My mom and my dad had one of the most solid marriages I’ve ever seen. Here’s what they taught me about love.
By Ossiana Tepfenhart
Written on Oct 29, 2023
Photo: Ground Picture | Shutterstock
Have you ever seen a couple that always seemed to get through everything, even when they were polar opposites? If so, you’ve probably met my parents.
From the moment they got engaged to the terrible day my dad died over 35 years later, my parents functioned as a unit. They were always on the same page, managed to handle crazy in-laws and also somehow managed to raise my butt.
My parents may not have been perfect, but if there is one thing they were great at, it’s showing me what marriage should look like. Nowadays, I’m married and it’s the lessons that I took from my family that helped guide me to be a better spouse.
A lot of my fans have been asking me what marriage advice I’d give them. Honestly? I’d tell them to take a page from my parents’ rulebook.
Here are the 7 best pieces of marriage advice I ever got from my parents:
1. Choose the right person, first of all
My dad married my mom within a month of meeting her. I married my husband within six months of meeting him. At first glance, this may seem crazy, but it works for a reason.
By six months in, a man statistically knows whether or not he wants to marry a woman. Most (but not all) people will drop their “best behavior masks” within three months of knowing someone.
Statistically speaking, marriage is a bigger risk to a woman than it is to a man — though they both take a risk jumping the broom. So, what does this mean? Simple: you need to vet your partner hard before you marry them.
Before you tie the knot, ask yourself these questions:
Does this person have the same values as me? Have you sat down and talked about politics, abortion, religion, and childcare? If not, you better do that. Moreover, this is something you may want to double-check. If their online personas reveal something different than what they say, you need to hit the pause button.Does your partner show signs of conflict avoidance? If you’ve seen your partner ghost others or take things “lying down,” then you shouldn’t be surprised if they end up ghosting you. You can’t keep a marriage together if one of you is terrified of voicing a concern.Do you feel like you can be yourself around this person? If you find yourself hiding hobbies, getting mocked for how you talk, or anything that makes you feel worse about yourself, this is not the one to marry. Does this person stand up for you when you’re disrespected? If a person (such as a potential in-law) is talking unfavorably or treating you badly, do they step in and tell them to stop? If they don’t stand up for you now, it will likely never happen. Does this person like your friends? I learned this the hard way with my past relationships, too. A person who wants you to ditch your friends is not a person you want to be with. Losing friends is the first step to abuse.Do your friends and family like this person? In many cases, your friends and family will see red flags you don’t. A bigger red flag is when the new partner refuses to engage with your loved ones. In the case of my friend Ted*, his now-ex didn’t bother meeting his friends or attending his father’s funeral. They’re divorced for a reason.Does this person contribute to your life and pull their fair share? Beware the partner who doesn’t pick up after themself or the partner who insists on you doing the most legwork. It will only get worse after marriage and kids.Finally, are they enthusiastic about marrying you? A person dragging their feet, refusing to give a date, or having to be browbeaten into it will divorce you and resent you.
2. Do not marry a person until you’ve seen them angry
My mom told me this pearl of wisdom, and admittedly, it almost caused a breakup between her and my dad. However, I’m still putting this advice down here because it can save your life.
Most abusers will snap and abuse if they get too angry. If you see something that scares you about your partner’s rage, that should be the moment that you break off an engagement.
But, don’t do what my mom did. She made the mistake of picking a fight to see him angry. The argument ended up being legitimately awful and my dad almost broke up with her.
When she was about to be dumped, she told him what she did and he burst into laughter. It turned into a hilarious story for a while after, but I don’t recommend doing it as most people won’t be as okay with it as Dad was.
3. No matter where you are in your relationship, always keep money aside and always have an out
This was a piece of advice that was passed down from my grandmother to my mom, then to me, then to my daughter. Money is not just for paying the bills. It’s for buying freedom from bad situations.
You might marry someone who appears to be a great person, but things can change in an instant. All the vetting in the world doesn’t guarantee a happy ending. You would be shocked at how fast a relationship can fall apart through no fault of your own.
