So much time and energy goes into preparing for your special day. But this is only the beginning of the planning and preparation that a marriage involves. Before walking down the aisle, you have to ask each other all the tough questions… hash out all the tough issues… not just what your colour scheme will be, or whom you will invite to the wedding. In a relationship, if you work hard at foreseeing potential problems between the two of you, the road ahead will be much smoother.
It’s unfortunate that most young couples don’t invest enough time into preparing for their life together. In fact, only about 10% of engaged couples invest the time needed to learn the skills they’ll need for marriage (this is why I am a big advocate for marriage preparation courses). So what are the issues you should discuss before the wedding? I’m talking about things like finances, careers, sexuality, kids and parenting styles, spirituality/religion, in-laws, etc.
When it comes down to it, many happy couples can seem well-matched on the surface. However, the surface is only the beginning of the story. These same couples can find out later – after they’re married – that they have some fundamental differences when it comes to certain really important things. And just because you sidestep facing those issues in the beginning doesn’t mean they’re going to go away. They will resurface. I promise.
Most of us grow up believing many things about marriage that often set us up for failure. Being aware of them will make your expectations of marriage more realistic, and hence less fraught with misunderstandings.
The number one marriage myth has to be that a spouse should make you whole. This myth gives engaged couples unrealistic expectations. Both partners should work on personal wholeness first. Your partner is not your other half – that would make you “not whole”. Maintaining your individuality and your independence is healthy. Marriage does not mean you now have to do everything together. It doesn’t mean that you have to give up all of your outside activities or your friends. A partner who expects you to is being completely unrealistic. This issue should be addressed as early as it appears or else it can cause feelings of resentment to build. Marriage doesn’t mean that you must surrender your individuality as a person. Marriage is a team effort.
Ever hear the expression/joke “A woman goes into marriage hoping he’ll change and a man goes into marriage hoping she’ll never change?” That marriage will somehow “change” you is another common myth. Pay attention to any red flags that may appear in the relationship before you take your vows. If something about your partner really bothers you, deal with it. Don’t dismiss it thinking that he or she will either change, or that you can change him or her. That just won’t happen. You need to love each other for who you are today and not for what you want or expect each other to be in the future.
You may find that going to marriage counselling (yes, even dating/engaged couples go) can help you to understand the issues and to work them through. It will also keep your expectations of marriage in check. One of the biggest issues needing preparation before getting married is that of communication. This must be a priority in your relationship before the wedding and after. Remember all those issues you should address? Sometimes we think we know what our partner is thinking. And we could be right. But then again, we are not mind readers. So never assume anything, and always talk things through – make it a habit!
Over time, couples have a tendency to take each other for granted. Remember how much attention you paid to making your partner happy during the courtship? Well, you should also plan to give your partner reasons to stay in the relationship even long after you’re married. That means continuing to do things to make your partner want to be with you. Marriage and love is a process not an event. A marriage means that you have to move from thinking in terms of “I” to thinking in terms of “we”. It is a team effort, and requires a shift in perspective and energy. Becoming a married couple is an evolution that isn’t over on the day of your wedding. In order for your relationship to thrive, it’s essential that you nurture it as you would something that’s living and breathing. If you treasure your partner with the love and nutrients they need, your relationship will flourish.
Also plan on keeping the fun in your marriage alive. Believe me that this is easier said then done as time goes on. Just like dating before the wedding, during a marriage it’s an effective and practical way to strengthen your friendship and your marriage.