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21 Marriage Tips After 21 Years of Marriage

Updated: Mar 5

Updated Post: 7/15/23

Original Post: 2/28/23

Hope and I just celebrated our 21st wedding anniversary. We've learned a lot over 21 years. Some lessons we've learned by always doing the right way, and others we've learned the hard way. Here are the 21 marriage tips for young couples that are most important.

Table of Contents

#1 Hire a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) before you marry

Does money buy happiness? Maybe not, but it does buy resources to help couples through tough times. The best way to begin planning your life together is with a financial planner because a goal without a plan is just a wish, and you need to know the costs of accomplishing your marriage goals.

The benefit of hiring a CFP before marriage is that they can serve as an intermediary, guiding tough money conversations with a future spouse, particularly if a debt will be revealed in the meeting.

Do a background check on any financial planners you are considering meeting with:

  • You can find information about individuals named in SEC court actions or administrative proceedings which had judgments or orders issued against them.

  • Search your investment professional's background and make sure they are registered. It's a red flag if they're not! You can also check whether they've ever been in trouble with securities regulators.

  • FPA PlannerSearch®: Use the interactive tool to find a certified financial planner who is a member of the Financial Planning Association.

Gather everything from the checklist for your first visit with a financial planner well in advance. Select a financial planner legally bound to the fiduciary standard and take the time to go through these interview questions before committing.

The financial choices you make early in your marriage will have compounding consequences for many of the years that follow. I strongly encourage you to consider these five rules of thumb:

  • Prioritize buying assets (e.g., retirement contributions, investment property)

  • Keep your fixed expenses low (e.g., home and car)

  • Experiences make us happier than possessions

  • Avoid high-interest debt, or pay it off ASAP if you have any

  • Minimize spending on expensive clothes and restaurants

#2 Maintain the relationships with your friends

Friends can provide emotional support during difficult times and can be a source of comfort and guidance. This is particularly important during the ups and downs of marriage, where having a supportive group of friends can help to strengthen the relationship.

Having friendships outside of marriage allows both partners to socialize with others and maintain a sense of independence. This can help avoid boredom or loneliness when spending too much time with only one person.

#3 Have regular family "business meetings"

Managing a home together requires consistent communication. Meet weekly to discuss who is going to do what. What social plans do you want to make? When will you be free to take time with one another? How will your home continue to be clean?

Include in these meetings Money Dates, which are regular and honest conversations about money with your partner. A thoughtful approach to managing money in a marriage is crucial because it only sometimes comes naturally.

#4 Continue to participate in meaningful activities and live an active lifestyle

Not every activity that makes us happy needs to be a grand adventure. Sometimes it's as simple as the satisfaction we gain from a job well done. Discuss with your spouse what activities are meaningful to you.

Maintaining an active lifestyle is particularly important early in a marriage when career obligations are ratcheting up, at times when couples can fall into bad habits. An active lifestyle is vital to maintain physical and mental health. Being active together reduces stress, creates shared experiences, increases energy, and can improve self-esteem.

#5 Have mentors as a couple

One of the greatest gifts we were given was the Carstens family. Jerry and Jean have been married for dozens of years and have raised three successful children. They embody success as spouses and professionals.

They provided valuable insights and advice based on their own experiences, which was particularly helpful when we navigated challenging situations. They provided guidance and support when we faced difficult decisions and served as positive role models for maintaining a strong and healthy relationship.

#6 Maintain a work-life balance

I need to be open about this one. My work addiction challenges have sometimes led to work-life imbalances in our marriage. I regret allowing myself to slowly be sucked into more work, like slow-moving quicksand. Sometimes, lofty career goals or the additional money that comes with a promotion isn't worth the extra stresses and commitments that go with it. You have a lifetime to earn a living and can always make more money, but you can't get your time back.

#7 Be present in the moment

Being present in the moment means being fully engaged and focused on the present experience, without letting your thoughts wander to the past or future. It involves being aware of your thoughts, feelings, and surroundings without judgment or distraction.

When you are present in the moment, you are not preoccupied with regrets about the past or worries about the future. You are not sitting on the couch playing on your phone or working on your laptop in the office. Your spouse will not be happy if your thoughts are elsewhere while you spend time together.

#8 Decide how to handle inlaws and stick to it

Handling inlaws can be a delicate and challenging task. Set healthy boundaries and stick to them. This can help you avoid conflicts and maintain a sense of personal autonomy. Be clear about acceptable and unacceptable behaviors, and communicate them calmly and assertively.

Showing gratitude and appreciation for your inlaws when they earn it can go a long way in improving your relationship with them. Take time to acknowledge their efforts, and express your gratitude for their support.

#9 Eat meals together

Cherish the opportunities to eat with one another, particularly when you have children. It becomes more difficult as the children get older. You'll find yourself juggling after-school activities and errands. You'll need to make time to eat meals together, and don't allow phones at the table!

Some couples enjoy cooking together, take pride in their meals, and always look for new meals. Accept that you will only sometimes have the time to cook meals from scratch. Consider meal delivery services that can cut down on the time needed to shop for and prepare meals, and taste much better than throwing a frozen pizza in the oven.

#10 Plan holidays, establish traditions, and celebrate anniversaries

Christmas was only for us, and we never traveled. Going from home to home can take the fun out of holidays. Decide early on how each spouse's family will be included in the holiday seasons.

Some families can organize holidays on different days, so they don't interfere with one another. If you're not that lucky, you'll need to work through scheduling conflicts well in advance.

We have always made it a point to take time for ourselves for each anniversary. We would go out of town when we had the time and money, and if not, the kids were sent to friends and inlaws while we spent a long weekend together or rented a hotel. And we looked forward to writing notes to our future selves and reading notes we had written to ourselves.

