(Part 1 of series)
Newlywed First Steps
The wedding was a blast – even if you did not get to dance with your friend from fourth grade and you have not eaten more than a bite of challah in ten hours. You entered the wedding hall on your own and you leave as a married couple. You wave goodbye to your relatives and drive off into the night to start your new married lives together. It seems so romantic and blissful.
Yet, even as you are on your way home in the car, a new reality sets in – like a sinkful of dishes after a wonderful Shabbos. Suddenly, you are no longer surrounded by well-wishing admirers and dancers. The world of “they” is behind you. It is now just “us” – you and your spouse. What roadmap do you have to create the marriage of your dreams? What recipe can you use to create your ideal relationship?
If you are like most people, you probably heard lots of unsolicited advice during your engagement. A well-meaning relative, neighbor, hairdresser, co-worker, and, yes, even unmarried friend dutifully tried to prepare you for the challenge of the first year of marriage. Typical advice for newlyweds usually ranges from the daunting expectation that you “never go to bed angry” to the authoritative declaration that “marriage takes hard work.”
But why would you be angry if you married the right person?
And what about marriage is so hard?
“Of course, these people are exaggerating,” you may think to yourself. “I got this.”
Reaction to Your First Challenge
Then comes your first challenge. It could happen unexpectedly, like a deer that rushes into your headlights as you calmly drive down a country road at night. Everything is going well until… it is not.
You might wonder, “What if I married the wrong person? Perhaps if I had married someone else, I would not have this challenge.”
Chances are that you married a person who is great for you and that you would face this challenge with any person you would have married. First of all, a common factor in any of your marital challenges is YOU! Secondly, all marriages come with common challenges. It is a natural part of the process of developing a marital relationship. This newlywed series will describe seven common challenges that newlyweds face and how to address them.
At the same time, if you are suffering from unusual abuse or you suspect that you or your spouse has a personality disorder that is preventing you from developing a healthy marriage, you should seek professional guidance. You might need specialized advice to deal with your specific situation.
What common challenges might you face in marriage and what can you do to solve them?
When I explored this question as a newlywed almost twenty years ago, I decided to research everything about marital advice that I could get my hands on. I bought Jewish marriage books, secular marriage books, and went to lots of marriage lectures.
One funny story that happened during my first year of marriage when I was reading an encyclopedic book about marriage: I was reading the book while waiting for my laundry to finish to load it into the dryer. I had just finished a short story in the book about a couple that gets into an argument. My husband came by to help me carry the laundry and he glanced over my shoulder and read the story too. I was shocked to hear him say, “Obviously, the husband was right.” “What?,” I said, “I thought the wife was right.” We began to discuss why each of us had our belief and it was quickly apparent that our conversation was not making any sense. I suggested we both read the story again. Much to our amazement, we found that the author had not indicated in the story which person was the husband and which one was the wife! Instead, the author wrote, “one spouse …., “ “the other spouse….” Unwittingly, we both interpreted the story through the prism of our own perception. Since I was the wife, I interpreted the spouse who was right as being the wife. But my husband convinced himself that “the spouse” who behaved well in the story must have been the husband. It was an amazing lesson in challenge #1.
Challenge #1: Each spouse looks at everything through the prism of his/her own perceptions.
Each person’s perception is unique. It is based on your own personality, education, and life experiences. A husband and wife are often going to see things differently and have different opinions based on their own perceptions. This can lead to small disagreements over what brand of toothpaste to buy, to significant conflicts over how to spend time together or how to spend money.
When you notice that you and your spouse disagree on something, the first step is to discover why. Ask yourself and your spouse some of these questions to understand what led you to each have your unique perception.
In the case of myself and my husband, our conversation would have escalated to a frustrating level if we had not asked ourselves why we each had such a different perception of who was correct in the story we had read. When we investigated what about our circumstances might have led us to have different perceptions, it led us to review the story and to discover how the author had left the identity of the culpable spouse open ended. This experience helped me realize the importance of asking open-ended questions to get more clarity about each spouse’s perception and to understand your spouse better.
Leah and Dan, a couple that married in their early twenties, when they were still in school, faced a similar situation as newlyweds. Shortly after their wedding, Leah wanted to buy fine furniture and beautiful decorative pillows and art to grace their new home. Dan reasoned that since they planned to live in their apartment for only a few years while he finished graduate school, it did not pay to decorate it so nicely. He preferred to wait to buy fancy furnishings when they bought their first house.
Leah explained to Dan her perception of why she needed to decorate their apartment, even if it they were planning to live in it for only a few years: “I grew up in a very tastefully decorated home and it is important to me to come home to an apartment that is aesthetic and relaxing. Also, I feel that my home is a reflection of who I am. When I look at our apartment or invite guests to our home, I want our home to reflect my artistic flair. Our home is a reflection of me.”
Even though Dan wished to save on their expenses while he was still in graduate school, after Leah explained her perception, he got more clarity about why it was important to Leah to decorate their apartment. This made it easier for him to understand her needs and accept her opinion.
Dan then expressed his perception to Leah: “I want to be financially responsible and save money to be able to afford a really nice house when I graduate. When I was growing up, my father often told stories about how simply my parents lived while he was in medical school and how that is why they were eventually able to save up enough to live very comfortably. Let’s decorate in a way that makes you feel proud of our home but decide on a budget beforehand. We can then shop in stores that sell classy art and furniture that are still within our budget.”
Leah and Dan’s conversation made it much easier for them to appreciate each other’s sensitivities and concerns. Their understanding of each other’s perceptions enabled them to make their important financial decisions as a team.
Solution to Challenge #1
When you find that your perception differs from that of your spouse, reflect on why you have your unique perception by asking yourself the following four questions:
- What about my circumstances might be leading me to have this perception?
- What about my personality might be making me think this way?
- What are my needs that might cause me to think this way?
- What can I remember from my past experiences that might explain why I view things this way?
Express your understanding of your perception and where it came from to your spouse. Ask your spouse to answer the four questions as well so that you can better understand your spouse’s perception. Use your new understanding of each other’s perceptions to brainstorm creative ways to satisfy both of your sensitivities.
Try this out with your spouse and see how your ability to understand each other’s perception transforms your conversations and helps you discover new paths to grow together.