Are you looking for the keys to a happy marriage? Are you in a dark spot now? Or are you in a bright place and trying to figure out how to keep it that way? Are you considering marriage but concerned about what will happen after you say, “I do”? I have been married for almost 14 years. And while I do not yet have the experience of someone with 50 years, I think it is long enough to share what I have found that has helped keep us happy so far.
Firstly you must start with yourself. Another person cannot make you happy if you have not found happiness within yourself. Self-love is essential for a happy marriage. Your significant other cannot love you more than you love yourself. If you think they can, you are setting yourself up for disappointment because they are imperfect.
Loving yourself also helps you to gauge if the treatment you receive is appropriate. If they are constantly putting their needs above yours, this will become an issue down the road because your needs are not being met. Yes, there are seasons where you may have to have the forefront, but this should also not always be the case. We will come back to this topic a bit later. If you are not married yet, please be mindful that there is no magical change of behavior when the ceremony ends and you both have said your vows. Are you happy with yourself? If not, start looking at what you need to help restore your inner happiness.
Is your significant other happy within? If they are not, you cannot give them the self-love they need no matter how hard you try. Just as you must find your happiness within yourself, they have to find their own too. No matter how hard you work to give, support, reassure, and love your significant other, self-love has to be developed within each person.
Next, let us revisit the seasons in marriage I mentioned earlier. Marriage will have various seasons, with one person’s needs requiring more attention than the other’s. It is not always 50-50. For example, as a physician, when I served as Chief Medical Officer, my work hours required me to be away from home a lot, which meant my husband had to do more for our daughter than I could. As I learned the role and was able to get more administrative time to handle work duties, I was then able to help him more. Now, he has an administrative position, and I am helping more with my daughter. The key to success in balancing this is communication.
I had to listen to what my husband was saying verbally and nonverbally. I accepted the CMO position after discussing with him what it would entail. Though it was a great opportunity, we did need to decide on a partnership as it affected so many areas of our life. We can more effectively manage seasons and their changes with open communication. This can sometimes mean that you must hear something that you do not want to hear. Open communication does not mean you always agree, but you listen and are receptive to what you hear. You then have a better chance of coming up with a plan that may not make you 100% satisfied but that you both agree you can deal with.
Now for the big gun! One of the most significant issues that lead to divorce is finances. It is ideal to talk about money and how it will be handled before you get married. Agree on some ground rules. Of course, as time and circumstances arise, you have to be willing to be flexible and modify. If there are any non-negotiables, then you must disclose them. A prenuptial agreement can help. Attorneys are great at assisting with financial concerns. But I get it, and you do not plan to divorce, so you do not want to go that route. Or maybe you are already married and did not do one. It is ok. There is the option of a postnuptial agreement. If you have had arguments about money, you should plan a conversation using open communication to discuss how each of you feels and what each of you wants. If you cannot agree or it is causing a lot of strain, a marriage counselor, financial planner, and attorney are people who can help get you through this hump.
My husband and I talked about money before our engagement. We dated for three years before getting engaged, so we were able to see how the other person handled money. We openly discussed our credit scores. We discussed our thoughts on credit card use and managing debt. Now, we did not discuss this on the first date. But it was discussed as we began to see that our relationship had the potential for marriage. We made a few ground rules during our engagement. We decided that we would have three accounts at a minimum.
One account was the joint account, and we agreed to a certain percentage of our income that would go in there. All household expenses would come out of that account. Again there is the potential for things not being 50-50. At this time, he made more than me, so he contributed more. He was content with that. I knew once I finished residency, I would make more than him and that I would contribute more. And I was pleased with that.
Doing it by percentage was a suitable method that we both were content with abiding by. We also ruled that we would not spend over a certain amount from the joint account without discussing it with the other. So yes, when we bought our first home, and I went furniture shopping, anything over our agreed-upon amount, I discussed with him first. If he disagreed, we figured out an alternative if I could not persuade him to cave in. This was vice versa as well. Remember, open communication is so important!
We also have a personal account for each of us that the remaining percentage goes in. We can do whatever we choose with that money and do not have to ask for permission to spend any amount. So yes, if one of you makes more, someone has more money to spend. If a significant gap does not work or seems unreasonable for the person with less pay, open communication can help bridge the gap to develop an alternate plan. But above all, you have to talk about it and work together to come up with a plan that suits you both. Since I recently opened my practice, my income has been significantly less. However, my husband and I talked about this aspect before deciding to proceed with opening the business. We had to develop new rules to follow since I had no income at all starting my practice.
So what are the secrets to a happy marriage? There are many, but these are a few essential ones I have found to help in my marriage. Happiness starts within. It begins within you, and it starts within your significant other. You cannot make someone else happy if you are not satisfied with yourself. There are seasons in marriage. Open communication helps you to work your way through those seasons. Talk about your finances in advance using open communication. If you need help, some resources can help you through the process. Marriage is not always 50-50, but flexibility and open communication can help bring about more happy days than sad ones
Crystal A. Maxwell, MD, MBA, FAAFP, is a board-certified family medicine physician with over ten years of experience. She is the Founder & CEO of LIGHT Family Wellness. She is also a wellness coach, author, speaker, wife, and mom. Her website is www.lightfamilywellness.com, and she can be followed on Instagram and Facebook @lightfamilywellness.