Friday Counseling Issues: Newlyweds

Well, my friend Kathleen Duncan has come up with some new question for me.  Today’s topic, therefore, is

“What advice would you give newlyweds?”

These days, there are lots of different directions to go with this one. The direction I’m taking for the purpose of this post is that this is a couple who are both marrying for the first time; they have no children with each other or anyone else.  In fact, they are both virgins, coming into the marriage with stars in their eyes  and highly romantic ideas of what marriage will be all about.

What’s that?  Never happens these days, you say?  Well, yes, as a matter of fact it does.  Believe it or not, there are still those who believe in saving sex for one special person, and for AFTER “I do”!

Not that what I’m about to offer can’t apply to other kinds of newlyweds.  It certainly can,  I’ve just chosen to work from the basis of first-timers in every sense of the word. And I’m also going to write from the position that both partners in the marriage are born-again Christians.

So. I think I’ll number my points, or at least bullet-point them, for the sake of clarity and brevity.

•  God must be first in any relationship. Newlyweds are often so much in love that they can easily idolize one another.   That glow tarnishes pretty quickly once you start washing his socks and underwear, and he starts dealing with your pantyhose hung over the shower stall. Put the Lord first and all the little irritants in relationships will be much easier to solve.

• If you don’t already have one, work to develop a sense of humor. Believe me, you’re going to need it. If you can laugh AT yourself and WITH each other, you will do much better than if you take everything seriously, all the time.

• I would hope that you’ve already worked out a financial system before you tied the knot. If you haven’t, you really need to. You need to decide which of you is most competent to keep records, pay bills on time, and balance the check book.  Whichever of you does that is NOT the BOSS of the money.  You are simply the financial secretary.  Ideally, there shouldn’t have to be a boss. You should set some sort of limit at which you will not make purchases without the knowledge of the other.  Having a budget is great, but if neither of you is a spendthrift, it may not be necessary.  If one is a spender and one is a saver, you’re going to need to get boxing gloves and a referee, and don’t forget the mouthguards to protect your teeth.  This is difficult, because the saver tends to be a miserly sort, and the spender has no concern whatsoever about staying on budget. You’d be wise to find someone you both trust who can teach you how to handle your money, and who may even be willing to act as an accountability person until you get things ironed out.   One last word:  In the first two years of marriage, the main reason for divorce is sex.  After the first two years, it’s money.  Get the money thing right.

• Sex. I can’t believe how much trouble sex can be in the early years of marriage.  He comes on like a Mack truck; she’s a shy little flower.  He never initiates; she feels unloved.  He wants her to do things she finds unpleasant; she thinks he’s just perverted. Neither understands how sex works in the other’s body.  Neither understands the emotional dynamic involved in sex that is delightful for both.  Look, God created sex and sexuality.  When Adam woke up from having his rib removed so God could create Eve, I don’t think he rolled over and went back to sleep.  Sex was pure, exciting, and mutually satisfying.  I don’t think it took them very long to figure out what to do and how to do it.  But, you see, that was all before sin entered into the picture.  The first thing Satan’s scaly claw touched after the Fall was human sexuality. They’d never been concerned about being naked before, but now they were.  And we’ve been having trouble with it every since. Because of our own propensity to sin; because of media, because of misinformation, because we’re just stupid sometimes, we develop the WEIRDEST ideas about sex and sexuality.  There are some excellent books by godly Christian authors out there. Get one. Read it. Pray together that God will give you some wisdom as you discover what sex is all about.

•In-laws.  Oh my.  Here is a very good policy:  He deals with his family.  He protects his wife if he needs to, and he never, ever allows his family to criticize her or make fun of her. If they step out of line, he tells them to knock it off. His wife is to be treated with utmost respect.  She deals with her family.  She protects her husband if she needs to, and she never, ever allows her family to criticize him or make fun of him. If they step out of line, she tells them to knock it off. Her husband is to be treated with utnmost respect. If you are so unfortunate as to have a truly belligerent in-law, you don’t have to tolerate that. All that is required of you is to be polite.  If that won’t take care of the problem, then the person who is stirring up trouble needs to be avoided. It is true that when we marry our beloved, we also marry the family.  However, we do not promise to love them in sickness, health, better, worse, etc. The rules aren’t quite the same for the in-laws as they are for the spouses.  And a word to the in-laws:  Please let go of your precious child and allow him/her to grow up and become the strong, independent person they want to be.  It is no longer your job to supervise them or to offer constant, unsolicited advice on the pretext of “just trying to help.”  Butt out.  They’ll thank you later.

•When you disagree, do it with kindness and respect.  You have to decide whether or not the issue is the hill you want to die on.  Don’t call names.  Don’t curse. Don’t scream, wave your arms in the air, and froth at the mouth. Be a grown-up. An excellent tool for communication is Active Listening.  You can read all about it on the internet.

