Q. We've worked hard to share everything equally as husband and wife. We split household chores and divvy up our money and expenditures. We've been married a little over a year now, and our fifty-fifty plan causes more problems than pleasure. Any suggestions?
Dana B., Buffalo, New York
A. Scorekeeping is for athletic contests not marriages. Like you, many couples decide that marriage should be a fifty-fifty proposition, and they fall into the habit of tallying up each other's contributions. They split resources and count privileges. They erroneously believe that keeping track of who gets what, does what, and has what can help them achieve a more equal share in the costs and the benefits of running a home.
The truth is that scorekeeping destroys emotional intimacy because it is a subtle way of drawing marital battle lines. Instead of making you equal in all things, you may decide at the outset to have a fifty-fifty marriage because you want to be equal in all things. You will end up unhappy marital accountants who are more concerned that you haven't gotten ripped off than that your marriage is growing.
Regardless of how it gets started, scorekeeping in marriage generally isn't just a division of labor; it's about power, feeling loved and appreciated, and other emotional issues. Both partners eventually feel that they are getting cheated out of their presumed rights for their portions, their privileges. It's far better to give one another the benefit of the doubt and talk about what you feel and need. If you feel like your spouse is spending more money on clothes than you are, talk about it. There may be a pretty good reason for that expense. And if there isn't, your discussion can serve as the impetus for reigning it in. The point is that you can build a happier marriage by putting away your score card and talking about your feelings and needs.
When my husband and I have a fight, I sometimes talk to one of my girlfriends about it. This makes him even more upset. I can see how he might feel betrayed if I was doing it to hurt him, but I'm not. He thinks it's still wrong. Is it?
Jo V., Muskegon, Michigan
A. One of the biggest mistakes we see newly married couples making has to do with talking to others about their partner's flaws and foibles. Few things will sabotage your capacity to be a team more severely than this. Your telling a friend about last night's fight may seem relatively harmless, but it can actually hurt your marriage.
Loyalty is built on being true. It is built on earning another's confidence. When you become a telltale spouse, you lose loyalty. You fracture any confidence your spouse has in you. Are we saying never talk to others about your marriage or your partner? Absolutely not. But we are saying watch what you say.
Try focusing on your feelings, not your complaints, if you need help from a friend or family member in handling a marriage situation. Then you are more likely to stay clear of the danger zone. "I feel so helpless when he gets upset at himself," carries a very different tone than "I can't believe how stupid he can be sometimes." It may seem like a fine line, but the messages are very different. The first conveys a desire to process your thoughts and feelings while the latter message conveys a desire to gossip and whine.
It basically comes down to knowing the difference between seeking support and help from somebody outside the relationship versus venting your feelings because you are complaining. And venting is almost always unhealthy for your marriage and damaging to your sense of loyalty to each other. If you find yourself wanting to vent, that's a pretty clear sign that you should only be talking to your spouse about it. And if you do, your loyalty toward one another will stay intact and even grow.
I have really enjoyed getting to know my in-laws. They are sweet people and I appreciate all their kindness, but sometimes they become so involved in our lives—so parental—that it drives me nuts. What can I do when my in-laws smother us?
Barb C., Chino, CA
A. Winston Churchill's "darling Clementine" learned early on that she had married not just her husband but his strong-willed mother as well. When she and Winston returned from their honeymoon, the young bride discovered that Lady Randolph Churchill had completely redecorated the couple's new home in a style far fancier than Clementine had planned.
Sounds like you can relate to Clementine—and you're not alone. Smother ing in-laws affect a significant number of marriages.
One of the most common reasons some in-laws smother a marriage is because they feel they have a right to. This idea often stems from a "string" that keeps them tightly tied to you. For some couples this string is financial support or another form of indebtedness such as child care. So if you are feeling smothered, it may be because you and your husband haven't cut yourselves off.
Another important consideration is setting boundaries with your domineering in-laws. When they intrude, speak up. Let them know that you need some private time or space. Be polite but assertive. Don't feel obligated to offer explanations or apologize for your needs. Simply state your request and stick to it. If, for example, they are expecting you to be at their home for Thanksgiving, never asking you for your input on the decision, you might say, "We have discussed it and decided together that this year we're celebrating Thanksgiving in our own home. You are welcome to join us if you wish." This kind of decision lets your in-laws know that they cannot make up your mind for you, and it still allows them to be included in your life.
As you set your boundaries with in-laws, take care not to throw out the good with the bad. Consider the good they bring to your relationship. Appreciate and respect them for who they are. As you keep an eye out for the good it will help you swallow the bad more easily.
Leslie Parrott, Ed.D. and Les Parrott, Ph. D., are co-directors of the Center for Relationship Development at Seattle Pacific University and the authors of Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts, Becoming Soul Mates, and Relationships (all published by Zondervan). Visit Les and Leslie at www.RealRelationships.com.
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