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Honey, We Have to Talk
By Jo Page

First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the rest of your life together—so now is the time to be honest about what you expect from each other

My former sister-in-law, Amy, and her husband, Seiji, fell instantly in love when Seiji arrived from Japan on a business trip to Denver. She didn’t speak any Japanese. He spoke only a few words of English.

Not that Seiji needed to find himself a bride. He had already been promised at birth to a girl in his village.

But did that stop either one of them? Nah.

Pretty soon, Seiji had broken off his engagement, to the shame and horror of the families, and was getting ready to marry a Midwestern American girl many inches taller than he who knew next-to-nothing about Japan.

But they did it. They got married. And still are, living in Tokyo, where Amy homeschools their kids.

You don’t need me to tell you this is a cockamamie way to conduct a romance.

On the other hand, there’s no telling anybody how to conduct their romances. People in love are damn fools who will do what they please. Anybody who has ever been in love knows that.

But, unlike Amy and Seiji, if you and your partner-to-be do share the same mother tongue, it’s a good idea to back-burner the incidental concerns (“Is Chip’s best man, Ernie, up to the task of seating the mothers?” “Should we register at Williams-Sonoma or Target?”), and pay some attention to the meatier concerns of a common life.

Find a way to stop being starry-eyed long enough to talk about these inglorious and essential aspects of your life together.

• Money. When you talk about money, you’re not really talking about money. You’re talking about control or the fear of loss of control. Talk not only about whether there will be joint accounts, joint and separate accounts or completely separate accounts (and the last is a red flag in my book), but also about what money means to you. How you think it should be budgeted, invested, spent. Sometimes being able to share the money you earn says more about personal character than being able to earn it.

• Kids. Pick a number, any number. No kids? One kid? Four? But also recognize that sometimes egg and sperm never make it to the same rest stop at the same time. Make as much room in your hearts for compassion as you would room in the nursery for the crib.

• Tears, sadness, anger. Learn to embrace the silly truth that sometimes you will look like—no, make that be—a fool in front of the other. And nobody needs tenderness like a fool needs tenderness.

• Fidelity. Try to consider the idea that emotional neglect is just as much a betrayal as who puts what where. In a good relationship, not screwing around is a little like not robbing a bank. Legal, but not necessarily admirable. And if your heart is aching for companionship, more than sex is missing.

• Honesty. Don’t lie to protect your partner. Mostly, it doesn’t work out, and it’s really only a scrim for protecting your own ego. Be honest, but be gentle. Be gentle, but be honest. Except for when your partner asks you if they look good. Yes, they look good. They do. They look hot. Repeat that. They look hot.

• Holidays and traditions. It’s easy to believe that the family traditions each of us had as children are the only valid ones. But not everybody likes to eat lutefisk or go to the St. Patrick’s Day parade. Blend those that you can, but be sure to make up some of your own, remembering that making love under the Christmas tree doesn’t count. Your parents probably did it, too. Until you came along.

• Homemaking. The best story I know is about a husband who, when queried about why he hadn’t done the dishes while his wife was out at a meeting, looked off into space, paused, and replied slowly, as if mystified by the workings of his own mind: “I. Just. Couldn’t. Bring. It. To. Consciousness.” It’s best to try to bring chores to consciousness and at least arrive at some semi-agreement about who will do what and when.

• M.A.S. That’s for Mutual Admiration Society. You each need to be the president and CEO of the other’s. Life’s hard. Everybody needs a champion, someone loyal, unafraid to be proud of you, unafraid to admire your achievements and support you as you grow in wisdom and experience. This is the best way to guard against the toxic resin of resentment that comes with apathy, hostility or dishonestly.

• Your bodies. Can you love what is aging? Can you treasure what is imperfect? Can you sustain your love and passion even through sicknesses? Can you desire what is vulnerable? And just as importantly, can you let it be known that your love and desire is not in spite of aging, imperfection or vulnerability, but simply because it’s your partner?

• Lifelong partnership. I know a woman married 50 years, and when asked who she’d most like to be able to talk to if conversations were possible in heaven, replied “My husband.” I’m sure they had already talked about the 10 things listed here. But a half-century’s wisdom had taught them there are still 10,000 more things to say.

Jo Page is pastor at Grace Lutheran Church in Niskayuna.

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