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  • Marriage & Money: Be a Team

    A friend of mine is going through a difficult time right now – her marriage is on the rocks, and while there are many reasons why, the big one that comes out every time we talk is money and the fact that she and her husband have lived well beyond their means for years at this point.

    One thing that strikes me is that it’s impossible for them to tackle their financial problems right now because they’re not doing anything together. And I realized that all of the “we did it” stories I’ve read about couples who’ve achieved financial success have one thing in common: They did it together.

    That’s certainly true in my own life. When I wrote about becoming debt-free except for the mortgage, I used the word “we” to describe the steps we took. And while I mostly handle the day-to-day money management for our household, we make decisions together. For example:

    We agree to live beneath our means so we can save money.

    We discuss decisions that involve spending larger amounts of money, like the kids’ summer camp.

    We set priorities together, and work toward a mutual goal, such as paying for private school.

    In the last few years, my husband and I have paid off all of our non-mortgage debt, established a comfortable emergency fund, and positioned ourselves so that I could take a huge pay cut to work from home. None of these goals could have been achieved if we weren’t on the same page, working as a team toward the same goal.

    So the lesson of the day is: Your family’s financial success requires everyone to work together as a team.

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    The effects of long-term marriage

    I realized something today: I’ve been married a long time.

    I came to this realization while watching Glee. The show is about a high school Spanish teacher, Will Schuester, who brings together a group of outcasts plus the football team’s star player in the school’s Glee Club. I love the way the football player comes to embrace his musical side, and the performances in the show are great.

    But there are other storylines, in particular the difficulties in Will’s marriage. His wife, Teri, is extremely unlikeable – she’s materialistic and superficial and keeps trying to get Will to become an accountant because it’ll mean more money, even though he loves teaching. The opposite of Teri is Emma, a fellow teacher who has a crush on Will, admires his efforts with Glee Club, and encourages him to follow his heart.

    In years past, I would have rooted for Will to come to his senses, realize that he’s meant to be with Emma, and cheered as he dumped Teri. But not anymore.

    I look at Teri and think that Will needs to help her be more fulfilled. If she’s not willing to examine why she’s so shallow and unhappy, then by all means, he should leave her. But there’s a reason he fell in love with her and part of his responsibility as a husband is to help her be happy.

    That sort of partnership is not something I really understood before I was married, and probably not even during the first few years of marriage too. But now I have too much respect for the institution of marriage to think that it should be abandoned without full effort on the part of both parties. I would love it if the show’s writers and producers don’t follow the obvious path and instead nurture the Schuesters’ marriage back to health. That would be a true happy ending.

    Little Things Matter, But Not As Much As The Big Ones

    No matter how many little things you do to keep your marriage healthy, they can’t replace the big ones. Here are some big ones that I think are important:

    • Expect the best from your partner. I remind myself that the reason Marc hasn’t done the dishes isn’t because he thinks it’s my job, it’s because he’s genuinely forgotten about it.
    • Don’t set your partner up to fail. For example, I was doing the dishes this morning and caught myself hoping/expecting Marc would walk in and say, “I’ll do those.” If I want something, I should ask instead of getting angry at him for not reading my mind.
    • When having a heated discussion, keep the focus on the actual problem. Discuss the dishes, not all the things that are bothering you. If there’s a bigger underlying problem – for example, you feel the dishes are a sign that you’re being neglected – be upfront about it, instead of pretending you’re just upset about the dishes.
    • Another thing to keep in mind when arguing: don’t bring up the past without a very good reason. Grudges can lead to heart attacks and kill you.
    • Communicate even if you’re afraid of the answer. This goes with the first tip, in that you should try to believe your partner is going to respond in a loving way to your feelings.

    Mommy-Daddy Time

    One of my girlfriends went to a breastfeeding support group meeting and mentioned that she was a little worried about her milk supply. The others suggested that she bring her son into bed with her so he could nurse throughout the night, but my friend said she was reluctant because she wanted “Mommy-Daddy time.” The group looked at her askance – how dare she put her relationship with her husband first?

    Well, she and I aren’t the only ones who think it’s important to continue to nurture your marriage after the birth of a child. Before our son was born, I read The Girlfriends’ Guide to Surviving the First Year of Motherhood by Vicki Iovine, and found myself agreeing with her on the importance of being courteous to my husband when I felt like screaming, and nodding when she pointed out that it was my husband I would be spending the rest of my life with, not my baby.

    It isn’t easy making my marriage a priority, but my husband and I both try to make time each day to catch up and to cuddle. We are best friends, and we are bound and determined to stay that way. And if takes our son sleeping in his own crib and not in our bed to do that, then that’s how it’s going to be.