Advise me on marriage.
July 9, 2016 12:52 AM   Subscribe

We're women in our early thirties, non-religious and not planning to have kids. I'm divorced, she's never been married. What do we need to know before tying the knot?

My previous marriage ended due to unapologetic infidelity, which turned out to be a deal breaker for me. But that was some years ago. Now my current SO and I are considering the marriage track, sometime in the next 2-3 years.

I like to prep. What do I/we need to learn, understand, and build over the next few years in order to make this marriage a success? What's your secret? What warning signs should I be aware of?

I know that there's no way to keep someone from cheating so I'm not focused on that. I just want to know how a happy marriage works. None of our friends have been married long, and my parents are not a good example model.

I've been back reading old asks on the subject and it looks like no one has asked this in a while , so please lecture me!

Additionally, if you have any books or websites to suggest on the subject, that would be great. Most books I've looked at are very heterosexist, have weird gender stereotypes, and/or assume you are going to have kids.
posted by possibilityleft to Human Relations (9 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
Your question is so lovely, loving, and in depth. Blown away by your thoughtfulness. It's unusual, generally.

The David Richo How To Be An Adult series might be just your jam.
posted by jbenben at 1:17 AM on July 9, 2016 [3 favorites]


I know a couple who could be you in twenty years. They had a commitment ceremony nearly two decades ago and got legally married last year, though it was just a paperwork thing. They're in their fifties now.

The big drama in their marriage was when one of them got very sick and the other wasn't allowed spousal visits and all that awful stuff. They like to tell the story about how their families banded around them and how they hand wrote letters to each other every day, exchanged via the ill one's mother. Since we know that everyone's okay now, it's an incredibly sappy adorable story.

But the thing you can take away from it is that a marriage is more than just the two people who are married. I mean, the reason people are called in-laws is that we're supposed to treat them like blood relatives, it's just that their relationship is based on legality instead of genetics. Of course that's not all there is to it and it's vastly more complex than that, but if you're looking for something to work on and build with your partner over the next few years, you could do much worse than both of you forming strong relationships with each others' families. Chosen families, too.

The people we love are at least partially who they are because of the people they love. Getting to know them and care for them is all part of the marriage community commitment thing, and the effort you spend on this will be returned, either in small things over the years or big gestures during emergencies and rough patches.

Perhaps not so relevant to you because of the kids and het aspects, but my own parents will be having their 40th anniversary soon and they are ridiculously happy and comfortable in their marriage. Their marriage works like this: They are best friends, and they would almost always rather spend time with each other than with other people, but they also like to spend lots of time alone, so they respect that about each other too. They are both creative and make space and time for those endeavors, both together in group activities and alone. My parents have very different ways of coping with stress, loss, and fear. They've learned how to balance and support each others' coping methods, though this has taken a long time and is born of lots of trial and error. So, basically, they really really like each other, and they listen to what they're saying to each other, in words or other ways.
posted by Mizu at 2:45 AM on July 9, 2016 [8 favorites]


One of the biggest things is finance - you likely keep separate finances today, but regardless whether that continues into marriage or not, your spending habits, budgetary adherence, debt, and retirement savings will impact one another. Better understanding where you each are financially before tying the knot is not the sexiest topic, but heads a ton of problems off at the pass.

The second, and one we've done retroactively since getting married, is to discuss emotional labour and division of responsibility. Learning how to talk about not only who does the dishes, but also who does the planning, the maintenance of social relationships, and the caring for parents is really important. The default often leads to an uneven burden on one partner which can lead to a lot of burnout and resentment.

Finally - this one is going to sound silly, but it's not - learn how to be kinder in the moment with your partner. Learn how to say sorry if you do not know how already. The thing about making a commitment to another person that they are your person/people means you are building something big together. So many people get caught up in a partner who forgets things, or who does the same thing over and over that annoys you, or who you feel like you have to argue with just to be right - I have found it (as a cis male, so YMMV) valuable to think often about the importance of our marriage vs. the importance of whatever's got my goat at the moment. It's led to a lot more "sorry - I am over-responding here" on my part which has improved our marriage significantly.
posted by scrittore at 4:56 AM on July 9, 2016 [9 favorites]


We are late-thirties women who have been married for over two years/not quite two years (I tend to count from the social ceremony, she tends to count from the legal ceremony, mazel tov on not having to mess with that bullshit anymore), so I have some thoughts. Since you've already been married before, you may have already thought about this, and if you're cohabitating already, some of it may be on your radar, but here goes:

