More people than in generations past are now choosing to wait until they're in their 30s to get married. But, while older couples may be more mature, they also must deal with unique challenges as they merge their lives.
Here are some ways you can prepare well for marriage after age 35:
* Examine your expectations. Ask yourself honestly why you want to get married and how you hope your life will change once you do get married. Make sure you have healthy, realistic expectations. Don't expect your partner to make you happy, and don't try to change him or her. Understand that the best motivators are a desire for unconditional love and a need for lifelong companionship.
* Lay foundation stones for your marriage. Proactively build a healthy marriage by figuring out what activities make each other happy and pursuing them regularly, unpacking the emotional baggage from your past so you and your spouse can understand each other, developing a friendship in which you respect and enjoy each other, learn effective communication skills, commit to openness and honesty with each other, establish a mutually enjoyable sexual relationship, and forge an iron-clad union in which you each help complete the other.
* Discuss money. Fully reveal all the details of your financial assets and debts to your partner, and ask him or her to do the same for you. Talk about how you plan to manage money after you get married, considering such topics as: bank accounts, retirement accounts, property, life insurance policies, wills and trusts, and debts.
* Decide where you will live. Discuss whether you will move into a home that one of you already rents or owns, or whether you will move into an entirely new place. If one of you moves into a home previously owned by your partner, decorate it in a new way to help the newcomer feel more comfortable living there.
* Work together lovingly to try to blend your lives. Be willing to compromise as you tackle issues such as pets, home churches, possessions that need to be pared down, and any move that will separate one of you from friends and family.
* Be flexible. Understand that your marriage will be much easier if each of you are willing to be flexible with each other. Recognize that your way is not always the right way, and know when to let go and accept change.
* Discuss your careers. Get to know your partner's work requirements (including how much business travel is required). Be honest about the stresses you experience due to your workload or your paycheck, and decide not to take out your stress on your partner. Set clear boundaries between work and home and make time regularly to eat dinner together, attend church together, enjoy your friends, etc. No matter what your current work circumstances, write a joint mission statement that details why your work is important to you and where you would each like to be in your careers in the short- and long-term future.
* Have patience if you're creating a stepfamily. Set realistic boundaries. Help the stepparent to feel accepted and not so much of an outsider. Help the natural parent to stay connected with his or her own children. Help the children to feel some sense of control and be able to express their feelings of loss. Strive to build a home where everyone will eventually feel comfortable. Establish some new family traditions.
* Don't sweat the small stuff. Decide not to keep score of ways your partner has disappointed you. Acknowledge your own quirks. Realize that it's not possible to change your spouse, so you shouldn't even try. Learn to apologize and forgive. Make it a regular habit to do small acts of kindness for your spouse.
* Fight effectively. Instead of merely reacting during a disagreement, try to respond thoughtfully by striving to work the issue out in a spirit of cooperation. Set a timer, don't insult your partner, outlaw threats and ultimatums, don't intentionally push your partner's hot buttons, don't fight when you're tired or stressed, and learn what works best at calming the situation. Take time out of working to resolve your difficulties so you can focus on having fun together. Make time to pray together, asking God to soften your hearts and bring you into greater unity.
* Grow in Christ together. Share stories of your spiritual journey, pray together daily, read the Bible together on a regular basis, and find a spiritual ministry you can do together.
* Establish memorial stones. Create concrete reminders of what God has done for you in the past - things like journals or photo albums or souvenirs of how God answered specific prayers. These "memorial stones" will serve as spiritual markers for your family, reminding you of God's power and grace and encouraging you. They will also serve as a witness to others.
Adapted from The Savvy Couple's Guide to Marrying After 35, copyright 2003 by Kay Marshall Strom and Dan E. Kline. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Ill., www.ivpress.com.
Kay Marshall Strom and Dan Kline are a happily married couple living in Santa Barbara, Ca. Kay has more than 30 published books to her credit. Dan is a professional speaker and has addressed numerous Fortune 500 companies as well as many other groups. Now partners in Kline, Strom & Associates, together they have spoken to well over 100,000 people in more than 20 countries.