Pre-marriage advice from an “old” married woman

December 2010 photo of Clare, married for 26 years

Recently I found a letter Clare wrote to me in 1988, back when friends who lived far away kept in touch by snail mail.

Clare had been my roommate in Greenbrae, California before she moved to Hawaii. There she met her husband; they remained in Kona Kailua, where they raised a son. Four years after she married James, I wrote to tell her that I had recently become engaged.

Clare’s response has wisdom for anyone contemplating marriage. She wrote:

“Let’s see…advice as an “old married” lady (her tone is ironic: she was 30 at the time):  I think the most important thing you can do before getting married is to discuss together the expectations you each have of your spouse, and also the responsibilities you will each have. For instance, who’s going to pay the bills? Will all the money be in one account? Who will take out the trash? Cook? Wash dishes?

“These seem like boring practical things, but they can cause big arguments. If you expect your husband to do the supporting, and he expects you to do all the housecleaning, you need to know in advance so you can talk about it if you don’t agree. Love is great but the romance isn’t always there. I think it’s the other things that make or break it.

“Marriage is something you commit to making work–not just ‘well I’ll try and if it doesn’t work I’ll get out.’ People with that attitude are almost guaranteed failure. It takes a lot of giving in and letting your partner be himself. ”

I want to add something to Clare’s comment about “giving in.”

Either spouse will try to accommodate the other in a good marriage. Depending on the situation, including on who feels more strongly about a particular concern, one partner or the other should let go of his or her preference — for the sake of the relationship.

Now married for over twenty-two years, I can see how sage Clare’s suggestions are. She understands the need to discuss and agree on practicalities before marrying. She recognizes that in a good marriage you commit to making it work, you discuss and try to honor your partner’s wants and needs as well as your own, and you are guided by values you hold to be true.

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