1) What do we do with the rest of our lives? Many of the long term couples I know that I haven't had kids have kind of... hit the skids, around year 10, and it's harder in some ways when you're queer. We have this cultural narrative for how we're supposed to do relationships (I love asking classes "So, who pays for the first date?" "The dude!" "Okay, what about for two women?" The queer students just sit back and giggle, watching everyone else fumble through that, because they're so used to having their cultural scaffolding in place to answer these questions that they're not sure what to say) and when you're missing even one part of that scaffolding, let alone two (queer, no kids), you have to roll your own game plan. Do you want to travel a lot? Do you want to teach kids to read? Do you want to be the best aunts event? What do you want the middle of your lives to be like? This is where, mid-life, I've seen a lot of couples (of all gender configurations) drift.

2) How do we want to take care of ourselves in old age? Research shows that the growing cadre of older GLBT adults in the U.S. is frightened about old age, and rightfully so (I have a lit review I can bust out if you want :) ). In a country where children are often your old age plan, and fewer of us have children, and where there's a lot of entrenched homophobia in the medical system... what is aging going to look like for us? Hopefully in 30-40 years when we're having to seriously look at long term care, a few decades of us as normalized relationships will help with the “will I be allowed to room with my spouse?” “Will I be allowed to make medical decisions?” fears, but still, growing old can be expensive. How do you guys plan on saving up for that? Again, what do you want to prioritize in retirement, even before you have to worry about heavy duty medical care - travel, being with family, hobbies? When do you want to retire? When do you need to start saving for that?

3) Day to day, how do we run our household? We did some talking about that in the car over the July 4 road trip, because we’re finally getting to move in together (yay! It’s a long story.) Who does the laundry? Who pays the bills? Do you split them, does one of you pay them all and the other writes you a check? Is it our money, separate pots, or ours/mine/yours? At what point does a purchase need to be a joint decision - if it’s a household item, if it’s above a certain amount?

I will echo scrittore - who does the planning? Is it okay to accept invitations without checking in with each other? I have a bad bad habit of saying “sure, we’d love to do X” because I am so used to only having to decide for me. It’s mostly working out so far (sure, she’d love to go to Savannah with my/our friends this fall), but I got to stop doing that.

Where do you spend holidays? Do you want to work out a schedule, so Thanksgiving is with her family and Memorial Day is with yours, or do you want to play it by year every year?

4) Wedding planning: I know you want to plan for marriage, which is excellent, but the wedding is part of getting to the marriage, and making sure you each get what you want is important (especially if one of you wants City Hall and one of you wants the big fluffy two huge white dresses wedding, you need to start negotiating that stuff soon). Do you invite her homophobic Aunt Maude since she’s family? Have you and cousin Juanita always planned on being in each other’s weddings but now your beloved doesn’t want attendants? We had a pretty simple wedding and it still took awhile to make sure we both got what we wanted and needed.

Does one of you want to be proposed to? Even though we’d talked about it, and I knew what she was going to say (I don’t like asking questions I don’t know the answer to), my big butch veteran inked up takes no shit wife wanted to be proposed to - and I was thrilled to do it. And the moment was no less romantic for knowing what she was going to say (she was so nervous she almost hyperventilated). Do you both wear engagement rings? (We did, but we did silver spoon rings off of Etsy - she has a lovely ring of diamonds from her girlfriend and I wasn’t about to try to one-up that.)

I know there’s more, but I’m running late to clean my dad’s house (knee surgery for the win).
posted by joycehealy at 5:47 AM on July 9, 2016 [14 favorites]


Take the question of kids for another lap or two around the track before you put it aside, discuss what happens if one of you changes your minds as you get older and closer to "now or never"-time. You wouldn't be the first couple to get a surprise change of heart down the line.
posted by Iteki at 10:50 AM on July 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


One of the things I did when my spouse and I got engaged was to seriously discuss what being married meant to each other. You have the standard don't cheat, blended lives ideas, but you need to discuss with each other what that means. For me, it meant that we work as a team on things. We don't fight each other to accomplish goals, we don't work at cross purposes, and we don't make decisions that impact the team without full discussion. What it also meant to me was that we are still independent humans. We don't have to love the same crap and we don't have to do everything together. It just means that we respect each other's hobbies and try to give each other space to be a person.

