The First Year of Marriage

Part
2. Relationships Before Marriage

What helps to overcome difficulties in the first year
of marriage? What habits should become the norm? Is it
worth it to fear conflicts? How should we build
relationships with our parents? And why should we study
psychology? Archpriest Paul Gumerov speaks on all of this
in this installment of our conversation.

Hello, dear friends. We are continuing our conversation on
family and family relationships. The theme of
today’s meeting is “the first year of
marriage.”

The first year is indeed a very important one in family
life, and the most difficult. It brings quite sorrowful
statistics. If you take a hundred divorces registered at
any courthouse, you will see that twenty-five percent of
them are from the first year of marriage. People
couldn’t even wait until the second year of family
life! Why does it happen this way? They couldn’t
endure the difficulties of this time.

Should we fear difficulties?

The first year is a time of adjusting to one another. They
already knew about this three thousand years ago. We can
read in the Old Testament that a youth, entering into
marriage, was freed from every state and community work
and duty, and didn’t serve in the army, in order to
settle his family life and build his family nest.

This period is very important. He and she get used to one
another. He and she are united in the collaborative
building of their nest. Infatuation helps them very much.
We know that infatuation will not continue forever. It
continues, in all, for a few months or a year. As a rule,
in marriage it’s already fading. There needs to be
serious cooperative work, serious creativity towards
creating a relationship of a different type—marital
love.

As always, I have gathered the questions most often posed
on this topic—questions about what those planning to
get married need to know about the first months and years
of family life, and how to prepare themselves for them. He
who is forewarned is armed, as they say.

Venerable
John of the Ladder wrote that a person having a
difficult, combative character can be likened to a rock
that collides with another rock, and in these collisions
two possible sequences of events can develop: these rocks
are either rounded off, becoming such smooth, weather-worn
pebbles, or they shatter into pieces. But the saint notes
that even if they shatter, a person will understand his
weakness, will understand that he has a difficult
character and that he needs to work on it. And in such
failures you can discern for yourself great importance ,
to see some of your mistakes.

So, the first year. Yes, it’s difficult for new
spouses in this time, but it’s also easy, because
they must resolve many problems together, and it unites
them, and helps them to become one whole. What kind of
problems?: relationships with your families, housing which
you are either buying or renting. Often within ten months
after the wedding or a little later, but within the first
year of marriage, a child is born which also seriously
strongly unites the spouses and forces them to care for
this new, third member of their family together. A joint
project quite strongly unites. And these difficulties
themselves are later, as a rule, remembered with a
pleasant sadness. After all they are the best years of
family life. Therefore, we shouldn’t fear
difficulties.

Man in general, getting married, shouldn’t be
afraid. It’s not good for man to be alone. And if
someone fulfills the commandments of God and approaches
such tasks with responsibility, the Lord will help him.

About habit in marriage

People often ask why they say “the family boat has
crashed against life,” and what to do in order to
keep the newness, freshness, and sincerity of the
relationship.

In our previous talks we spoke about how important our
relationships are before marriage, when we should learn to
timidly and carefully relate to one another and to take
care of one another. We should learn to give more than to
receive—it’s very important. I’m
reminded of the diaries of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna
and her letters to the Emperor
on the front during the First World War. The empress was
very worried for her spouse, and what tender letters she
wrote to him! I advise everyone who wants to prepare for
marriage to first read these sweet letters. The royal
couple already had five children, they were far from being
young, the emperor was just under fifty, and they related
to one another as if in the first months of marriage, on
their honeymoon, or even as if before marriage. What
gentle words they speak, what names they call one another,
how they’re nervous and worry about one
another… They’re all very important points.
Empress Alexandra Feodorovna wrote in her diaries that
family happiness emerges from the small, easily
forgettable episodes which, maybe, are worth nothing to
us—cups of tea served by a caring hand,
complimentary words we have said to the other person. And
people get used to the good—to the good they have
every day.

We should at least please our other half with small
things. This should become a good habit to replace another
habit of bantering with, or teasing, or making some
nagging comments towards our other half.

And it seems to me that every family man, reads morning
prayers and prays to God: “Lord, help me this day to
behave so as to delight my family and loved ones as much
as possible and to grieve them as little as
possible.” We must avoid unkind advice, avoid barbs
in communication and avoid sermonizing and moralizing.
It’s quite easy. You don’t have to offer any
sacrifices or waste much time and means on this. Is it
really difficult to buy your wife some chocolate when you
leave work, and give her flowers once a week?

