BRENT STOLLER

Writer. Advice giver. Peanut butter and chocolate enthusiast.

The Step-by-Step Guide to Settling a Marital Dispute

Woman playfully punching her husband with a boxing glove

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(Question has been modified for space and clarity.)

My husband’s side of the family lives in the U.K., and we just found out my mother-in-law is getting married at a courthouse in London. There will be no ceremony, but afterward she and her new husband will head straight to Bali to celebrate, along with other relatives.

We can’t afford for both of us to go to Bali, but my husband still wants to go, even though the trip would eat up all funds we’ve been saving to celebrate our anniversary at another beach destination.

If he goes, I would not only miss out on Bali, I’d miss out on the vacation we’ve been planning — the only vacation I’ll have for the next year.

Is it unfair for me to tell my husband, “Please don’t go”?

I want him to have the opportunity to be with family he hasn’t seen in forever, but this is money we saved for both of us. I also don’t want to sacrifice my only vacation — to celebrate our anniversary! — for his impromptu trip.

Am I being selfish?
–Wife Who Wants Her Vacation; Charleston, WV

“Pick your battles.”

When it comes to marriage advice, this is among the most common offerings.

Which isn’t surprising.

No matter how similar two people are, and no matter how much they love each other, they aren’t always going to be on the same page.

It’s impossible, especially given marriage’s spectrum of (potential) squabbles, from finances and family planning to what constitutes a clean house.

Sometimes, you have to stay quiet; other times, you have to step into the ring.

Your situation is worth stepping in the ring for.

In fact, it were a boxing match, it’d be on the level of Ali-Frazier. It’s got everything: monetary disputes, in-law drama, life-cycle events and dashed (vacation) dreams.

But what chance do you have of winning? Whose desires should take precedence, yours or your husband’s?

Let’s go to the tale of the tape…

Wedding vs. Anniversary

On one hand, your husband’s mother is getting married. Not his co-worker, not his college buddy, not even his best man from your wedding — his mother. It’d be strange if he wasn’t there.

And, in theory, this is something that happens once, whereas anniversaries happen once a year.

Plus, while he has to travel to celebrate his mom (either to Bali for this or to the U.K. for a separate celebration), you don’t have to travel to celebrate the two of you.

No, that’s not as special as a beach vacation. But in terms of commemorating your relationship, finding something special to do at home could mean just as much.

On the other hand, though it’s HIS mother, it’s YOUR anniversary. There are few occasions more important than that.

Precedence: Wedding. Once-in-a-lifetime trumps once-a-year. But it’s close.

Planned vs. Impromptu

“One of the problems in life is that when you’re a kid, you have a certain way of working out disagreements, and those laws do not work in the adult world. One of the main ways that kids resolve any dispute is by ‘calling it.’ One of them says, ‘I got the front seat,’ and the other kid knows he’s got nothing to say. ‘He called it, what can I do?’”

While I agree with just about everything Jerry Seinfeld says (at least in his eponymous show), I disagree with him here.

I believe the act of “calling it” can be applicable to the adult world.

Think about what goes into calling something, and what gives it its power.

It takes foresight. It takes preparation. And above all, it takes being first.

When it comes to you and your husband’s next vacation (and next big purchase), you called it.

It really can be that simple.

Precedence: Planned. This is, in every way, child’s play. Established plans always are given priority, unless they’re upstaged by a last-minute disaster, like a funeral.

Your Money vs. Your Money

(The first is singular; the latter is plural.)

Before my wife, Emily, and I were married, we rotated paying — if she got lunch, I’d get dinner.

This arrangement continued awhile post-nuptials, purely out of habit. And whenever it was her turn to pay, I’d still feel relief knowing that our meal wouldn’t show up on my credit card bill.

Eventually, though, it sunk in that her credit card bill and mine were one in the same.

Joint finances has to be among the biggest marital challenges, and not just for newlyweds.

Not only do you merge bank accounts, you merge purchasing priorities. What one person wants, so must the other, and vice versa. Each person wields equal power.

And that’s where things get tricky.

Of course, you and your husband initially wanted the same thing: an anniversary beach vacation. It was going to be an experience — and an expense — that benefitted you both.

So you started saving.

But now he wants to spend your savings on something that only benefits him?

Precedence: Your money (plural). Wanting a say in how your money is spent is not selfish.

Selfish vs. Self-Centered

Besides, being selfish isn’t a bad thing.

At least, according to my mother-the-therapist it’s not.

As she’s explained to me, when you’re selfish, you put yourself first. In a good way.

Your priority is becoming the best version of you. You do what you need to do — work, exercise, meditate, sleep, speak up, etc. — so you can do what’s needed for others.

When you’re self-centered, however, you put yourself first without regard for anyone else.

I don’t know you, but I know you’re not self-centered (in this instance) because of the following line from your submission:

“I want him to have the opportunity to be with family he hasn’t seen in forever…”

Amid the threat of losing your money and your vacation, you still stopped and thought about your husband.

Precedence: Selfish. Obviously. Never apologize for standing up for yourself.

Mother vs. Wife

I’m a mama’s boy. I always have been.

Not in a negative way, though. It’s not like I sit on my mom’s lap while she spoon-feeds me oatmeal or anything.

We’re just very close. She’s one of my confidants, and I would trust her with my life.

Oddly enough, she bolstered that trust years ago (not that it was needed) by advising me in a way that was (in theory) adverse to her:

She told me that once I got married, my spouse had to be the most important person in my life.

And that’s the way it’s been.

Emily is now my first call when I want to laugh, the shoulder I lean on when I need to cry and the counsel I turn to in search of guidance.

This dynamic, of course, is different for every couple. And you and your husband have to find your own equilibrium.

And while you don’t have to blindly defer to each other’s every desire or grant every wish, it’d be wise to consider each other — your thoughts, your emotions, how you’re going to be impacted — in every decision you make.

Precedence: Wife. It’s part of that whole we-over-me thing.

Final Tally: Though I turned this into an objective exercise, as with everything in love and marriage, it’s a feel thing.

You and your husband have to discuss everything and decide what feels right. To both of you.

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This article originally appeared on the Good Men Project.

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