There are so many things that need to be discussed about marriage before the wedding, and unfortunate as it may be, sometimes couples can get so caught up in the planning stages of the wedding ceremony, they forget to keep the focus on what it’s really all about—the marriage and relationship after the wedding ceremony. In marriage counseling, we often hear couples talk about what they would go back and discover about each other and their relationship if they had the opportunity to turn back the clock, so to speak. Many marital issues can be prevented simply by awareness of the potential issues, along with quite a bit of hard work. Here are some of the most common issues that need to be addressed and questions that need to be discussed prior to the marriage taking place:
- What are your individual expectations for marriage? Are your expectations healthy? Couples usually figure out quite quickly that the concept of “Happily ever after” isn’t very realistic, unless each person contributes to working on the relationship on a steady basis, and even then it’s important to expect some difficult times and struggles. Most couples do, however, come into the relationship with hidden expectations of what married life will be like, which they have never communicated to each other directly. Be realistic in your marital expectations, and don’t expect perfection. Recognize that relationships go through different phases. The excitement and over-the-top feelings of enmeshment from the beginning days of the relationship gradually transform to a deeper connection and a different type of love. Accept the fact that you are married to (or marrying) a human being who is flawed and imperfect, which means there will be disappointments and difficulties along the way. Levels of intimacy, passion and commitment are constantly shifting in marriage from time to time. The important part is to be aware of this and be open to talking about it with each other. If you begin your marriage with a realistic mindset that you will commit to working through issues and tough times that arise, your marriage will be stronger and more likely to succeed.
- What are your role expectations and relationship rules? For example, who fixes things when they break? Who is the primary breadwinner financially? Are both people expected to work and if so, how much? Who does the cooking, cleaning, and laundry? Who handles the money and finances? Many times, we come into relationships expecting the same roles as what we saw modeled by our own parents. Agreeing on the roles prior to marriage can certainly alleviate a lot of arguments on down the road. In addition to marital roles, what are your expectations for marital rules? For example, “Don’t work too hard or too late”, “Expect sex at least twice a week”, “Don’t talk about money outside of the family”, or “Don’t buy expensive gifts”. We also bring a lot of these unspoken rules into our relationship from our family of origin, which could be the complete opposite of your partner’s upbringing. It’s important to make the unspoken, spoken, as it relates to marital expectations. This allows for compromise. It’s also important that you are both operating by the same set of agreed upon rules, as well as negotiated relationship roles, which makes things go much smoother.
- What is your style of love? Many times in relationships, love styles can get out of sync if both people aren’t aware of the way they both give and receive love. How you love may not be the way your partner needs to feel loved. Don’t assume that you love your partner the way they need to be loved. Love styles are constantly evolving and changing, and need to be adapted accordingly. At one point in your marriage, you may need spontaneous acts of physical touch, while later you need help with the housework to feel loved and appreciated. Make a commitment to consistently re-evaluate your love styles and communicate these changes to each other in a non-shaming, non-threatening way. A great tool for recognizing your love style is the book “The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman.
- What are your communication styles? Can you say what you mean and understand what you hear from the other person? According to research by marriage and family therapist John Gottman, four of the most destructive patterns in relationships are based on communication issues, and can determine the success of the marriage: Stonewalling, Destructive Criticism, Defensiveness/reactivity, and Contempt. Stonewalling is where communication halts and one or both people use various tactics to derail the communication. Most commonly, it refers to one person remaining silent and refusing to answer a question or respond to the other during a conversation or dialog. Destructive criticism is where a person is overly critical in a shaming manner to the other, constantly looking at and pointing out the negatives in a shaming way. It can also show itself in the form of extreme rigidity that shuts the other person down where they quit sharing. Defensiveness and reactivity can usually be a result of destructive criticism, especially in couples with communication that is already unhealthy. Contempt is defined as a lack of respect, accompanied by a feeling of intense dislike, and can take form as a behavior, attitude, or a feeling. These are only a few of the communication issues that can have a drastic impact on the outcome of a marriage. Work on the communication issues before getting married, as marriage won’t fix them—you can only do that as a couple!
- Along the same line of communication— Do you know how to fight fair? Many couples learned destructive patterns of conflict from their family growing up (e.g., attacking, yelling, blaming, avoiding conflict entirely), and as much as they want to change things, they begin repeating the same way of handling negative emotions. Before marriage, be sure to discuss how you would like to handle conflict. What feels uncomfortable to you? What feels safest for both people to continue sharing their feelings? If you are struggling with those destructive patterns of learned conflict, relationship counseling can be a great tool to help you understand your past and find new ways of relating in your present.
- Do you have things in common and what do you share as a couple (e.g., values, beliefs, interests and hobbies)? It’s extremely important to discuss up-front what your beliefs and value systems are. Do you want children? How many? How would you like to handle child-rearing and discipline? Do you share the same faith and spiritual beliefs and how do you want that to blend into your marriage? In order to have these deep conversations, they must be built upon safe and effective communication, which is why the communication part is so important! It’s also important to discuss your expectations for interests and hobbies both in the marriage as a couple, as well as time spent apart with friends and extended family. Coming to an agreement about things shared as a couple helps each person feel like a respected and valued member of the relationship. It isn’t as important as what the interest or shared hobby is, but rather the willingness to enter the other person’s internal world by sharing that activity and interest with them. At the same time, couples need a balance of what they do outside of the marriage as well. Not every activity may be something you are willing to share. Learn to compromise for the benefit of the marriage.
While this list doesn’t begin to cover everything needed to prepare a couple for successful married life, it is a starting point to begin a deep and meaningful dialog of important subjects. If you need more information on premarital counseling, or if you are interested in our 5 session premarital counseling package, contact our office at (317)569-0046, or visit our website at www.imaginehopecounseling.com.
Imagine Hope Counseling Group provides premarital counseling, as well as individual, family, relationship and marriage counseling to Indianapolis and the surrounding suburbs of Carmel, Westfield, Noblesville, Zionsville and Fishers.
Saving Your Marriage Before it Starts by Dr. Les Parrott & Dr. Leslie Parrott
The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman