A Quick Survival Course for Marriage

Published November 1, 1979. A former student stopped by my office the other day. As we talked he said he was getting married in three weeks and was a little apprehensive, “I’ve got a few minutes before my next class,” he said, “so tell me how to survive the first year of marriage.” I had heard of short term counseling, but this seemed to be a little extreme.

Don’t try too hard. The first thing I suggested to my student was not to try too hard at the beginning. This may seem like unusual advice, since many divorces occur during the first year or two of marriage. It has been my observation that many young couples divorce, not because they don’t care, but because they often try to live their whole marriage during the first year.

Those who get married now may not be aware that there is a very good possibility they will celebrate a golden wedding anniversary acknowledging 50 years of marriage. The first year or two therefore, is merely the beginning. I suggested that he and his wife just live the first year of marriage and get to know each other better. Allow a year or two to establish a track record before making any judgments about the marriage.

I recalled a friend of the family, as I was growing up, who still used a fine team of horses on his farm. He continually admonished his farm hands not to work a good team to death. We frequently do that with marriage. In and of itself, marriage has the potential to be a fulfilling, satisfying relationship. But if excessive expectations are placed upon it, marriage, like the team of fine horses, becomes overburdened.

Don’t try to be married like everyone else. Many newly married couples are confused because they don’t know how married couples are supposed to act or interact. Frequently we want to be married like our parents, not realizing they have had 20 or more years of practice. If only we could go back with our parents to their first few years we would have an entirely different perspective.

If it is not our parent’s marriage, we try to emulate another older couple such as a married brother or sister, a neighbor, a relative, or perhaps a religious leader. I suggest they let their own marital lifestyle emerge without trying to make it like someone else’s, or more importantly, like everyone else’s.

Don’t take minor incidents too seriously. I recalled an event in my own marriage after just three weeks of wedded bliss. My wife, Susan, was cooking breakfast for my parents for the first time. I went out to the kitchen and she was upset because she had just broken the yolk on one of the eggs she was frying. I got upset because she was upset over what appeared to me to be a minor item. (I have since learned that cooking the first meal for your in-laws is not a minor item for new wives!)

We both became upset because we were upset over the broken egg yolk and were visibly annoyed with each other. For some strange reason my parents found it necessary to leave early, and after they left we had a two-hour discussion about the importance of broken egg yolks in our marriage.

A word has been coined which describes this process, it is called “horriblizing.” We horriblize many events in life which means we allow minor situations to become major. These episodes have elsewhere been called tremendous trifles. The significance of these events is tremendous to one marriage partner but a mere trifle to another.

Tremendous trifles include such innocuous events as where do we squeeze the toothpaste tube, where dirty socks and underwear belong, how does one eat fried chicken, should a marriage partner sprawl or snuggle while sleeping (between snores), and are a man’s razors only for shaving his face?  Like other confrontations, tremendous trifles should be dealt with but not blown out of proportion in marriage.

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