Marriage is great, but marriage is hard!
The decisions you make as newlyweds sets the pattern for the rest of your marriage. To put things simply:
- You can start on the right path and avoid large amounts of conflict
- You can start on the wrong path and have to make very painful course corrections
- You can head so far down a bad path that there are no good options
I understand that not all marriages start at the same age, stage of life, and in the same circumstances. So, as I write this, I’m thinking about a number of my former students who are currently engaged, soon to be engaged, or already married. They have no kids. They’re in their 20’s, and they’re in the process of starting their lives as independent adults. If that’s not you, some points won’t relate to you.
I don’t actually want you to wait until you’re married to get on the same page on these subjects. You should talk about them when you’re dating, and dig in EXTREMELY deep as soon as you’re engaged. You could be starting off in big trouble if you’re not talking about kids, boundaries, and money until after you’re married.
You Must Get on the Same Page With Money
Money fights are the leading cause of divorce in America. You can do a quick google search for “Money and Divorce” and you’ll find countless articles, studies and statistics confirming this. Even Huffington Post did an article on money fights early in marriage being a huge predictor of divorce.
- If one (or both) of you have secret debt…
- If one of you loves to spend and one of you only saves…
- If one of you hates debt and one of you never found a debt you didn’t love…
I’m personally a Dave Ramsey guy. He hates debt, avoids get rich schemes, and requires spouses to work together on their finances. His primary course for church settings is called Financial Peace University (which I recommend to all married couples). The key word to his system is “PEACE.” If you have no debt, no car payments, and no student loans and you DO have an emergency fund, you don’t have to live in constant fear of losing your job. If you’re living paycheck to paycheck with mounds of debt, the idea of losing your job is terrifying; there is no peace.
He’s my preferred option, but his ultra-conversative stances and somewhat abrasive nature may not be for you. The key thing is to get on the same page. Talk about money. Agree about what you will and won’t do.
Financial Peace University is a bit pricey, but it’s well worth it. If you want to get an idea about what he’s about via a less costly option, check out this book by him.
You Must Talk About Your Expectations
- The husband takes out the trash
- The wife does the dishes
- The house will be tidied up by the end of every day
- The lawn will be mowed weekly
- The wife will become a stay at home mom will children arrive
- The wife will keep working a part time job while raising the kids
- We will have two restaurant date nights every week
- We will visit my family every single week
I can keep going on and on. I’m not saying you should have any of those, but each person enters a marriage with a set of expectations. You must put your expectations on the table. Some of your expectations are unreasonable for your spouse, and some are unreasonable for yourself.
You Must Set Boundaries
- I won’t eat meals with someone of the opposite sex
- I won’t talk with my ex-girlfriends on Facebook without telling my spouse
- I will let me know where you’re at
- I won’t spend over $150 without telling my spouse
The most popular blog I have written was on boundaries:
You Must Research Where You’ll Live
This one might be a personal one for me, but you really need to be careful about where you live. In our first two years of marriage, we made two big mistakes with where we lived:
- We moved into an apartment in a dangerous neighborhood without realizing it
- We bought a house a year too soon
There was a bit of drama surrounding where we would live when we got married. The end result was that we found an apartment we liked, near my school, and the price was right. The only problem…it was in one of the shadiest neighborhoods in all of Columbia, South Carolina. Six months after we moved in, there was a DRUG RELATED KNIFE KILLING across the street from our apartment. Then, a week before our first anniversary, our apartment was broken into. With just a small amount more research, we would have realized that the reason the price was right was because the location was wrong.
Nine months later, we’d moved back to Texas, and we got the house buying bug. The only problem was that we hadn’t really locked in our job situations yet. So, we ended up buying a great house in the wrong part of town. We enjoyed that house but, after two years, it became very obvious that we needed to move. If we’d simply waited a year, we could have avoided all of the consequences of moving so often.
and MAKE SURE TO GET RENTER’S OR HOME OWNER’S INSURANCE!
You Must Start Saving For Retirement Now
You may not be a money nerd, but you need to understand the power of compound interest. I’m not a money guy, so I can’t do it justice. You can do a Google search to get a proper definition. But, I’ll just show you the power of compound interest:
If you save $2,000 per year at a 10% rate of return and retire at 65…
If you start at 22, you will have contributed $86,000 and you will have $1,300,000
If you start at 32, you will have contributed $66,000 and you will have $488,000
If you start at 42, you will have contributed $43,000 and you will have $174,000
You Must Keep Dating Each Other
When you’re trying to woo someone to yourself, you naturally put your best foot forward daily. You fight the worst aspects of your personality, and you play up the more charming aspects. Since you must win their affection, you fight for the romance.
Unfortunately, it’s far too easy to view the wedding as the finish line. HUGE MISTAKE! As long as you’re married, there is no finish line! You must keep fighting the fight for their affection.
When you live together, and share a bed, and see each other every single day, it’s so easy to passively enjoy one another. You’re together. You’re watching a TV show together, but that isn’t how you pursue one another.
We don’t drift towards each other. We drift apart. Don’t allow ANY drifting to occur. Keep moving towards one another.
If you haven’t established a pattern of pursuing one another, it’s going to get very difficult to start when kids arrive.
BONUS MUST | You Must Live On One Income
I know this isn’t possible in all situations, but I’m a proponent of the stay-at-home mom. I want a Chandler raising my kids. I want someone with my values spending hours and hours with them during their formative years. But, I understand that some people can’t do this, and some people choose not to do this. Therefore, we’ll call this our bonus MUST.
If you want to have a stay at home mom scenario, you must LIVE on one income.
To be honest, someone gave me this advice when I was a newlywed, and we didn’t do a great job of following it. The ingredients of our early years were pretty strange. I didn’t have full time employment until we’d been married for over two years. So, by default we followed this advice, but it wasn’t really an intentional decision.
Stop and consider: you want to have a stay at home mom, eventually you will be forced to live off of one income. If you accustom yourselves to having two people living off two full-time incomes, you will have some shell-shock when suddenly you’re three people living off of one income.
What if, while you had two full-time incomes, you lived off of one and used the other to…
- Pay off all credit card debt
- Pay off all student loans
- Pay off all car payments
- Save up an emergency fund
- Save up to pay cash for your next car
- Save up a down payment for a house