#2. Neither of You is in Debt to the Other
It sounds superficial to say that finances play the second most important role in a marriage -- romantic types would say that if their love was so fragile that money could break them up, maybe they were doomed from the start. But if you don't get realistic about this right now, you're going to find yourself in the same situation I was in six years ago.
I was working a shitty job, my ex wasn't working at all. Our third and final child was just born, and we were going down the list of friends who could loan us enough money to keep the electricity on. That was a regular thing with us because not only did we live well below the poverty line, but we didn't know how to budget the little money we did have -- my idea of budgeting was making sure I had beer in the fridge at all times. But here's the thing; it wasn't the shitty house and car that put pressure on the relationship. It was the stress. The constant arguments, the constant assigning of blame.
"Hey, unless you have a walkthru in that pile, you need to fuck right off."
The money just brought all of our mistrust into focus, this constant suspicion each of us had that the other one wasn't pulling their weight.
"Pulling their weight." That's the problem.
Don't picture your relationship as two people pulling a wagon. It's like two legs carrying a person.
... wait, what was I talking about? Oh yeah, legs.
If you break a toe, your legs don't have an argument about the fact that one of them is forcing you to limp. You just automatically change your stride and keep going.
It's hard as hell to get into the two legs mindset. If, say, you're working and the other one isn't, or if you're working more hours, it's easy to get to thinking that it's your money, like you're the father doling out an allowance, and that your significant other has to answer for every penny.
Or, you get into this bullshit math where you take home $500 a week and your girl or guy brings home $300. Your bills are $600. So, since you're using everything in the house equally, you split the bills down the middle, $300 apiece. Now she has nothing, and you have $200 left over, which you hold up in front of her, flipping the bills past your nose and sniffing deeply. "Mmmmm ... I sure do love the smell of sweet, sweet money. Bet you wish you had some."
Though, honestly, it is pretty funny if you do it just the one time.
That's when money destroys relationships. When you're still thinking in terms of what's yours and what's hers, and what each of you have "earned" in money or time or unpleasant tasks that need doing. As long as you're keeping a separate score, you're still not thinking of yourselves as a couple. You're just roommates.
You have to get to the point where you can trust each other to draw from the same pool, and if the girl says she needs $50 worth of (vagina polishing cream? I don't know my girly products) that you trust she is being responsible. And when your job earns you some extra money in one particular week or month, you both get to decide how it's spent. Even if it was your working overtime that earned it. Otherwise, everything becomes a battle.
"Hmmm ... well I did buy that whore yesterday, but to be fair, you bought dish soap last week."
In our case, when Emily moved in, she was coming from several states away. When she got here, it took her a couple of months to land a job. I had to carry us for a bit. And, maybe because I've been on the "carried" end so many times, I didn't feel the need to compile figures in a spreadsheet, figuring out what she "owed" me. I knew she would do the same if the roles were reversed. Hell, the roles could be reversed tomorrow. And she would step up.
But once you get into that bullshit of thinking the other "owes" you, that's a never-ending swirl down the drain. And again the debt isn't always about money, it can be because you did more chores last week, or changed more diapers, or you didn't jump down their throat when they forgot something important. Forget about which of you is in the plus column, the fact that you're keeping score at all means your relationship is already dead.
"And with my dishes yesterday, that puts me two ahead. That means I get ass sex tonight."
#1. You Are Truly Grasping What "Forever" Means
My doomed marriage didn't begin with a romantic gesture or a planned proposal. It was an ultimatum. She told me point blank one day, "If we're not married by July, I'm moving on." Back then, I didn't understand what "marriage" actually meant. Not really. To me, it was a ring and a piece of paper that said we were officially hooked up. I knew that if we didn't work out in that first year, we could always get an annulment. And if we lasted longer than that and ran into trouble, a divorce wasn't unheard of. In fact, it was pretty common.
So I did it. We went up to the courthouse and signed some paperwork. We paid a small fee. Then we met in the town park and had a quick five-minute ceremony in which four people attended. And just like that, we were married. Ten years later, I was sitting dumbfounded, alone in my new apartment, trying to figure out what went wrong.
"What the hell just happened? And who shrunk my '80s TV?"
I wasn't exactly the type of person who planned years ahead for things, so there was never this clear idea of, "This is the only woman I'm going to be with until the day I die." It was just the next thing to do. When you've been with a girl for a while, you sign these papers and she changes her name.
Imagine marriage didn't even exist as a thing. Like imagine you didn't live in a society where marriage is expected and where you continually get shit from people for not "tying the knot." Imagine all of those social pressures were gone, nobody was nagging you about it. Would you still make the promise to stay with this person forever? Are you getting married because you want to be married? Or just because that's what people do? A stunning number of marriages seem to happen because of the latter.
"I just thought I looked pretty in the dress."
About a year ago, Emily and I discussed marriage, and I told her that under no circumstances did I ever want to go through that again. I had been down that road, and I couldn't imagine having to deal with all the bullshit a second time. We didn't fight or argue about it, but there was still a short time where I didn't know if she was going to wake up one morning, call it quits and move back home.
But she didn't. She thought it over for a few days and then told me that she was planning on staying with me forever, whether we got married or not. She respected my feelings and accepted my decision on the subject.
She didn't even take a swing at me.
She made me realize that there exists a commitment so deep that some people are willing to bind themselves to its vows even without a piece of paper and a preacher to walk you through them. And I feel the same way she does. I mean, when you boil it right down to the basics, I'm committed to never cheating on her. I already love her, and I always will -- true, honest love isn't something that just dries up one day. I will always take care of her, no matter what the circumstance. I'm prepared to spend the rest of my life with her ...
... Oh. Well, I guess when I put it that way, I'm actually kind of surprised we aren't already married by now. I can be kind of a dumbass from time to time.
Emily Clark, will you marry me?
Update: She said yes. Which is a relief because it means I don't have to fist-fight her now.
Update 2: As of August 23, 2012, we are officially married.