And to wives, meeting their husbands coming home from
work, it’s not worth it to load him up from the
doorstep with some problems. “They’re calling
you to school: our son again got a D for the
quarter;” “my computer broke—you should
fix it right away,” and on and on. Let your husband
rest and gather his strength. And you should train your
children to greet papa with reverence and respect. First
say some kind words to him, feed him, give him some tea,
and then proceed with some serious questions and
conversations.

People also ask about housekeeping. Today, as a rule,
women work alongside men, but, coming home from work, the
husband relaxes, but the wife begins to cook, and wash and
clean, and so on. So, how to divide up the household
chores?

Yes, the classical model of marriage is more stable as per
the statistics: the wife at home with the children,
settling the family nest, caring for her husband and
children, that is, fulfilling purely feminine functions.
And the husband is the head, the breadwinner, the
provider, the hunter. But the classical model cannot
always be implemented today. It’s not easy for one
husband to feed a big family. And if the wife also works,
as so often happens, then husband and wife should do the
household chores evenly, somehow coming to an agreement
about it. Of course he is tired, and she is tired, and
she, perhaps, moreso, because she also has the kids,
lessons, laundry, cooking, ironing—all purely
feminine work. But it seems to me that the authority even
of the venerable head of the family will not come crashing
down if he helps his wife wash the dishes or cook dinner
or tidy up the apartment. This is just how we show our
love.

Love is not about serious sacrifices, but very simple,
daily actions. It’s sacrificing your free time. For
example, when you are tired after work, but, seeing that
your wife is overwhelmed, you help her set the table, help
her clear the table, and enlist the children. It’s
also very important. Here it’s not necessary to
agree to the division of responsibilities, but just to
lend a hand.

What should husbands know about female psychology,
and wives about the male?

We need to know about specific female and male needs, to
not mess things up.

Husbands and wives, men and women are creatures created by
God with very different psychologies, not just different
physiologies. It’s not accidental. Generally
everything that the Lord does is for our salvation.
Therefore, every one of us has the opportunity to serve
another person in marriage. Men are creatures of greater
physical strength and durability. And he should have the
need and desire to help his wife, to take upon himself any
kind of heavy work, and to lend a helping hand. Wives, as
creations inclined towards empathy, towards compassion and
towards sympathy, should desire to comfort their husbands,
to caress him, and take away his fatigue.

The Lord created us differently. This is a
given—it’s a fact. And even if people strive
for equality and equal rights, nothing happens. There are
even male and female professions, and men and women retire
at different times. Men serve in the army, and women
don’t serve. Men compete against men in the same
sport, and women against women. We are built differently
and there’s nothing we can do about it.

I’d like to focus on one important point: removing
stress.
The reaction of men and women to stress is completely
different, and spouses should know about this. Women
remove stress most often by communicating. They even
produce a specific “communication
hormone”—oxytocin. When a man says some nice
words to a woman and caresses her, her body produces these
hormones which fight against stress. And when the husband
comes home, the wife wants to communicate and chat with
him. For women it’s generally very important to
express themselves. We all know that girls begin speaking
much earlier than boys.

A man deals with stress differently. He needs some time to
be alone. Generally for men periods of activity and
passivity alternate. Even if a man sits at work behind his
computer or handles some papers, without physical labor,
not putting up posts or digging trenches, all the same it
is for him a time of activity, and it must give way to a
period of inactivity. So after work it’s very
important for a husband to rest, to be alone and unwind.
Wives should remember this. As I already said, don’t
immediately burden your husband having arrived home from
work with any of your problems. Give him, maybe, an hour,
place a guard around the door and divert the children that
they don’t bother papa. But, of course, it’s
preferable that the husband’s stress won’t
take too long to subside, not hours, and to have time to
do something with his family and to satisfy his
wife’s need to communicate.

Why does a husband need peace? Here again it’s all
in the hormones. For a man to relieve his stress, for
manly endurance testosterone responds—a purely
masculine hormone, and it is produced in a state of rest.
It’s not produced from communication, from exercise
or anything else. So it’s necessary to give your
husband the chance just to sit, read, or watch a film.
It’s completely normal for him. Many wives
don’t understand this and think that if she has a
need to talk, then the husband should listen and talk with
her. Indeed, he should, but a little later.

Men must absolutely satisfy a woman’s need to talk,
otherwise she’ll talk to someone else—with her
girlfriends, endlessly discussing her husband, or with her
mama, with her mother-in-law… And you yourself will
very seriously suffer if you don’t talk with your
wife.

Is it possible to avoid fights?

