In the US, couples tying the knot spend on average $20,000 on their wedding. Meanwhile, 50 percent of marriages end in divorce.
Although “happily ever after” is not guaranteed–no matter what type of wedding you have–there are things you can do to make it more likely. Because disagreement is normal, the ability to fight fair is key.
For newlyweds and others looking to build a healthy relationship, here are the five main sources of conflict and steps to resolve them:
Source of conflict #1: Clashing values and priorities.
Before you make any long-term commitment, explore whether you have compatible values and priorities. Do you both want kids? Do you have shared financial goals? Are the dreams and vision you have for your relationship in line with your partner’s?
Ignoring the warning signs or failing to evaluate whether your partner meets your must-haves often leads to frustration when the novelty of the relationship wears off.
Solution: Establish mutually agreed upon standards before tension mounts.
When you have a disagreement, stick to the issue at hand and don’t bring up old, unresolved problems. Listen with empathy and stay open to alternatives. Pick your battles; a disagreement doesn’t always require a drawn-out argument or lengthy discussion.
Accept that each of you has different backgrounds, experiences and perspectives. Having and showing respect for each other is critical. Realize you will likely need to exercise mutually acceptable options, instead of getting all your preferences met.
Source of conflict #2: Money issues.
Studies show that money is the number one problem in marriages and the primary cause of divorce. Merging two lives forces you to scrutinize your spending habits because it’s bound to affect the other, even if you each earn your own income.
Solution: Resolve financial issues right off the bat.
It’s always best to discuss money matters before you marry or make any other long-term commitment. If you postponed the talk, do it as soon as possible thereafter. Discuss each other’s personal debt and come up with a plan to settle it.
Keep a separate account for your individual expenses to maintain your financial freedom. Agree on how you will use your joint account for shared expenses. Create a realistic household budget and set ground rules for how you will manage it. Live within your means and don’t make excuses for buying expensive things you really can’t afford.
Source of conflict #3 : Unmet expectations.
Making wedding plans, including the guest list, flowers, cake and location, are trivial matters compared to agreements you make about your relationship. Unmet expectations–from how your partner greets you in the morning to the type of support he provides when you’re feeling down–can lead you to be critical and judgmental.
Solution: Make direct requests.
Commit to building a strong foundation through open, honest, and daily communication. Your partner is not a mind-reader. Make direct requests for what you want and need, rather than complain about what’s missing. Refrain from personal attacks and name-calling. Discuss the behavior and actions that upset you and the changes you would like to see.
Having the capacity and willingness to grow together is a vital ingredient in committed relationships. But while you can expect your spouse to change through his or her efforts, with your encouragement and over time, don’t expect to change your spouse just on your say-so.
Source of conflict #4: Divergent interests.
Shared activities, such as traveling, cooking, dancing, and brainstorming solutions to mutual problems, allow you to strengthen your bond and build positive memories. Spending quality time together helps you to grow together and avoid growing apart.
But how you do thrive as a couple when your interests diverge? What if you like romantic comedy movies while your partner can’t stand them? Or you like to try ethnic restaurants and he or she prefers to cook dinner at home? Do you make compromises on whether to see the play or go to the football game?
Solution: Encourage individuality.
While it’s great to spend time with your spouse and hang out with mutual friends as a couple, maintaining your individuality is equally important.
Invest in your own hobbies and activities. Cultivate and maintain friendships outside the social circle you share with your spouse. Agree to engage in things by yourself or with others that would simply bore or agitate your partner.
Source of conflict #5: Household chores and responsibilities.
Unfulfilled promises about who does what around your shared home creates discontent. There can also be tension over what constitutes an ideal household or tidy home. One might hate seeing dirty clothes on the floor, while the other can’t tolerate dirty dishes in the sink.
Solution: Divide and conquer.
Make core agreements about who’s responsible for which household chores and responsibilities. It doesn’t have to be exactly 50/50. You could agree to each focus on the tasks that you prefer doing. For example, one can do the cooking while the other cleans. Or agree to take turns doing certain chores that you both dislike.
Live up to your promises or renegotiate upfront when you can’t. Divide and conquer household responsibilities rather than whine about who did or who didn’t do what.
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While these solutions can help you resolve conflict, you are the expert on your own relationship. Learn from your mistakes, be patient with yourself and with your partner, and apply what works for you.