After Dennis Rainey’s June 10 Marriage Memo, “Establishing the ‘New Normal’ in Your Marriage,” a number of readers wrote to tell about the struggles they faced with this issue. As Dennis wrote of the “new normal” dilemma:
Each of you brings a different background and a different set of expectations into your marriage. Your family did things a certain way, and your spouse’s family did things a certain way. Often you don’t even realize what’s normal to you until you get married and suddenly your normal collides with that of your spouse.
“New normal” negotiations in marriage will occur over topics ranging from “How often should we vacuum the carpets?” to “Will our dog be allowed inside?” No matter how well you know each other before you’re married, you will be surprised by how often your “normals” collide.
One reader wrote:
I mostly have a problem with my wife when it comes to turning off lights and celebrating birthdays and having parties all the time. I prefer the light to be off when I sleep but she prefers the opposite. Again, my wife believes that every birthday (including that of our children) must be celebrated with a lot of presents (if it’s the children, then they must have a party at school, which she does all the time).
Another described a conflict that arose when she and her husband were celebrating their seventh anniversary. They had a new baby, and this would be the first time they left the baby with her mother while they went on a date. The baby was fussy at night, so she felt they should go out for lunch, but her husband insisted on dinner.
We finally sat down and talked about how both of us were feeling. I was upset because I did not feel he understood how nervous I was, and I did not understand why we had to go out for dinner instead of lunch. It turned out that that was not his “normal.” His family rarely went out to eat, and they never went out for lunch. You just had a sandwich for lunch at home. It did not seem romantic or special to go out for lunch to him. On the other hand, my family went out a lot more frequently and it was for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I always loved going out for breakfast growing up, but my husband and I never do. Now I understand why.
It’s amazing how honest communication, plus a good dose of flexibility, can help resolve conflict. Once she understood how their normals were colliding, she agreed to put aside her fears and go out for dinner. “The baby was just fine with my mom,” she wrote, “We were able to enjoy our evening together because we had talked about where we both were coming from beforehand and were on the same page.”
Everyone faces some type of “new normal” conflict in marriage, but for blended families the stress is even more intense. “My husband has two daughters, and that means that they already had established family norms,” one reader wrote. “My stepdaughters informed me, when they were young, that they would teach me how to be a mom because they knew how.”
Again, communication was the key—even if it began with an argument. “When we misunderstand each other, things get worse and worse. If we finally have a heart-to-heart and explain why we’re doing something with the kids or in our marriage, then we understand each other. Sometimes these heart-to-hearts start with a big fight, but things finally get resolved and we ‘restart’ with our new information about each other.”
In his article, Dennis suggested following the instruction of Romans 12:10, which tells us to “give preference to one another in honor” (NASB). Working through these issues is an opportunity to compromise and honor each other and create your own normal in your new home.