It’s very important to separate two concepts: fights
and conflicts. Conflicts in family life are
unavoidable—not a single family has been able to
bypass conflict. Why? “Conflict” is an English
word meaning “collision,” and a man and woman,
as different creatures, as people from different families,
with different interest, will not avoid colliding.
There’s a Russian proverb: “a pot collides
with a pot.” And what can we say about people!
Everyone has his own character and interests, everyone
judges from his belfry, and looks at problems in his own
way. Most important is that a conflict does not develop
into a fight. We will talk about family conflicts in
another talk, but I will briefly state the main point:
it’s important not to give place to anger and
irritation in order to discuss all disputed issues,
clashes, and conflicts of interest in a peaceful state of
soul. Don’t lose your peace, because peace is the
most important thing. If you don’t have peace in
your souls, if you don’t have peace in your
families, then although you have earthly blessings, things
won’t be good for you and you won’t have
happiness. Happiness is within us—it is peace of
soul and peace with our loved ones. It is precisely in
this that family harmony and human happiness consist.

Relationships with parents

What could be the pitfalls in communicating with your
parents? Can we allow parents to interfere in a young
family’s life—financially, by advice?…

In the marriage service it says: “the prayers of
parents make firm the foundations of
houses”—not interference, not intrusive help,
not the counterintuitive assistance which parents
sometimes offer. And moreover, we know that in Holy
Scripture it says: Therefore shall a man leave his
father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and
they shall be one flesh
(Gen. 2:24). And we must know
this commandment as spouses and as parents.

Parents shouldn’t interfere in the lives of spouses.
We’ve brought our child up to adulthood, invested in
him all we were able to invest: the reasonable, good,
eternal and spiritual, and now we must pray for him. We
should help our adult children but not interfere in any
situation in their lives, because such interference, as a
rule, ends sadly. And spouses, I repeat, should remember
this commandment as well, because many spouses
aren’t able to pull themselves away from their
parents.

One man came to me once in the church and said that his
family life now is in a very trying situation. He has a
child from his first cohabitation—he wasn’t
married, but he considers that he has responsibilities
towards this child and this woman, and what’s
more—his mother is sick and in need of help. But his
current partner doesn’t like any of it. She
doesn’t like that he goes off to his mother and to
this woman and that he spends so much time with the child.
I told him that’s she absolutely correct to not like
it, because the hierarchy of family values in the life of
a married man or woman should be lined up like this: in
the first place the husband or wife, because they are
one flesh—this is the first degree of
relationship, then children, then parents. We have
obligations before parents, of course, but we
shouldn’t place them on a higher level in the family
hierarchy or consider them closer than those closest to
us, and for a husband that’s the wife, and for a
wife the husband. When this hierarchy is violated our
other halves inevitably suffer. Maybe mama is pleased that
her son visits her often, but his wife, as a rule, is not
pleased that her husband disappears to his parents.
Moreover, parents quite often manipulate their adult
children, feigning sicknesses, needing some kind of help,
and a man tosses everything and runs to them…
Sometimes such issues are resolved with great difficulty.

Once a couple came to me, talking about their
circumstances. The wife’s mother was sick, in
serious condition, but for some reason the couple
couldn’t take her in; maybe the husband didn’t
want his mother-in-law to live with them. They hired a
good, paid nurse. They visited her mother regularly,
taking a priest to confess and commune her and give her
Unction. They made such a compromise. Their family peace
was preserved, although in order to pay the nurse they had
to find additional work.

Such questions, regarding conflicts of interest, should
always be resolved in peace and love. And the main,
decisive word should be that of our spouse, and not of our
parents, because parents, unfortunately, so often love
their children with blind parental love.

And again on psychology

My friends, it’s imperative to study family
psychology. I can recommend some books on this topic:
The Little Church and Keys to Family
Happiness
—don’t think this is a
self-advertisement. These books were released by the
publishing house of Sretensky Monastery. It says in them
that wives should know about husbands, and husbands about
wives. I have another book called Him and Her,
precisely about why the Lord created us so differently,
about the differences in male and female psychology, and
about how to come to unity in family life—to unity
in marriage. I would like to emphasize again: The Lord
created us differently precisely for unity in family life.
As Ivan Alexandrovich Ilyin said, by the presence of a
living love and a living conscience in man, even our
differences lead to unity, and to manifesting the best
qualities of our souls.

To help another person, to fight with our inadequacies, to
get used to our other half, to seek knowledge about how to
do it—we’re all different. We know that the
Lord created us male and female. And some distinguish yet
a third hypostasis of children because they have their own
psychology, which we should also read about. After all, a
child quite differently perceives those things that seem
completely obvious to us because we’re adults.

Peace, goodness and love to you all, and may the Lord save
you.

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