For my husband, it meant much the same although he wants to do more stuff together than I always do. It also meant to him, that he could let his guard down and be the "real him". In his mind that meant he didn't have to be as nice to me as he does to others. After our discussion and I explained that I felt marriage meant you should be *nicer* to your spouse than the rest of the world, he began to realize that was something he picked up from his parents and it wasn't the best. So we've agreed to remember the other person is on our team and to not fight mean and to be kind. It makes disagreements easier because we are coming from a "let's solve this together place" and not a "you fucked up, you fix it" place.

We also had the no kids idea but as some of our immediate family members began to pass away, it's been brought back to the table. Because of the gender differences and the fact that I'm in my 40s, a lot of the pressure about having the kid is on me. And I'm totally against the concept of being pregnant. I wouldn't mind a child that showed up, but the very idea of being pregnant is terrifying. We've talked a bunch about it and right now it's at a standstill, but this is something that we'll address again and again. Both of us love our child free life, but we also have started to feel like there should be something we build together.

Good luck and i think you two will have a beautiful life together with whatever you do.
posted by teleri025 at 11:29 AM on July 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


Explore joint decision making: how do you do it now? How do you wish to do in the future? Do both of you have a "hard veto" option?

My guy and me are still learning after 39 years together. Develop the tools you'll need to make the long term work: learning how to be honest and kind and creating a common vocabulary to make stressful scenes less ambiguous. (Posing this question is a great first step.)
posted by Jesse the K at 1:53 PM on July 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm back for round two. I'm more of a nuts and bolts kind of person, so much of this is more practical stuff and less feelings stuff, but...

5) Names (remember: no cultural model here): I know so many couples who have had the most trouble over names. One queer couple (genderqueer woman, trans man) had agreed to hyphenate, got married, went to go do the name change… And then realized that neither one of them really wanted to hyphenate. Right now they both have their original last names while they decide is one going to take the other, are they going to take a new name, etc. Cishet couple, both academics, who had done the work talking about this and decided to keep their last names, and split the names on the children (I think by gender), until she was seven months pregnant and he said "I know I am a product of the patriarchy, but I need my kid to have my last name”. They fixed it, but it took some talking.

So talk about names, and then talk about it a little bit more. And then be prepared for nosy questions no matter what you pick.

(We each kept ours. We're almost 40, I have degrees, she had discharge papers, we're not having kids.)

6) change: this one is a little fuzzier, but... How do you think you will handle change? Some of my oldest friends almost divorced when he jumped on the lose weight get in shape bandwagon and she didn't right away. One of the things they'd always done together was cook good food and try new restaurants and suddenly he was on a strict diet, spending three hours a day at the gym, and tacitly and directly criticizing her body. They got through it, but it was bad for awhile.

So talk about change. Can you handle it together? Do either of you find it threatening?

Also, do either of you have a strong gender orientation that, if it shifted over time, would disrupt the relationship? My ex was not comfortable at all with my genderqueerness and it was an issue as I changed over time (one of the first things I did upon leaving was buzz off my hair. It was glorious. Actually, so did my wife when she and her long term partner broke up. Her ex watched her do it and cried, but her ex always pushed her to be more fem, including bitching at her to grow out her hair.) My wife is super butch, and if she drifted more fem, that'd be totally fine but it would be an adjustment. (Her GF is more fem and I adore her, but it would be a change in my wife and an adjustment).

7) Wills: talk about wills and medical directives, price out lawyers, start saving up for those. If you don't get married then you have a nicer savings account. We still need to do this (I know, I know, but I keep choking on finding a lawyer, since I want one who isn't going to take my money with a wrinkled nose and I was our paperwork to be airtight (yes, we have a marriage certificate but I'm still worried)).
posted by joycehealy at 10:01 AM on July 10, 2016 [3 favorites]


Thanks everyone so very much for your advice. I am going to take it to heart and show it to my girlfriend, and we'll have a lot of things to discuss, which is only a good thing.

This is off-topic but since you mentioned it, joycehealy, I'd recommend finding a lawyer who has done gay divorces before to guarantee that they are going to be cool about stuff... That's how I picked mine, I didn't want to walk into an office and find someone who was going to make me feel worse about what I was doing. I plan on going back to her for other non-divorce-related things.
posted by possibilityleft at 10:07 AM on July 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


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