Thursday, February 21, 2008

Silver Anniversary Edition--Do's and Don'ts for a Lasting Marriage

This year is our 25th wedding anniversary! My husband and I celebrated it at the same place we spent our honeymoon, back when we were students, Epcot at Disney World. It had only been recently opened then, and we excitedly zipped around the World Showcase, kissing in every country and having a great time. This time the pace was much more sedate, but Disney never disappoints as far as delivering a guaranteed good time.

I didn't have much time to contemplate the past 25 years while I was there, however. Face it, this is a milestone not very commonly reached in a relationship nowadays. Our parents clicked off the years without comment (and sometimes without much joy) but now if you still have a good relationship after 25 years it seems almost like a miracle. My husband, always the optimist, promised me this miracle 25 years ago, but to be honest, I wasn't so sure it would happen. Not that I wasn't head over heels for him when I married him (otherwise I wouldn't have) and not that I didn't mean every word of my wedding vows, it's just that I was a realist and a pragmatist and I just didn't think there were any guarantees in love.

So I confront the fact that we are still here together, enjoying each other's company as much as ever, in love as much as ever and still faithfully devoted to each other, with an incredible sense of bewildered gratitude for whatever forces of the universe brought us together and kept us together.

For those of you who want to know the secret to this longevity, we have learned some things along the way but perhaps most of them have to do with marrying the right person to begin with; I don't know if any of this advice will work if you're with the wrong person.

1. Marry for the right reason and the one and ONLY reason is that you can't live without the other person. I mean they must be like the air you breathe to you. Otherwise, if you can live without them (or imagine it), then do so. You'll both be happier that way.

2. If there is the teeniest, tiniest doubt in your mind, don't do it. Marry with 110% certainty in your mind or not at all. Forget what people say about wedding day jitters being natural---there should be NONE.

3. People go on and on about honesty in relationships but then they lie to themselves like mad. Never lie to yourself about what you feel for another person, and it follows that you will find it easier never to lie to your lover.

4. Don't expect the other person to "make" you happy; always remain responsible for your own happiness in life. Obviously being married to someone you love and who loves you back is going to make you happy, but you still are a separate person with your own needs and wants and so are they. You both still have to fulfill your own separate destinies; your job as a couple is to help each other gain that fulfillment and not stand in each other's way.

5. Never compete with your spouse/partner. They aren't the competition; you are a team now and if you don't pull together in the same direction, then you'll pull apart at the first obstacle.
If their triumphs depress you on some level, then that means you are subconsciously competing with them. You don't have to match them or top them, you just have to be happy for them.

6. Never, never expect your partner to change. If you didn't like them the way they were when you married, then you shouldn't have taken that step. People do evolve and change but if you expect it or expect a certain result, you are setting yourself up for a fall. If you don't deeply admire and respect your partner as they are, then leave them alone and let them find someone who does.

7. Be loyal in every way to your partner; that means emotionally, mentally and physically. I believe that if you marry the right person, this is an effortless task, but there may be those of different temperaments who disagree. So if it's an effort, you have to ask yourself why and if it's worth it. It should be. Apart from cheating, the obvious no-no, don't criticize your partner in public, don't put them down, don't treat them with contempt. Save your contempt for your enemies. There have been studies that show that people treat their dogs with more kindness than their spouses. Be kind to everyone, especially your significant other.

8. Don't bring others into your relationship to try to fix it. This includes in-laws and children. If you're running home to Mommy every time you have a fight, then you aren't facing your problems the right way. Same things goes for friends; don't complain to your buddies about what you don't like, say it to your partner's face or not at all. And as for bringing children into the play, don't even think about it. If they already exist, leave them out of it and if you don't have any, don't think they will solve any differences or bridge any distances between you and your spouse. The bottom line: if you and your lover can't work things out together, then go to a therapist, but don't expect miracles.

9. Be explicit about what you want. Face it, if you don't know what you want, how do you expect your partner to know? Tell them, in no uncertain terms, exactly what you want from them and you may be pleasantly surprised. If they don't listen the first time, hit them over the head, write it on the wall in ten foot tall letters, hire a skywriter, but tell them.

10. Don't let resentment build. This is sort of an addendum to number 9. If you don't tell people what you want, and then you're unhappy and let the resentment build up, it will all explode in your face in the end. If you wait, even a week, you may end up fighting about something nonsensical just because you're still angry or hurt about something that happened before and which should have been ancient history by now.

11. BEGIN AS YOU MEAN TO CONTINUE. Wiser words were never spoken, but especially true in marriage. This is the mother of all advice. Don't "overlook" things, habits, traits, that will later drive you crazy. Nip things in the bud or live with them forever. If all is right in the beginning (and I mean REALLY right, not just superficial pretense that all is well) then you'll end up right. And, with a little luck, happily married for a long time which will seem like a moment!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Forties slump--symptoms vs. causes

The Miami Herald (2/12/08) reports that "a new international study which analyzed more than 35 years of data" found that people in their forties are more depressed than those younger and older. The lifetime curve of happiness follows a U-pattern, which bottoms out at age 44. Wonderful!

In the same article, midlife crisis is described as a "genuine condition" identified by the following symptoms: "irritability, loss of sex drive, impotence, fatigue, depression, hair loss, weight gain, and loss of ability to recover quickly from injuries."

Now I ask you, are they mixing symptoms with causes of the 40s slump? If you were losing your sex drive and your hair, fatigued all the time, gaining weight and aching from injuries, wouldn't you be depressed and irritable?

They then go on to offer hope: research is being done on testerone replacement therapy for men; nothing mentioned about women. So we get stuck going through perimenopause AND a midlife crisis at the same time with only primrose evening oil as a remedy. Paint me POed!

Friday, February 08, 2008

Financial Fridays--chasing the financial event horizon

Friday is my day off, so it seems every Friday morning I end up fussing and fretting about finances and trying to finesse my budget. Not a good way to start a weekend, but at least it gets done. Last Friday I did our taxes, this Friday I updated our budget (which I use an Excel spreadsheet for--it's sort of a big portrait of current budget, future expenses, taxes, fico scores, and retirement account earning predictions.)

It seems to me that before I started learning about personal finance, I lived in blissful ignorance and security and now that I know what is going on, globally and personally, I feel more insecure while logically I know that is not true. Every step I take now is to ensure our future financial security and I have the information to back it up--so why don't I feel more confident? I think I know what I know and I know what I don't know, so this should add up to more security, not less. Knowledge is power, right? But although our net worth has increased exponentially since I started learning and reading (and acting upon that information) eight years ago, I'm also aware of all the pitfalls that could await us.

My long-term (1-5 years) financial goals are simple:

1. Pay off house.
2. Have zero debt.
3. Have highly diversified retirement accounts totaling at least $700,000.
4. Buy car with cash.
5. Improve Home--add porches, simplify interior (declutter), add solar energy.
6. Start LTC plan for husband before he reaches 55.

My short term goals for this year are basically continue to do everything we're already doing plus start a ROTH IRA for my husband with an emphasis on International (not global) funds.

Saving more is an eternal goal but we don't seem to be getting better at it--we're basically keeping up with inflation by spending less, but not saving incredible amounts. There seems to be this weird event horizon when it comes to our savings--we eternally seem to be approaching but never reaching a certain amount. The minute we get close to the goal amount, we end up having to dip into it for some unexpected expense.