Of course you’re in love. You know you’re ready to vow “through sickness and health until death do you part”. But, there are some things you must know about your partner before you are legally committed to another? Have you started to make decisions about what you both value and desire for your marriage? What questions and topics do you want to have discussed and clarified together? What do you both value and want for your relationship? What do you want for yourself as an individual? Imagine what your relationship gains if you engage your future marriage relationship before you would say ‘I Do’.
Take a deep breath and consider these questions and tips.
Can they handle conflict? Conflict is certain in marriage, but that’s not all negative. Learning to resolve conflict can have many positive benefits, provided you learn how to handle conflict in a healthy way. Healthy conflict gives birth to intimacy and understanding. Unhealthy conflict creates bitterness and resentment. “Two major red flags of unhealthy conflict management are stonewalling (the silent treatment) and any form of violence. If someone is a little too angry as a boyfriend/girlfriend, they will be much too angry as a spouse, “Marriage typically increases conflict and the potential for anger.”
Will they kiss divorce good-bye? Every marriage eventually proves to be difficult at times. Human nature is such that if there’s an easy “off-ramp,” we tend to want to take it. Marry someone who is committed to working through every challenge you face without considering divorce as an option.
Will they be a spectacular parent? You’re not just choosing your future husband or wife; you’re choosing your kids’ future dad or mom. It’s impossible for you to imagine how much you’ll love your children; they will pull emotions out of you that you didn’t even know you had. And on the day you bring them home, you’ll be so glad you picked someone who will be a fantastic parent, or you’ll grieve that they have to put up with someone who is neglectful or, even worse, abusive. “If you plan on having kids, your marriage isn’t just about you,”
“Your future spouse’s suitability as a parent is a major deal to consider.”
Do they know how to communicate? Communication is essential to build new intimacy when infatuation fades (which it will). If you marry someone who is fearful of communication or unskilled at communication, your marriage will fall into an intimacy rut. Joshua Harris writes, “You can’t love what you don’t know. You can’t be truly loved if you’re not truly known. And the only way to know and be known by another person is to communicate—openly, honestly, sincerely, humbly.” Women, however much your boyfriend talks to you, imagine marriage will have 25% less talk. (I’m not suggesting it should be that way, just that it often is.) Will that be enough? If he’s already borderline in this area, you’re likely to become very frustrated after marriage.
Make peace with your family and future in-laws
Tension between family members is a fact of life these days, but when there’s a wedding involved, it often becomes exasperated. While you may not be able to put a stop to that 10-year-long feud between Aunt Mary and Grandma Jo, but try to make peace with any relatives yourself or at least force yourself to put up with their crazy antics for a while. Trust us, it will make the wedding planning process much smoother, especially when it comes to deciding on the all-important task of seating arrangement.
You do not know everything there is to know about your partner, and this is a GOOD thing. Alongside the benefits of comfort and reliability, a sense of mystery and subsequent curiosity about the other is important. There’s always more to learn. Cultivate a curious perspective.
A little flexibility goes a long way. Just because you always do it one way doesn’t mean you have to always do it that same way in the future. Just because he said that one thing one time 3 years ago does not necessarily mean it’s true for him today. Just because your parents did it that way doesn’t mean you have to do it that way. It’s important to embrace the fact that behaviors and ideas can and do constantly change.
Empathy will get you through a lot. The ability to put yourself in your partner’s position and allow yourself to feel what he or she might be feeling creates understanding and compassion. Learning and communicating empathy can be difficult, but it’s a skill that every relationship needs and one that I will help you learn.
Communication is a ‘skill’ and it’s the best one to have in your marriage. Knowing how to communicate your feelings, needs, and desires and knowing ways to increase the likelihood of being heard and/or understood will keep your relationship strong and take your marriage far. Learn how to actively listen and convey understanding to your partner.
Learn how your partner feels love- and you too! Being mindful of the ways in which your partner needs to be shown love and being aware of the ways in which you feel loved will make all the difference in the world.
Develop relationship norms and values- this is KEY to your marriage prep process. Our last session involves one of my favorite practices where couples express their vision for their marriage as well as relationship norms and values. I document this information and later format your “Relationship Norms”. This is a great document that couples can refer back to throughout their marriage to center and realign. Know that the norms and values you create together are flexible; they may change as you and your relationship change through the years.
Emotional intimacy and sexual connection may not always be positively correlated. A sense of closeness, reliability, and safety is required for emotional intimacy; an element of mystery and unpredictability is often required for sexual passion. Learning how to balance this need for connectedness and separateness in your relationship is a process.
Get comfortable talking about sex. On that note, you can talk about sex. It’s not only okay, but it is encouraged to discuss what may be uncomfortable and anxiety-provoking topics. You will survive! And maybe even thrive!
Arguments and disagreements are GOOD for your relationship. They are an indication that you are engaging with each other. Remember, there is a healthy way to argue, which you will learn in premarital counseling.
Marriage is a huge life transition. Honor this transition and allow yourself to feel whatever comes with it- excitement, love, joy, and passion. Frustration, fear, anger, and sadness, too. All are OK!