In the excitement of planning a shared life together, couples can easily focus too much on the idea of a “wedding” and neglect what “marriage” truly means. That would be a mistake. A wedding is over in a few hours. A marriage lasts a lifetime. Yet so many people spend months planning a spectacular wedding without giving much thought into how they might create a beautiful marriage. Here are some concepts to think about that go beyond the day where you exchange vows, and help prepare you for a long, happily married life.
Use your dates to get to know each other deeply
The average time between the first date and wedding is about 25 months. That is two years in which couples go from “hello” to “I do.” Use that time to learn about your partner. Travel together. Do challenging things together. Put yourselves in situations where you aren’t your best and see how you each handle the other when you are tired, cranky, sick…See how your partner reacts to good news and bad news. How do they deal with stress, with unknown situations, with variables that they can’t control? You can tell a lot about how your married life will be as you discover each other over a period of time. Don’t let the sparks of infatuation blind you to any red flags. And when those red flags show up (and they will), address them. Don’t make the mistake of thinking things will disappear once you are married. Talking about these issues is a perfect exercise for the type of communication skills you will need during your married life. Pay attention to how you work through these things now, before you are married. If you have trouble with conflict resolution, it may be a sign that you need to bring in some outside support in the form of a pre-marital counselor. A counselor can help teach you the tools you will need to work through issues in a productive way.
Talk about what you expect from marriage
As you date and get to know each other well, one conversation you will want to return to often is that of expectations. How do you view married life? How will you divide the household tasks? What would your budget look like? If your earning powers are unequal, will that dictate who pays for what, or how much you will put aside for savings? What are your expectations in terms of family planning, children, and childcare? What role should religion play in your married life? Knowing each other’s expectations is helpful in forming the type of marriage that satisfies both of you, so keep the dialogue open, both before and after the wedding.
Talk about what living as a married couple looks like
Magazines make married life look shiny and beautiful. You move into a new home; everything is spotless with vases of fresh cut flowers everywhere. But shifting from living as a single person to suddenly living as two is not always a smooth transition. You have your habits (leaving your bath towel on the floor, for example) and so does your beloved (will he ever learn to put the toilet seat down?). Do not wait for these personal habits to become fodder for fights. Before you move in together, talk about how you will both work as a team to create and maintain a home where conflict is not the norm, and where there is room for two personalities. When little things come up, address them. Don’t wait until your 10th wedding anniversary to tell your spouse that you absolutely hate that he never takes out the garbage the first time you ask him. He’ll wonder why you waited 10 years to complain.
Tune in to how you each manage conflict
Knowing each other’s style for dealing with conflict will be very important as you grow together. You may not use the same method for moving through arguments. You may be more collaborative while your partner may be someone who needs to win at all costs. Or, they may avoid conflict altogether, preferring to give in rather than disturb the peace.
Whatever your styles, make sure they function well. If not, you will want to pull in some outside help to teach you how to “fight fair” and avoid dysfunctional approaches to conflicting situations. Your dating period is a perfect time to identify any changes that need to be made so that you are both equipped to meet challenging situations and come out the other side with grace and growth.
Remember your wedding day, and return to it when times are rocky
Right now you are in the wonderful, endorphin-producing blush of love. Everything your beloved does is great, and your future together as a married couple looks bright and glowing. But life will throw you some curve balls, and there will be days where you will wonder why you ever said “I do” to this person. When that happens, pull down your wedding album, or look at your wedding website, or open up your journal…whatever you have that is a witness to the heady days leading up to your public commitment to each other. And remember all the good things about your spouse, all the reasons why you love them and knew that there was no other person with whom you wished to share a future. Reflecting on your spouse’s qualities and why you are attracted to him can be helpful when you hit a rough patch in the marriage journey.
A daily gratitude practice focusing on your marriage is a wonderful way to renew your happiness quotient. This practice can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. Being thankful for waking up next to your spouse, warm and safe in a comfortable bed is an easy way to begin each day in gratitude. Giving your spouse props for helping you with the dinner, dishes, or laundry is a positive way to end the day in gratitude. The point is to keep the flow of gratitude going so it acts as a buoy, day in and day out.