Since I’m on a “marriage kick” this week…
What was the best marriage advice you ever received? We were asked this question at our marriage retreat a few weeks ago. At the time, my mind was so exhausted from worrying about anesthesia, Bogie pooping on my parents carpet, Mr. Dunbar flying into town and then flying right back out, whether or not I had remembered to pack underwear and my eyeliner; that I had no answer. My mind was blank.
While I was blow-drying my hair yesterday it came to me.
The best advice, well okay, the most useful advice I remember getting.
We got it while we were completing our pre-marital counseling. The Pastor told us said, “Just because your parents did things a certain way, does not mean that’s the right way to do it. Whatever ‘it’ is.”
I believe our parents have lasting impressions upon us. Good or bad. Or both. Isn’t it funny that the bible actually refers to this idea, you know, the whole “leave and cleave” thing because its like God knew how hard it would be for us to “leave” them, especially their influence if it was good. And since Mr. Dunbar and I both think our upbringings were pretty good, replication of what we saw for 20+ years is pretty much inevitable. We have both been blessed with phenomenal people as parents. Not perfect people. We have moms and dads with qualities and faults, but all with huge hearts. The kicker of it is, is that Mr. Dunbar and I both mostly have great memories growing up, but we lived completely different lives. Whose parents’ marriages were managed in nearly polar opposite ways.
A few examples:
One set vacationed, big vacations. One set never went out of town ‘just because.’
One set came home every night. One set had a parent gone for lengths of time.
One set sat down maybe a few times a week. One sat down for dinner with a big meal every night.
One set talked about sex a lot. One set didn’t, ever.
One set never argued or yelled. One set had to make sure the windows and doors were closed they yelled so loud.
One set had friends and family over often. One set only had family over often.
One set went to church occasionally. One set went to church more often.
All of these concepts and ideas and memories shaped who Mr. Dunbar and I were when we walked into this thing called marriage. Each of us had our own pre-planned idea of how things were going to be. We both had our own vision of what our family, work, friends, finances would be like. Sure we planned and we agreed on big things.
A house? Yes. Dogs? Yes. Kids? Yes. Church? Yes. Retirement? Yes.
But then came the nitty gritty. You know, those things that don’t get settled until you’re actually living them. If you’re married then you know what I mean.
Who washes dishes after dinner? Who takes out the trash? Who does the ironing? How often do you vacation? What does vacation look like? Who does the grocery shopping? Toilet lid up or down? Here’s a big one: Who’s in charge of paying the bills? How do you pay your bills? As they come in? Or on a certain day of the month? Who pays the bills (like what from who’s paycheck?)
My mom paid the bills every single month and then she would tell my dad how much was left over. My mom still pays the bills and my parents have been married for 34 years, it works for them. So, I paid the bills the first year or so we were married. I may or may not have paid certain bills multiple times in one month and forgotten to pay others, maybe. I would grumble about this task every single month, making a big mess on the living room floor with what had been paid and what needed to be paid. Yet I was the one that demanded to do it. Ironic? Finally, after a year of chaos we decided it would just be best to let Mr. Dunbar manage everything and its worked for six years, like a charm. “Just because your parents did things a certain way, does not mean that’s the right way to do it. Whatever ‘it’ is.”
There are other concepts that are more personal like budgeting, and sex, and your in-laws, and disciplining your kids, that most of us just revert back to what we knew growing up. Spanking? Having a budget? When its okay for your in-laws to show up? How many relatives you buy Christmas gifts for? Who you spend the holidays with? All of these added strands of life that are linked in with your marriage.
Mr. Dunbar and I had to work through all of these issues. One at a time. Some of our ideas are still developing, especially this thing called child-rearing. I think it will be an evolutionary process, but that’s a whole other topic. Even as our lives have changed from DINKS (dual income no kids) to a one-income soon to be three kid household, we have had to change some of our ideas. But I think that what works the best is that we are both open for change. We’ve talked a lot about what we experienced growing up, what we liked, what we would have changed back then, what we will change now. You know, the easiest person to change is yourself. (Mr. Dunbar is laughing at this idea right now, I know- since I am so not open to change a lot of the time.) And its hard because so much of the time I just want to do what my parents did, its what I know. But then we come back to the table and figure out what works best for us, in this household. It’s not always easy, especially if one or the other has a stronger resolve over something. But just knowing that “what your parents did is not always the right way to do something” has opened up room for change and knowing that he’s doing the best for me and I am doing the best for him leaves us both happy a lot of the time.
We have also taken a lot from what we experienced growing up. Family is important, even extended family. Sports play a major role in our activities as a family. We both like having a nice home and a yard that is fun for our kids. We really do take so much from what our parents taught us through their example, I can't even come up with more tangible examples right now. We both always knew growing up that we were loved, we were taken care of, we had a home, and a family that consisted of both parents. The important things, things that we hope to provide for our boys.
So, now that I’ve babbled, what’s the most useful or best marriage advice you got?