A Reasonable Marriage

This is the final entry in a five part series this week on the stages of a relationship and how you can make financially sound choices throughout. Other entries include courtships;, engagements;, weddings, and honeymoons.

You’re now a married couple, settling into a long life together. Now what?

It’s easy to fall into routines in your marriage, and often those routines are hard to break. You can establish routines that lead to a healthy marriage that’s grounded in healthy relationships and healthy money practices, or you can establish routines that are very disruptive.

Which do you choose? Here are ten tactics for getting yourself on a great path to a long-term successful marriage, both financially and otherwise.

Talk to each other as often as possible. Have a healthy conversation every single day. Ask what your spouse is doing and what they’re thinking about. Tell your spouse what you’re up to and what you’re thinking about. The better you understand your spouse in the good times and the normal times, the easier it will be to work through the difficult times.

Listen to what the other person is actually saying. It’s easy to get used to the routines in your life and in your spouse’s life, making it easy to somewhat gloss over the specifics on a daily basis. Don’t fall into that trap. Listen. Almost every time that a problem is developing, your spouse is telling you about the problem in some fashion. Pay attention to the things your spouse is saying, and if something doesn’t seem right, don’t blow it off. Follow up – and be there for your spouse.

Be honest and actively admit your mistakes – you will make them, after all. Everyone makes mistakes in their marriage. They make a poor choice. They don’t correctly interpret what their partner wants. I know I certainly do it often enough. The best thing you can do when you make a mistake – money or otherwise – is to confess to it. Tell your partner about your splurge. Tell your partner about your mistake. Not only will your honesty make it easier to talk about, you’ll also be driven to do better.

Talk about your long term plans together on a regular basis – and be open to changing them as you grow. Where do you want to be in a year? In five years? In ten years? Tell your partner your thoughts and encourage your partner to share their thoughts. You’ll find that some of them are different, but that many of the goals are in common. The common goals are great ones to focus on because you’re both driven to get there – and you’re able to reinforce each other’s resolve. Talk about these goals regularly.

Work together on the small steps you can do right now to reach those big shared goals. Once you’ve figured out the goals you have in common, spend time talking about what you can do right now to bring you closer to those goals. For us, this has been invaluable at keeping our spending choices in check. We talk about almost every significant purchase and decide together whether or not it’s in line with what we want out of life. Which leads to…

Plan big purchases together – and think about how they’ll impact your other big plans. Excepting any “spending allowance” that you both have, any significant purchase should be discussed together. My wife and I discuss anything more than $20 – and often, we discuss it to death (which is a good thing, because then we don’t spend the money). We are basically checks against unnecessary spending for each other – and that enables us to accomplish our real goals faster and keep our less-focused sides in check.

You’re going to disagree. Work on disagreeing well. You’re never going to agree all the time with your partner. Sometimes, your partner is going to be right and you’re going to be wrong. This will happen. Don’t turn disagreements into competitions. Instead, look at disagreements as opportunities to really figure out the truth of a situation. Do your research and figure out the real deal, then follow whichever side is actually in the right. You’re far better off being wrong and then changing your mind than being wrong and sticking with it like a dog with a stick just so you can “win” – that’s a recipe for long-term failure in multiple ways.

Always strongly support the positive moves your partner makes. Whenever your partner makes a good move, congratulate them. Reinforce the idea that the move was a good thing, and then use their good choice as motivation to make your own good choice, not as an excuse to coast because your partner is carrying the weight. At times, my wife and I almost compete at positive things like cleaning the house or saving money.

Don’t plan for retirement in a bubble – include your partner’s plans and income to develop an overall plan for retirement. Plan for retirement together and make choices that will provide you both with the money you’ll need for your later years. This may mean that one partner saves more than the other because they have a better 401(k) opportunity or they have a higher income. Having said that, it is a good idea to not have all retirement handled by one partner – if one partner has a fully funded 401(k) in his/her name, the other partner might want a Roth IRA in their name, just in case. However, the overall planning should reflect your shared goals.

Reaffirm your love every single day. Tell your partner you love them. Give a hug or a kiss or an embrace. It’s so simple to do, yet so many couples miss out on it. Simple little tokens of love provide a constant reaffirmation of your relationship, plus they ensure that you’ll never feel regret if something unthinkable happens.

Here are some earlier thoughts on tactics for a successful marriage, though they’re not financial in nature.

Got any good, reasonable, frugal advice for people getting started in their marriage? Please leave them in the comments.

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