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.