The Four Major Hurdles to Marital Happiness, Part One

For most couples married any length of time, it’s not unusual to have disagreements or fights.  We’ve been told and taught for centuries that God’s plan for humanity is that women and men will seek and find completeness in one another, that the various parts weren’t designed by accident, and so forth. Doesn’t mean we aren’t going to have fights.

Regardless of where you stand in this search, the fact that spouses fight is not terribly important.  HOW we fight IS important, and there are scores of books on that subject.  Suffice it to say for this moment that there IS such a thing as fighting fair, and that learning how is one of the important early lessons in young marriages.  Learning to avoid John Gottman’s Four Horses of the Apocalypse—criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling—is a good place to start.

My view, again, is that regardless of how frequently or how actively couples fight, they tend NOT to fight about a dozen different subjects.  They tend to have the same fight, again and again.  It may come in different disguises, with different backdrops, but it’s typically the same fight.  And, unless I miss my bet, the root cause falls into one of four categories:

Children

Money

Sex

Division of Labor 

These, I believe, are the big issues, the potential deal-breakers, the stumbling blocks that keep many couples from thriving through the difficult first decade of marriage and children.   Within sacramental marriage, then, how are we to deal with these issues in a successful way, i.e., one that keeps us connected spiritually, physically and emotionally with our spouse in a world that moves at light speed?

This post will focus on the first two.  The next post will look at the last two, and offer some final thoughts.

Children

The decision to have children is perhaps the largest question we as humans face as we enter adulthood.  Having kids changes everything, is twice as hard as you expect, twice as expensive, and infinitely more rewarding.  Until and unless a couple is on the same page concerning whether to have children, when, how many, etc., they are setting themselves up for difficulty down the road.  Couples who get married with the intention of finding common ground on this subject at some later date may find it impossible.  Too, the notion that having a child, or another child, is the prescription for a troubled marriage is bad reasoning.

Children will test your marriage in fairly direct proportion to their eventual number.  Couples determined to survive and enjoy these years will usually reap immeasurable rewards in their later years.  As my wife points out in the discussion over religious freedom and healthcare, being pregnant is not a disease.  But the commitment, in terms of things foregone, pleasures deferred, lifestyles altered, is critical.  We believe it is not our choice as to whether or when God chooses to bless our lives with children, but within sacramental marriage we hope that the husband and wife understand relevant scripture, as well as their own feelings on these issues, and respect the feelings of their spouse.

Money

Money has been called the root of all evil, and it is certainly at the heart of a lot of marital discord.  For many of us, money has become our god, and we consume ourselves in its pursuit.  Recognizing this in ourselves and agreeing on how to handle money before getting married will head off many troubles in the years afterward.  Not all, but many.

Nancy and I struggled financially for years, raising three children while I pursued what would kindly be characterized as a lackluster career.  I was on straight commission for 20 years, and my income, in addition to being insufficient, was unpredictable.  I put off Nancy’s entreaties to make and live on a budget literally for decades.  During those years, I wasted a lot of time worrying about money, and I expect someday to be held accountable for all of that wasted time.

OLMC offers several financial workshops, as well as a host of books on the topic in the church library.  If you and your spouse are arguing over money all the time, it couldn’t hurt to sign up for a workshop—together—and start working this thing out. Nancy and I have been on a fairly rigorous budget now for roughly three years, and it has improved our marriage.  The process of making the budget and then living (more or less) within it, for me, has been virtually painless.  And to think I resisted for 25 years.

One more thing about money.  Make sure there is a Charitable Giving line in your budget, and remember Jesus’ words in St. Matthew’s gospel about first fruits.

Next time, we’ll examine the topics of Sex and The Division of Labor.

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