Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Marital toughness...and a canary for breakfast?

In a previous blog entry I said it might be helpful to ask yourself the question, "What do you hope or expect your (future) partner will have done to help assure a durable and satisfying marital relationship with you?"

So, what did you decide? How many ideas did you generate about how your future partner could come "prepared" to be with and around you for a long time?

If there's any one thing couples who've been married for several decades will consistently report, it's the fact that living together and being together for a long time doesn't "just happen." Here's a short list of things some people might say "just happened."
  • A gas leak triggered a house explosion in a local town.
  • My neighbor's cat ate our pet canary.
  • Candidate Barak Obama was elected President of the United States.
  • Our dog gave birth to seven adorable mongrel puppies.
  • My close friend was diagnosed with breast cancer.
  • A friend of a friend's friend just won it big in the lottery!
OK. Did these things "just happen" or was there a set of domino-like events that eventually led to, for example, a canary that became "breakfast?"

Being together and staying together takes some work--even for people who are very obviously in love with each other. So, believe it or not, you can actually prepare yourself to be a more durable marriage partner. You can work on it before you get married, or can work on it after you get married, but I can absolutely guarantee that you will work on it sooner or later.

A very curious and fascinating thing happens when couples are courting. Whether they are aware of it or not they're defining their relationships' "rules." Many of their "rules" for being, working, playing, and staying together may get discussed at various points in their courting processes. Many more--the vast majority of their "rules"--are not discussed or even detected. But they're there. Teammates begin to discover what these rules are as their relationship matures over time. Interestingly, or sadly, depending on your perspective, once a team's rules get set they are difficult to change. In fact, teammates don't change a rule without it having a BIG and immediate impact on the relationship, and the impact's immediate influence is rarely pretty. Working through the impact of a proposed rule change will require some good communication skills. Interestingly too, couples who communicate well with each other do generally report that they have better sex, experience more constructive emotional dynamics, and report greater marital satisfaction.

So, what's one of the very best things your (future) partner can do to help assure a durable and satisfying marriage to you? Things that measurably grow his or her practical communication skills. And I don't just mean "talkin' together." Every courting couple talks together and reports how good they are at it! No, what I mean is repeatedly finding active things to do together, and doing those things, so you are required to solve problems, discover solutions, and make and execute plans that demand the shared investment of your time and energy.

Durable relationships don't just happen. They're planned for, constructed, and shared cooperatively!

More next time

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Life Skill No. 3, Employment Stability

I'm sure you know them too, friends, relatives, or associates with a dismal history at trying to stay employed. They may find a good job situation that pays well and offers good hours--maybe even some helpful benefits! It may appear they've finally settled into a steady rhythm that's meaningful and stable, then out of the blue something seems to happen that ushers them back onto the street. All too familiar for them are the activities associated with a new job search and its associated tasks.

What's going on for these well-meaning people? Everyone who has an employment history that looks like or that may sound like this description has a different story. There are as many different reasons for this "serial unemployment" as there are people whose job histories are punctuated by it. Whatever the facts of the situations may be, the financial and emotionally frustrating outcomes can look and feel pretty much the same.

So what? If you really love someone who has this kind of employment history, what's the big deal? That's probably a good question. If you personally have a sterling employment history and little problem selling and engaging your employable skills for the long-term, then you may be the team member best positioned to carry the larger financial burdens for your relationship over time. That's particularly OK if you know that "going in," and you've made a conscious choice (and maybe even come to a mutual agreement) to designate yourself as the relationship's "financial custodian." But if you didn't know this is a role you'd be required to accept--f you really couldn't see the kinds of challenges your teammate routinely experiences staying employed, and if you didn't realize what that might mean for your relationship long-term--then this "default" role may become a financial burden and a source of great emotional and relational frustration for you both.

Yes, this is another one of those life skills: Maintaining personally meaningful and gainful employment.

Here are a few questions that may help prevent your being blind-sided in the dating or courting process. If your present courting relationship appears to have some long-term promise...
  • What kinds of things are you doing together that give you a factual and realistic appraisal of your partner's employment history?
  • Do you know what factors contributed to any "burps" in his or her employment history and why?
  • If your partner does have "burps" in his or her employment history, do you recognize any curious and/or repetitious themes? What are they?
  • How freely self-disclosing has your partner been about "burps" in his or her employment history?
  • If your partner is comfortable in his or her job situation, what do you know about it? For example...
  1. How long has he or she been employed in the present job?
  2. How does he or she talk about the job? Do you see it as a good fit? Why or why not?
  3. Is your partner's employer happy with his or her work?
  4. What are your partner's long-term goals and how does the present job/role fit in that longer-term plan?
  • What do you think and feel about your partner's job/employment situation and plan? Are you comfortable with his or her employment and goals and can you see yourself being happy with that employment if he or she is happy with it?
Finally, here is another question that's completely unrelated to our life-skills discussion. It may prove beneficial for you to be thinking about:

What do YOU believe are the key factors a person must consider when it comes to preparing oneself for a durable and satisfying marriage relationship?

More next time

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Life Skill No. 2, Managing Money

We're continuing a discussion of life skills that you should be looking for in a potential partner...There's a lot to be said about the influence of money--or the lack of it--on a relationship. The simple truth is this: Money, how it's made or not, how it's spent, when, how often, by whom, and for what, is a source of the majority of quarrels in marriage. If partners work as a team, collaboratively, and with good ongoing communication around money issues, they can dodge these potentially fatal marriage-ending bullets.

What does it mean to be a good money manager?
I know people on both ends of the "anal or not so anal" scale when it comes to keeping track of their finances. Some people obviously have a monthly plan and a budget. They are consistently balancing their check book, monitoring their account daily, keeping and categorizing absolutely every receipt, and balancing their account multiple times weekly. I also know people on the other end of that scale who think plans and budgets are a huge bother, rarely check their balances, could care less about categorizing receipts, and only infrequently care to know the current balance in their checking, credit card, or ATM account.

When it comes to money management the really telling issue is about how much financial trouble a person has been in, or is in now, and what's their attitude and motivation for getting out and moving forward? It's true of money management, as it is with many life skills dynamics, that a person's history around the skill is often the best predictor of future effectiveness. But don't let past difficulties prevent your forward movement. If you haven't got the skills you want, it's encouraging and helpful to remember they can be acquired. They require a little coaching, some practice with patience, and some discipline. One helpful tip: If you've had problems managing money, fix them before you get married! Develop this hew skill first, tailor your financial disciplines, and experience some modest success. You'll bring an attractive confidence to a new relationship.

So, here's another one of those questions I promised in a previous blog. Consider it and, for example, think about the above discussion:

What do you hope or expect your (future) partner will have done to help assure a durable and satisfying marital relationship with you?

More next time.