It’s only been about 300 years since we started choosing our spouses based on being in love and not the execution of a contract for reasons such as class, money or land. As it relates to humankind, that is an incredibly brief amount of time; as such, it is only logical that as a society we are still working out the kinks of how to enter into successful, love-based marriages.
Even more recent, just a few decades, is the social acceptability of divorce. Through this creation of an exit door, being successful in marriage has become even more challenging. While every individual, every couple and every marriage is unique, there are some things you can do in preparation of your nuptials to help ensure you and your partner’s readiness for such an immense commitment.
While my list is not comprehensive due to space and time restrictions, I have chosen four points for consideration and discussion that I believe to be of particular importance. I encourage you and your partner to proactively address each of them with the idea that entering into a marriage without discussing its terms would be like buying a house without reading the contract.
First, take the time to talk with your partner in a purposeful way about whether you expect things to in some way be different once you’re married. This may seem simple or obvious but the fact is, most couples are not addressing this question in the months leading up to the wedding. Ask your partner directly: Once we’re married what do you expect to be different? The answer may ultimately be that neither of you expect much to change or one or both of you might have all kinds of ideas about what will be different. Whatever the case, by asking and answering this question, the opportunity is presented to address expectations and to knock out any unrealistic ones.
Next, if you and your spouse-to-be have not yet discussed money in a thorough and transparent way, it is time to rip off that ever-so-sticky band-aid. Money is one of the primary cited reasons for divorce among Americans. Money relates to so much: power, control, dynamics, insecurities, fear, trust and more. While there is no denying that financial talks can be incredibly vulnerable, consider such conversations crucial to a successful marriage. There is no right way to manage finances as a couple. Keeping your money separate is no better or worse than going the joint-account route, as long as you both are in true agreement about whatever arrangement is decided upon. To ensure that you are both actually comfortable with the money-management decisions you make as a couple, you need to get clear on the why. Is whatever arrangement decided upon rooted in power dynamics, insecurities or lack of trust? Are there incompatibilities in financial habits that you both have been avoiding addressing such as frugalness versus frivolousness? These discussions won’t be easy, and it’s also likely that you won’t align completely in your ideas about money. But, by opening up the dialogue, you have opened up your ability to increase your compatibility in this area.
This next piece is not very romantic. In fact, it’s based in the very idea that marriage is generally not a romantic thing. Can and should romance exist within marriage? Yes, of course, but going through the ins and outs and ups and downs of daily life with someone is not about the romantic. Instead, it is about the effectiveness with which you together navigate all of life’s complexities and responsibilities. Many of these shared responsibilities relate to home life: cooking, cleaning, laundry, taking care of kids and/or pets are some of the big ones. Failure to appropriately distribute these duties between the two of you can result in serious and pervasive conflict and resentment. So, even if you’ve been living together for a while, take the time to discuss the various responsibilities and what it makes sense for each of you to do — and when. If, as a couple, you can’t get on the same page about these sorts of things the resultant turmoil will end up having the effect of wearing away at your relationship.
The last topic for discussion is related to goal setting and desires for the future. Marriage is meant to be a lifelong commitment, so having a sense of what each of you want individually and in the marriage over time is crucial. For instance, if one of you dreams of moving to the West Coast and the other of you can’t imagine moving away from family — getting clear on that now will help you identify the potential for future conflict. And, if you’re dedicated to the dialogue, hopefully you will also start to develop compromises (not sacrifices) to help you both live a satisfying life long term. Discussing future goals can also help you to identify scenarios worthy of being talked through. As an example, let’s say part of your five- or seven-year plan is to go back to school. While this goal is certainly an individual one it could potentially have substantial implications for the couple such as you needing to work only part-time. If you know this and discuss it well in advance of it becoming a reality, the two of you will not only have heightened awareness of what the future might look like, but you are creating the opportunity to plan for such goals jointly and mindfully.
Marriage is not an easy thing and it definitely is not one-size-fits-all. It is an amazing gift to walk through life with someone, and it’s one that is worthy of being continually tended to. So, have the difficult conversations even when it’s easier to shy away from them (and it is). If it feels too overwhelming or scary to do it without some sort of third party mediation, don’t be afraid to utilize a couples counselor to help you navigate them. I assure you that no matter how you decide to go about these conversations, they will be worth it. And, don’t worry about not aligning perfectly in every area — the goal is not perfection. The goal is joint understanding of one another that leads to increased empathy, an important part of the recipe for success in marriage.
Kristina Furia is a psychotherapist committed to working with LGBT individuals and couples and owner of Emerge Wellness, an LGBT health and wellness center in Center City (www.emergewellnessphilly.com).