•Understand that it’s going to take a lifetime to truly know one another. The beginning of the journey can be fun, exciting, romantic, adventurous, thrilling.  But it won’t be all those things all the time, and it won’t be some of those things very often at all.  You can’t live on the highest peaks of the highest mountains.  There’s very little oxygen up there, and no water or vegetation.  To live, you need to find a valley where things grow, and that’s going to mean you’ll have to work.  Marriage is work.  Anything worth having is worth working for.

You know, I could go on like this for a very long time, but you’re probably bored already.  So I think I’ll quit now, go get into my housecoat and get ready to enjoy a couple of episodes of Andy Griffith before I go to bed. At this stage of my life, I’m very privileged to have a three-day work week, which means Thursday is my Friday.  I don’t have to rush tomorrow morning.  Coffee, leisure, and relaxation.

Life is good.

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4 thoughts on “Friday Counseling Issues: Newlyweds

  1. Anne

    I know this is an older post (I’m catching up a bit). This is one of those type posts that your cynical Anne does a “yeah, well, that’s great for others, and I wish them the best, but I can’t afford to look back” thing on, so I won’t ruin your excellent craftsmanship and counsel by commenting on specifics–thus ruining the joy and hopefully better future for others 🙂

    However…I do have to share my experience with this book. I have not read it in full since it was required reading during engagement time. I can say it made me more unsure than I had ever considered being…like I was about to have a huge exam and needed to pass or fail. I failed. Or so I was told. Over and over again. And the same book with a chapter recommended (along with another book or two) was put in my face for future improvement…for almost 20 years…even after supposed acknowledged improvement…until I refused to read them (only to fail or not be quite good enough) any longer.

    Maybe it certainly could depend on the personality of those reading the books, their intent, etc.
    And if I could stomach reading it again, I could verify that what I remember the most was that usually “fault” in the sex life was the woman’s…and much effort put to figuring out what is in her psyche or past that was making her fail or not meet her husband’s expectations. And that emphasis led to the same emphasis (and worse) being meted out to me (again, maybe the book was misused, but I do remember bad “vibes” in general once I got beyond thinking I was the stupid one needing to memorize this book).

    As it worked out, shortly after marriage after knowing it could not totally be my own rebellious fault (I was in no rebellion but I wasn’t to be believed above the “books”)…I did find out it was health-related problems (not sin or mental). But the damage had been done psychologically and emotionally (very difficult things for a woman to overcome)…and there was no relenting that there still must have been MORE than the health (cycles of suspicion and bitterness rather than forgiveness and hope)…till there came a point it had indeed had gradually grown into much more more a serious problem than it ever was in the beginning. And, again, I’m sure maybe, hopefully, more was going on personality wise than just that book needing to be blamed…most assuredly there were “money boss” issues, “in law” issues and “tactics of disagreeing” issues–and I’m not sure which made the other worse, but to not be accepted on a very personal level, made the other issues truly insurmountable (and on the flip side, the suspicions of me made those areas more of a temptation to be heavy handed in as well). Personality (and potential abuse of an otherwise good book) issues aside 🙂 I feel compelled to say all this in case in some way it helps someone else in some strange way.

    All that to say, I don’t know the answer to totally avoid how it all gets so upside down and mixed up and messed up in a marriage. As you said, there is much in the name of the world, the flesh and even religion to get things all a muddle in this area.

    But I do know and firmly believe NOW that the answer in the beginning is full acceptance, full enjoyment, full selflessness, listening, learning, trusting, hoping (the stuff I Corinthians 13 is made of)…and in this particular area of the physical relationship, I believe firmly also that one can have a very good sense if it will be that final level of pure joy if they have done all they can (as impossible as it seems 🙂 to indeed get the “stars out of their eyes” and pray and see (and regard parents or close friends warnings just in case) if there is full acceptance, enjoyment, selflessness, listening, learning, trusting ON OTHER LEVELS FIRST–reactions to agreements and disagreements, reactions in open honest dialogue, reactions to personality, etc.. And no, no one can read the future or expect there to be no hardships in spite of that, but…it’s a strong foundation. If I could change anything (beyond giving the engagement more time to reveal deeper issues or listening better to counsel), it would have been “no books”… and I’m not saying that’s the “one true way” for everyone by any means…I just…again, feel compelled, in case it helps someone.

    Keep God, the “stars in the eyes”, the “glow” for each other there…
    and joy in the blessing to, as you said, “Understand that it’s going to take a lifetime to truly know one another. The beginning of the journey can be fun, exciting, romantic, adventurous, thrilling.”
    And it can continue to be so. And, I know this is your “Bible” blog, so yes, a few good Bible passages come to mind in hope of that, as well as a few good Carpenters’ songs 🙂

    There. I don’t speak often, but when I do…
    Poor you!
    But, thank you. It’s therapeutic 🙂

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  2. Sounds to me as if you were married to a very unpleasant man who may have had some serious issues that made it impossible for him to admit fault. At the same time, he apparently knew how to look good to any (male) counselor he may have sought out. We women counselors seem to have keener radar when it comes to narcissistic men. I’m sorry you had to struggle for so long.

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