This article originally appeared in Your Tango
While our kids are eagerly anticipating summer vacation, parents considering a divorce are going back to school.
Oklahoma lawmakers signed a bill requiring divorcing couples with children under the age of 18 to complete a mandatory educational program. We guess parents are not going to be thrilled about this forced enlightenment. And yet, compatibility with your spouse is a critical subject. And it’s one you can pass with flying colors without government intervention if you complete these three homework assignments:
1. Anticipate Problems
Marriage is difficult! Anticipate problems. We are not trying to be negative, but problems exist in all marriages. No one marries someone who thinks and feels exactly as they do. And yet we are often surprised when conflict arises in our homes.
Would your relationship feel different if you anticipated challenges and worked towards understanding? Instead of hurting your partner’s feelings and resenting them for not knowing what you want? Marriage is a little like construction on a road; if you know in advance that there is going to be trouble, you may be irritated, but you can plan for it. On the other hand, if you are not anticipating any issues or delays and the orange cones pop up out of nowhere, your reaction and the outcome is far worse.
No marriage will ever be perfect, but anticipating problems creates a different attitude or environment. Norman Vincent Peale said, “change your thoughts, and you change your world.” Every marriage has its rough patches, so anticipate them and avoid the lawmakers and lawyers.
2. Stop Fighting About Money
When you do hit those rough patches in your marriage, does it seem like you’re always traveling on the same rutted section of road? Do you find yourself fighting about money?
If so, you are not alone. 70% of divorced couples say they called it quits because of money.We personally see it over and over again, couples exhausting themselves with frequent fights about money. They are caught in a cycle of assumptions, misunderstandings and blame. It rarely matters if they have lots of money or very little in the bank because money isn’t really the problem.
It took us years to see this, not only in our own marriage, but in our work. We’d meet with couples in our financial planning business. We would put together airtight financial plans for them, and still see them fighting and even divorcing because of “financial issues.” The plan (and often piles of cash) didn’t make their conflict go away because those arguments were not really about money. They were about relationship issues like trust, respect and connection.
She wants to drive through Starbucks every day; he wants her to save money and make coffee at home. He wants to let loose and enjoy a memorable vacation; she ruins the trip with her constant worrying about costs. She wants to invest in her friend’s new company; he is suspicious of another investment risk and sees no need to put money anywhere but under their mattress.
Both parties feel judged, misunderstood and hurt. Disagreements like this could go on forever because people are born with an attitude about money (we call it your Money Personality), which rarely changes. But you and your partner can identify your views about money and the ways they potentially conflict with each other. And then stop fighting about it.
3. Dream Together
One of our money tools to help couples communicate about money in honest respectful ways is the Money Huddle. This is a time set aside to discuss the current state of debt and savings, each person’s emotional needs in regards to money and a time to dream about the future together.
Setting aside time to optimistically and realistically discuss money eliminates some of the urge to fight about money day in and day out. If you see a money fight gaining steam, you can table it since you have somewhere to discuss it later. You can curb an argument by saying, “let’s talk about that Sunday night in the Money Huddle.” We recommend doing it once a month, but if weekly works better at first, go for it.
We have found when couples dream together, they move forward together. Even if those dreams feel boring right now like “save for college,” if you tackle them together, someday you’ll be able to dream of sailing the high seas or becoming a pastry chef. The process of dreaming together will draw you closer and build a deeper sense of connection and intimacy.
Oklahoma’s new law reminds us that marriage requires continual learning. Perfect marriages don’t exist, but unions where the couples have anticipated potential problems, identified repeated areas of conflict and dreamed together about an ideal future do.
Just like summer school Calculus, marriage isn’t easy, but at least what you learn about your relationship you can use every day — unlike the derivative of the inverse of hyperbolic functions.