Wednesday, December 05, 2007

should women marry?

Here's the meat of a lengthy comment I left at Dr. Helen's, in response to the question, Should women marry?

I think most people, men and women, are happier in good marriages, so yes, women should get married.

My advice for those considering marriage seriously is to make sure that you and your partner are in sync on the 3 big Fs: faith, family, and finances.

Faith: it doesn't matter what religion you belong to, if any, or how observant you are, if at all -- what matters is that you are compatible in your attitudes towards belief and practice. If you are not morally compatible, the marriage will be on rocky grounds.

Family: this is a two-parter. First, your own family (as soon as you get married, you are a new family). Are you going to have children? When? How many? Obviously the plan may not survive reality -- once children enter the picture, you may decide to have more, or fewer, than you originally intended, or other situations may come up that cause you to change your plans. But you need to talk about these things before hand. You can't get married expecting to have 2 kids and suddenly find out your husband doesn't want any, or doesn't want any for 10 years.

The second part of "family" has to do with the extended families, yours and his. Watch how your potential spouse interacts with his or her family, and you'll get a good idea of how things will settle in at your own household. Particularly watch the relationship between mothers and sons, that can be an indicator of a how a man will treat his wife. It's also important to negotiate how often you'll see relatives, and where you'll go for the holidays. You'd be surprised how many people have huge problems in their marriages over the pressures that their extended families put on them.

The last F is finances: don't just assume everything is OK, get married, and find out that he (or she) has thousands of dollars of credit card debt and student loans in arrears. You need to disclose all your debts. You need to understand your mate's job stability situation, and their potential for growth in income. If it's just you, you can do what you want and no one else cares, but if someone else is relying on you for a share of the household expenses, you can't just quit your job in a huff. Speaking of shared household expenses -- figure that out, too. I know a lot of couples have separate checking accounts and credit cards and divvy everything up, but I have never understood that, particularly if one member is only working part-time or is at home taking care of children. I think keeping finances separate creates an artificial division in the family and an opportunity for conflict -- it is very easy for someone to think that their spouse is being sneaky about how he or she is spending his or her money. If it's all in one account, there is complete transparency. Of course that makes it harder to surprise someone with gifts, but is that really such a big deal?

Before my husband and I got married 13 years ago, we had pre-nuptial counseling through my church. One of the exercises we did together had us rate a list of about 100 things as either necessary, useful, desirable, or a luxury. The list covered all sorts of things, like owning a house, buying new clothes every season, going out for dinner frequently, etc -- pretty much anything you could spend money on. It was an excellent springboard for discussion. My husband at the time said a computer at home was necessary, whereas I thought it was a luxury; he was ahead of his time and was already keeping all of his finances in the computer. The point was to highlight the differences and get us to talk about them. Plus, seeing on paper the things that were most important (necessary) helps you to figure out how and where you're going to be spending your money together.

If there are tremendous differences in your two lists, you'll have a lot of conflict; do you have what it takes to negotiate through them all? Does it make sense for you to be together, if your priorities are so different?

I think using the 3Fs and the necessary/useful list are good ways to determine fundamental compatibility.

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