more traditional perspective, managing gender roles in marriage can come with major conflict. I counseled a couple for whom this became a major issue about two years into their marriage. He was a hardworking country boy who wanted to provide for his wife and family. She was a talented, driven entrepreneur who wanted to take her business to the next level. But eventually his desire for a traditional family setting (the husband works while the wife stays home and takes care of the kids) clashed with her desire to maximize her talents and grow her business. After a few short counseling sessions, in which neither of them were willing to pursue a middle ground or sacrifice in any way, they decided to divorce.
It’s heartbreaking when something such as this proves to be the breaking point in a marriage relationship. But this doesn’t have to be the case for every marriage. There is always a middle ground that can be found for those who are willing to choose marriage versus choosing tradition. I’m happy to say that I am seeing this topic become less and less of an issue in our generation today.
Dealing With Extended Family
When you choose a spouse, you get their whole family as well. If you’re single, it’s important to be prepared for this reality and learn as much as you possibly can about the family before you become one of them. And for those of us who are married, it’s important to continually prioritize our marriages by setting boundaries with our extended family that simultaneously encourage relationship and reduce conflict.
I know one young man who is currently dealing with the verbal “stings” his mother-in-law tends to throw his way through subtle criticism. But rather than allow that interaction to destroy their marriage, he and his wife have learned to come together, take each other’s side, and set boundaries for the type of interactions they choose to engage with her. We need to learn to choose marriage for our relationships to come out stronger.
You’re probably not surprised by this answer, because we all hear the phrase “financial stress is one of the leading causes of divorce” thrown around. Whether we’re wired to spend or to save, our differences can cause serious stress.
I met with a young man who had grown up in a home where there was financial instability and strain. He came to be a firm believer in working hard and saving wisely. His girlfriend, though, was on the opposite side of the spending spectrum. She wanted to enjoy life by spending along the way. As you can imagine, these differences in financial assumptions and beliefs were going to eventually work their way into the reality check of their future marriage. I was proud to see two people who could identify and begin working through these assumptions before they entered marriage.
I firmly believe the more we know about marriage, the better we’ll do Knowledge equips us with understanding and understanding sets us up for success. When we know what to expect along the journey of marriage and relationships, we’ll be much more likely to choose the right path and make the right choices along the way. Whether you are currently single or married, it’s important to prepare yourself for the realities of marriage by understanding that each of the six categories above will come with a set of obstacles in some way, shape or form; and then do your best to learn and prepare for those times.
Because the best remedy for dealing with our false expectations is by immersing ourselves with truth.
This article is an adapted excerpt from Debra’s new book, Choosing Marriage, and is used by permission. If you’re looking for practical ways to navigate the reality of sex, conflict, communication, personality, confession and oneness in marriage, pick up your copy today! Available May 1st wherever books are sold.
Debra Fileta is a Professional Counselor, national speaker, relationship expert and author of Choosing Marriage: Why It Has To Start With We > Me and True Love Dates: Your Indispensable Guide to Finding the Love of Your Life, where she writes candidly about love, sex, dating, relationships and marriage. She’s the creator of the True Love Dates Blog, reaching millions of people with the message that healthy people make healthy relationships! Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.