A friend of mine had a great relationship where they lived together and everything. Her partner had a stroke and became a totally different person. He became aggressive, violent, and hateful. He drained their bank account and she had to flee their home or worry about being a statistic.
The thing that saved her? She had a secret bank account and a family member who helped her move out fast. She was able to book a room somewhere and re-establish herself.
Many friends of mine (myself included) who were in similar situations were not able to save up. They ended up on the streets, which can often turn into an “out of the frying pan, into the fire” type of deal.
This is why you never, ever stop working, regardless of your gender or the number of kids you have. That money can save your life. If you can’t put funding aside for a “flee fund,” you shouldn’t date until you can.
At the very least, talk to people and figure out if you can have a crash space if your partner becomes violent or abusive. That alone can be enough to get you to bounce back.
Oh, and get a prenup. They’re not just for celebrities, you know.
4. Remember that both you and your partner can leave at any moment
There were a couple of things my dad made sure never to do, and number one with a bullet was to never take my mom for granted. In fact, my mom also never took my dad for granted.
Why? It’s simple: they both knew staying in a marriage was a choice. Marriage is not a purchase of a person for your own use. It’s a relationship where you build together — a business partnership with a smattering of love.
Every month, you need to ask yourself if you want to stay in that marriage. Are you getting anything out of it, or is it making your life worse? Do you feel like you’re putting 90 percent in and only getting 2 percent back?
Have you tried to address problems in your marriage only to be ignored? Cool. You can leave if you want to, and in many cases, you should. Leaving may not always be easy, but it’s always an option.
There’s a flip side to this. You have to ask what you provide your spouse that’s keeping them there. Are you romantic with them? Do you help around the house, earn a paycheck, and support their goals?
Every day should be treated as an opportunity to court your partner. For example, I made my husband breakfast in bed today. My husband ran me a bath the other night. Do things like that, and you’ll stay together longer.
5. Recognize your non-negotiables and walk if they are crossed
Your non-negotiables are things that you cannot and will not tolerate. The most obvious ones are verbal, sexual, physical, and financial abuse. Abuse should never be tolerated.
Non-negotiables mean that they are dealbreakers. When you see abusive behavior, even if it’s a mild slight, you leave because it will only get worse from there.
But, there are other non-negotiables that aren’t always easy to spot — including things like choices on children, childcare, politics, drug use, and what your role in the relationship should be.
If you aren’t sure what your non-negotiables are, write down a list of lifestyle changes that you would never make. Those are your non-negotiables.
6. When you marry someone, you marry their family and friends, too
Yes, your partner will become your immediate family. That means that you and your partner need to prioritize each other above everyone else — at least, till you have kids, if you have kids.
If your partner’s family keeps trying to push you to the bottom of the ladder, your relationship is doomed from the beginning. If your partner’s family and friends hate you, then trying to marry your partner will result in a horrible future for yourself.
Take time to meet and bond with the people your partner surrounds themselves with. Do they treat you well? Do you feel welcome and cared for when you’re with them? That’s a great sign.
7. Remember that money matters — but personality matters more
Neither my mother nor I married when our partners were rich. She married him because she genuinely liked him and saw that he had the drive for a career. He married her because she was career-oriented too.
They were both broke when they married. By the time my dad died, he was considered to be one of the most highly-recognized people in his field. I was raised in a very wealthy part of New Jersey — not an easy feat, definitely!
My story is similar. My husband and I started off with about $50,000 a year total in an area where the cost of living rivals New York City. We’re doing a lot better now. His income doubled, mine went up by about the same, too.
Marrying for money is a reasonable idea, but that doesn’t always make the best sense. Money can vanish in the blink of an eye. What doesn’t vanish that easily is the drive to do better, the determination to succeed, and the desire to provide better for your family.
Looks fade. Money can vanish. Popularity can flip-flop faster than you can think. No plastic surgeon, PR agent, or bag of money can replace a decent character and the drive to succeed.
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Ossiana Tepfenhart is a writer whose work has been featured in Yahoo, BRIDES, Your Daily Dish, Newtheory Magazine, and others.
This article was originally published at Substack. Reprinted with permission from the author.