On Monday, Alexandra Hambright Solomon, a psychologist who teaches the course "Marriage 101: Building Loving and Lasting Partnerships" at The Family Institute At Northwestern University, visits The Early Show to offer some tips for newlyweds.
The following are a few of Hambright Solomon's viewpoints and tips on marriage.
The Wedding And Marriage Are Different
While our culture's wedding traditions are beautiful, romantic, and lots of fun, they can set couples up for disappointment afterwards. The day-to-day work of a marriage is many miles away from the flowers and the dress and the cake. It is important for couples keep this in mind before, during, and after the wedding, which, at its most basic level, is the concretizing of transition. It is interesting to note that although there are many good pre-marital counseling programs out there, it is often difficult to get engaged couples to attend them. Couples need to remember that what they are really doing is preparing for a lifelong marriage. That takes work!!
As you are going through the wedding experience, remember the goal: building a sustainable, satisfying marriage. A good marriage is the product of luck and work. The fact that marriage takes work does not mean that something is wrong. People who enjoy the benefits of a happy marriage are the ones who are willing to put in time, effort, and work.
Identity Change - "I Versus We"
It is healthy for couples to begin to think in terms of "we" rather than in terms of "I." Couples in the first year of marriage need to ask the question, "who are we as a couple?" In exploring the question together, couples are creating a story about their relationship. This story includes how they relate to each other, how they relate to the outside world, how they handle conflict, and how they meet their own and the other's needs. Couples who successfully navigate this identity process create a story which valorizes or focuses, in a realistic way, on their strengths as a couple and how they are "in this together."
It is also important to acknowledge that marriage can feel like a discontinuous transition because it requires a significant mind shift for both people. That can be a bit startling for people. For example, it can be difficult to realize that they cannot just go home if they feel bored or frustrated, or to realize that they cannot simply make weekend or evening plans without factoring in another person. Certainly this does not mean that all your time needs to be spent together, but it does mean being responsible to someone else in a new and different way. You are now part of a team!
When faced with a conflict or a dilemma, it is helpful for married people to ask the question, "what does the relationship need?" The marriage almost becomes an entity unto itself-an entity that needs to be nurtured, protected, and cared for by both partners.
Develop And Maintain Boundaries:
With a growing sense of identity in place, couples can then create a boundary around the relationship. Marriages need a semi-permeable boundary-a boundary that allows other people to connect with, love, influence, and be close to the couple while also allowing the couple to definitively say to the world, "we are a team here!" This can be especially complicated when it comes to each spouse's family of origin.
Couples need to ask the question, "what do we need to maintain the integrity of our relationship?" In answering this question, couples may need to say clearly to their families, "now that we are married, this is how we are going to navigate the holidays," or "now that we are married, it is not OK for you to stop by unannounced." This can be hard for couples to say and hard for families to hear, but it is crucial for the good of the marriage.
Connecting Across Differences:
Differences inevitably exist in a relationship. Couples need to accept that, no matter what, they will not be able to do away with difference. A difference in and of itself is neither a good thing nor a bad thing. The problem becomes that all too often we attach labels to our differences: "My way is the right way, and her way is the wrong way."
It is helpful for couples to think about which differences they can let go of, accept, and live with, and which differences are worth labeling meaningful, holding on to, and compromising on.
It can also be helpful for couples to remember that most differences are actually double-edged swords. If you find yourself bemoaning your spouse's lack of planning, remember that this is most likely the same spontaneity that you have often found attractive, endearing, and the perfect complement to your neuroticism.
Negotiation And Re-Negotiation:
Even if couples have lived together before marriage, there is significant re-negotiation that needs to happen after the wedding. Some areas that commonly need to be negotiated are: time together and time apart, money, sex, and housework. Post-wedding, couples can experience a sense that the stakes are higher. A husband or wife who is washing dishes can suddenly get concerned, "if I wash the dishes tonight, does this mean that I will be the one washing dishes for the rest of our lives?!"
When negotiating, look for common ground. Figure out together those aspects of the issue that you see the same. Then the areas of difference need to be negotiated on (or accepted).
Remember to attack the problem, not the person.
An acceptable outcome is one that both people can live with because it feels fair.
If you get stuck, it may be because there is a deeper issue at work than the issues of whose job it is to scrub the toilet. It may be that you also need to address more complicated issues like power, gender dynamics, family history, and how care and concern get demonstrated in order to get the negotiation back on track.
Additional Tips For Newlyweds:
- Know yourself. Be mindful of your emotional baggage and be gentle with your partner's.
- Create an environment in which it feels safe enough to take responsibility for your feelings and in which each person can talk about how their past is affecting the present.
- Remember that you are on the same team! All too often fights become framed as a win/lose situation, and this is destructive. Need to create a non-judgmental environment in which both partners can keep in mind the goal-- getting back on the same team.
- Accept differences. Try to balance what irritates you about your partner with what you love about your partner. Remember that, like you, your partner has strengths and weaknesses.
- Keep your expectations in check. Ask yourself if your expectations are realistic and check them out with your partner. Unchecked expectations lead to disappointment, anger, and resentment.