What do you see as a positive marriage? Is having six month’s worth of income saved in the bank a mark of achievement? Or is having the largest house on the street? Do you imagine a happy family going to football games together, or is attending the opera what you see as family bonding? Does going on a lot of vacations as a couple mean you’re winning at life? Or does having dinner as a family signify success? Couples can enter marriage with very different definitions of what it means to win. Early on, they can be so caught up in the romance of the relationship that they don’t stop to discuss what happiness in couple-hood and family-life really means to them. When they start living together and children arrive, these differing definitions can be sources of conflict, which can lead to divorce.
Early Romance Doesn’t Always Indicate Future Happiness
In the early days of a romantic relationship, the couple can’t get enough of each other. There is lot of physical attraction. Before they know it the two have committed themselves to each other for life. It’s likely that important questions haven’t been asked before getting married.
One of the most important questions couples should ask themselves is how they define success. Are you planning on making your career a major part of your life? Is having children a big part of your plan? You’d be surprised how many couples make major life-long commitments to each other without really discussing these obvious goals.
Success Can Be Defined by the Small Things
Major goals like career and family are obvious differences that can cause conflict in a marriage. But so are the small issues. Minor differences in opinion can also define how you view success in your married life.
How You Clean and Organize Your House Can be a Definition of Success
Consider how you clean your home. One spouse might feel like a house that’s always a little bit untidy is a sign of failure. While the other feels like a bit of disorder is normal, an indication of people living in the home. These two spouses can see something like housecleaning as a very different way of defining success.
What seems like a small difference while a couple is dating might even seem like a cute distinction at the initial stage of romance. This difference may even attract the couple to each other early on. But it can become a huge problem in a marriage.
A slightly cluttered home can become a central point of conflict between two people trying to live together and establishing a family. Keeping the house perfectly clean can cause one spouse undo stress, while a little disorder can drive the other mad.
What If One Person Likes Keeping a Tight Budget and the Other Spouse Doesn’t?
We all approach money a little bit differently. A lot of it depends on how we were raised and our personality. There aren’t always right and wrongs about this. In general it’s good to be responsible with your spending, but how precise one is with monitoring one’s expenditures, keeping a budget, and managing investments is really a matter of personal choice.
Many couples find money to be a source of conflict, often having great differences of opinion about how to keep track of it. Most will agree that having more of it is good. But the conflict comes from different styles regarding how to manage it. One spouse may want a precise accounting of every penny, and the other might find that attitude to be really controlling. And the conflict stems from there.
Personal Views Can be Sources of Conflict
Consider political or religious beliefs. You may enter the relationship thinking about these private ways of thinking to be differences that are not that relevant to your romantic relationship. Or perhaps your attitude is simply to respect each other’s differences, accepting the different points-of-view. But when you’re married and have children you begin to see that these ways of thinking translate into a set of values that determine what your spouse defines as success in family.
Differences in Religion Affect Definitions of Success
Maybe one spouse considers a successful family as going to church services every Sunday, while the other thinks Sundays should be a day of recreation. Maybe one spouse wants to teach their children to pray and believe in God while they are young children, while the other would prefer to let their children wait until they’re older to make up their minds regarding religious issues. You can imagine how this could be a source of conflict.
Political Philosophy Can Cause Conflict in the Way You Parent
We think of politics as determining who we vote for in a private booth once a year, or which political party or candidate we donate money to. But our political philosophy dictates a lot more than voting and elections.
Maybe one person in the marriage wants to teach their children to be independent and freethinking because of their liberal political beliefs. This may conflict with their spouse’s conservative point of view, which values obedience and conformity to long standing establishments and value systems.
These different philosophical and political points of view can create different definitions of a successful family, and can dramatically alter the way that individual parents feel their children should be parented—causing conflict.
Different Visions of Entertainment and Recreation
Nothing spells success better than the way we enjoy ourselves after a long hard day of work. Initially when couples are dating they don’t care what they’re doing, as long it’s together. But once the flames of passion die down a little, the individuals in the relationship start to realize that they may not always like the same things as each other. Going shopping might be boring to one. And going to sporting events might feel like a total waste of time to the other.
Okay to be Independent
As we mentioned in this article, it is important to maintain a sense of self in your marriage, and when these differences become apparent, it can be an opportunity to begin doing things alone or with other friends outside of your relationship. This is healthy and normal, it’s actually good for your marriage to do things without your spouse from time-to-time.
Showing Interest In Your Spouse’s Hobbies
But there should also be a sense of appreciation for the interests of your spouse, even though they are relaxing activities you may not share. If your husband loves working on his award winning classic 1969 Mustang, you may not be required to help him work on it in the garage. But you might go to get-togethers with classic car club members, and celebrate at the car shows with him to demonstrate your love and support of his hobby and interest.
If your wife is a fan of Jane Austin novels, you may not be expected to read any of the books, or join her book club. But you might be able to go to a movie adaptation of one of the books with her. You can handle sitting through a two-hour movie to show your love and support of something that she cares about. And maybe you could talk with her a little bit after the movie to find out why she loves the story so much.
How We Handle Differences in Marriage
Ultimately there’s going to be differences between spouses. We’d be bored if we married someone that was exactly like ourselves. It is, however, important to have some key goals be very much the same. We should have the same vision of success when it comes to family, money, and careers, to the point where we can be united in these goals, working together to accomplish these important objectives. And we should be very aware prior to marriage where there are different philosophies, be it religious or political, as these can cause major conflicts.
And when it comes to personal hobbies, interests, or sources of entertainments—again, we should be aware of what we’re getting ourselves into prior to marriage. We should be sensitive to the other person’s feelings, and be willing to demonstrate attention in our spouse’s interests that we may not share, as signs of support and love.
McNamee Mediations Works with Couples Who Have Lost a Shared Vision of Success
At McNamee Mediations here in Orange County, many couples seek our services, either in an effort to end their marriage or as a final effort to save it. We’ve seen time and time again how differences in definitions of success can cause intense conflict within a relationship. These can be very challenging conflicts to resolve. We often recommend a marriage contract to clients who are willing to give it one last-ditch effort. And we very often send our clients to marriage counseling to work with a licensed therapist who we know and trust.