#11 Continue to date

Married couples must continue to date to maintain connection and intimacy, keep the romance alive, and create positive memories.

Shared experiences and positive memories created through dating can help strengthen the relationship and provide a foundation of happy moments to look back on. Always be on the lookout for fun dating ideas.

#12 Have a fair and equitable plan for household chores

We asked a group of wives what they wanted as a gift, and the unanimous choice was for their husbands to do more chores!

Many men are happiest when making an equal contribution to household chores, that is according to research conducted by the University of Cambridge. Sharing household chores ranks as the third-highest issue associated with a successful marriage, behind only unfaithfulness and good sex.

Here is a process you can use to decide what tasks each spouse should tackle at home:

  • Discuss and identify what you enjoy and are good at doing.

  • Be honest about what you hate to do or the chores you don't feel the most confident doing yourself.

  • Whatever tasks remain, divide them up fairly.

#13 Listen and understand your partner's emotional needs

When your spouse seems on edge or begins to vent, ask if they need space, solutions, or emotional support. From the onset, you will know what type of support you need to provide.

When providing for your partner's emotional needs, be fully present, an active listener, and be non-judgmental.

To the left is an excellent example of why it's essential to sometimes only listen and provide a source for your spouse to vent frustrations.

#14 Be willing to see a marriage counselor

Philip Olson and Julia Lorenz-Olson are best known as the Two Cents couple, an award-winning show on PBS about personal finance. We hosted Philip on our podcast to discuss how they manage money and the home together. During the conversation, Philip mentioned the importance of seeing a marriage counselor to prevent big fights rather than only using them to help manage them.

Marriage counselors can help couples improve communication, enhance intimacy, set goals, and prevent future problems. If your difficulties center around money, consider hiring a certified financial therapist.

#15 Don't complain about your spouse to others

Complaining about your spouse to others can damage trust, stand in the way of resolving relationship conflicts, and damage both your reputations. If you cannot solve your problems together, consider hiring a marriage counselor. Professionals are neutral and trained to understand how to help couples work through issues.

#16 Prepare for rainy days

Just over 1 in 4 of today's 20-year-olds will become disabled before they retire. 60% of adults experience financial shocks (e.g., the car breaks down), and half cannot afford to pay for it without borrowing. On average, families experience large income swings almost five months out of a year.

Rainy days will happen, they will happen continually, and they often include emotional strain and sometimes trauma. Ensure you have enough insurance protection to mitigate risk and at least six months of expenses in a high-yield savings account.

P.S. Insurance salespeople are not financial planners. Keep your eyes wide open and avoid high-cost annuities.

#17 Conflict resolution skills

The best way to manage conflict is to avoid conflict. Start with driving. There's always a bad driver in a relationship, and there's always a bad passenger. Fellas, if your partner loves to drive from the passenger side, give up control and switch seats.

Now that I've resolved roughly half of your future fights consider adopting the Fair Fight Rules for Marriage.

  • Before you begin, ask yourself why you are upset.

  • Discuss one issue at a time.

  • No degrading language.

  • Express your feelings with words and take responsibility for them.

  • Take turns talking.

  • No stonewalling.

  • No yelling.

  • Take a time-out if it gets too heated.

  • Attempt to come to a compromise or understanding.

#18 Be confident in yourself, so your wife can be confident in herself

The days of masculinity defined by money are coming to an end. The 21st-century reality is that roughly 2 in 5 wives are the breadwinner. Husbands must find other ways to be confident besides high-paying careers, so we can stand tall to support our wives.

Husbands must physically and mentally take time to themselves to exercise regularly, engage in activities that bring joy, and get plenty of rest. Set realistic personal and professional goals and work towards achieving them. Recognize and embrace strengths and surround yourself with positive people.

#19 Have kids on purpose

We have three children, and two were surprised blessings. Of course, we love all three of our children and would not change a thing! However, marriage would have been easier if we were well prepared to have all three children in advance.

Do all you can to be emotionally prepared to tackle parenting together. Consider how you will manage childcare without being influenced by the 20th-century social norms that women should always stay home. And financially prepared. Whatever you think it will cost to raise your children, it's probably more expensive than that.

#20 Make parenting decisions together and be an unbeatable team

When it comes to parenting and punishing: it's kids vs. parents. Your kids will seek out the weaknesses in your relationship. Blood is in the water when one parent gives in, and they'll circle that parent forever like hungry sharks. Discuss the punishment, and be unrelenting in following through.

Parents need to establish clear communication with each other, including their goals, values, and expectations for parenting, to help avoid misunderstandings and disagreements. Parenting often requires compromise to find a balance that works for both parents and meets the child's needs.

Kids learn from experiences. They cannot learn to be gritty if they've never had to persevere. Children cannot become humble if you don't let them fail. Kids cannot learn to appreciate the world if you give them the world in their childhood.

Finally, seek professional help if you have difficulty making parenting decisions or have ongoing conflicts or disagreements. Involving a professional such as a counselor or therapist may be helpful.

P.S. You had your chance at childhood; don't live yours again through theirs. Support your children in whatever endeavor makes them happiest. And if you get a chance, volunteer at least once to coach your child. Those memories will last a lifetime.

#21 Providing for kids - know your limits

Parents want to provide their children with the same or more opportunities than they had. Always ask yourself, but to what end?

Is the cost of private school worth the additional hours you'll spend away from your family to pay for it? Is participating in every activity adding more strain to their childhood and relationship with their spouse?

Don't sacrifice yourself to provide more opportunities to the point that you are less of a spouse or parent. Nothing is more important than the precious time we have with our family.

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