From “his” to “hers” to “ours”
Blending two separate lives can be challenging for newlyweds, especially for those who marry a bit later in life. The two television sets are waiting to see if they’ll face the same fate as a lot of other furniture in their home: That of being lugged out to the curb, eventually to be taken away by the garbage collectors. They know at least one of them will have to go. But, for now, they “survive” on opposite ends of the living room.
That’s because the owners, Rob Rams, 40, and the former Sandra Capalbo, 34, have not resolved yet whether to keep his 27-inch Philips or her 40-inch Sony, or to get rid of them both and just buy a new set. The decision-making process has been in the works since August, when the couple tied the knot and moved in together.
It’s an issue many couples who wed for the first time later in life – 30s and beyond – encounter: That of consolidating all the stuff they’ve acquired individually over the years so it can fit nicely in one household. For months, Mr. and Mrs. Rams were placing big items – primarily his stuff – including dressers, couches and tables by the curb for bulk pickup. “She wore me down,” Rob said, referring to the fact mainly his belongings were the ones to be “sacrificed.” But, he’s been a good sport about it. “If she didn’t have good taste, we’d have problems,” he said.
FUSING THEIR LIVES
Though seemingly simple, the TV dilemma is symbolic, representing some of the key issues new spouses encounter while physically, and mentally, fusing two separate lives. The transition can be challenging for all newlyweds, but is even trickier for those who have put off marriage and have lived outside their parents’ homes for years, perhaps even over a decade.
And, even if a couple has lived together for years, “cohabitation will have some subtle changes after the wedding … (as) the two of you really settle in as roommates,” Peter Scott noted in his book, “There’s A Spouse in My House” (Plume, 2008), to be released next week.
Mr. and Mrs. Rams, who decided not to live together before marrying, certainly found it to be a big transition once they did move in together. “After living alone for over 10 years, you get used to making your own rules and living by them,” Rams noted. When they were dating, it was easy. “At my house, we followed my rules; at her house, we followed her rules, and there was never a conflict,” he explained. Now the Rams are working at developing “their” rules. “We’ve come from different directions, and are molding the two,” Mrs. Rams remarked.
Psychologically, it’s been an adjustment, too. The Rams report their shift from the “his and her” to “our” mentality was made easier by their decision to purchase a house together, rather than one of them moving into the other’s home. “We decided to get something new and build together,” said Mrs. Rams.
That’s something Scott, the author, wishes he had done. At the time, he explained, it wasn’t practical for his wife, then his fiancee, to sell her house in Los Angeles. So, he moved in. Though he says his adjustment was “pretty easy,” he realizes, “there is the danger of it not ever feeling like this is ‘my’ space” for those who relocate to their partners’ homes. Scott, 31, laughs as he recalls how difficult it was for his wife to rearrange her clothes and create enough room for him to get a closet of his own. He, like Rams, was a good sport about it.
THE MONEY ISSUE
According to Sally Loper, a New York State licensed clinical social worker, money is a source of tension for most newlyweds. However, it’s a little easier for couples who marry young and are just starting their careers, since they are likely to be making comparable salaries. It becomes a more delicate issue for those who have worked longer and have had the opportunity to acquire more money and assets – or possibly even debt.
“People have various feelings about merging money,” Ms. Loper said. Some newlyweds may feel resentment about it, “especially if they’ve made a sizable sum of money on their own” and “are not so quick to give that up.” Like their loads of laundry, Mr. and Mrs. Rams do not mix money. They have their separate insurance plans and separate bank accounts, and each has their own bills to pay. So far, the system has worked for them.
For couples who want to combine their money, Michael Canino, a licensed clinical social worker said, “There is a textbook way of doing that.” Each spouse has their own account as well as a joint account, he said. Each person is required to put a pre-determined percentage of their income into the joint account, and the rest goes into their personal accounts. The couple pulls money from the joint account to pay for common bills, such as the mortgage, groceries, etc. Canino said many couples prefer this arrangement “because it is based on percentages,” not dollar amounts, allowing each spouse to have “individual money they can spend however they like.”
Scott reports this method works well for him and his wife, for both practical and psychological reasons. (“You feel like you have ownership of your paycheck.”) They also use a joint credit card for household expenses. He said an important thing to keep in mind when using this system is to “trust the other person on some of the things they spend it (the joint money) on. I like to err on trusting each other,” he said, “and if we clearly are having a problem, then we’ll sit down and have a conversation.”
Too often, he feels, couples like to micromanage and discuss every single expense. Now if “I went to the Lakers game and bought 100 beers and used the joint credit card to pay for it all,” that would be inappropriate and deserves a conversation, Scott said. But, for little items, he says he doesn’t feel it’s necessary to “check in.” “I am a big boy … and don’t need permission to buy shampoo,” he exaggerated to make his point.
Money is a big issue, but something Scott believes is equally important to talk about are the day-to-day gripes that may seem little but can add up over time. Especially for older, first-time newlyweds who grew accustomed to having things their way, these are the sorts of things that, if they are not discussed, can eat away at a marriage.
Scott said since couples are on their best behavior when they first move in with each other, they may be reluctant to speak up and rely on subtle hints instead of open communication. “That is not going to work,” he said, noting often the person’s efforts go unnoticed, as it did in his case. After his wife’s little clues failed, she gave him a “big tutorial” on how to hang the bath towels properly. But, she did so in a loving, adult way, saying something like: “This really matters to me, try it this way, and if it doesn’t work, we’ll figure something else out.” And that made all the difference in getting him to change.
As with all relationships, marriage “is always a fluid thing,” Scott said, noting a couple “may have everything worked out and then suddenly realize there is something else to deal with.” There will be all sorts of twists and turns along the way, but “everything will be fine as long as you keep working at it,” he concluded.