Working on Your Relationship as You Prepare For Marriage
The wedding was amazing. Best day of your life. And, being a newlywed is fun too, but it can mean a lot of adjustment. Yes, even if you have lived together for years! This can actually be more challenging because you are not expecting much change. These adjustments to married life can be both surprising and stressful.
“Why?” you ask. “We already know each other!” But being forewarned is forearmed. If something comes up and you've discussed how to deal with it, you can more often laugh and say, “Oh, here it is! We know what to do.”
In between ordering flowers and picking appetizers for the big day, take time to focus on your relationship. Make a plan to communicate through the inevitable excitement and surprises of your first postnuptial year! I'll share some things to look out for and how to tackle them below.
Watch Out For These Issues
In my experience, these are the flashing lights to watch out for in your relationship. Each of these issues can cause feelings of disappointment, frustration, and confusion. Communication is impacted, especially if you are embarrassed, feel like a failure, or cannot describe what you feel.
1. Unconscious expectations.
The Titanic sank, not because of what it could see, but because of what it couldn’t see. Everyone brings a carload of baggage with them including family role models, previous experiences, and personal desires. Some are easily described because we are aware of them, but most are invisible. Like the Titanic iceberg, what we are aware of is the small white part you see. The bigger piece underwater is the set of unconscious beliefs we do not think about, but that create many feelings and behaviors. People are often surprised to discover how their conscious beliefs (e.g., we both do the dishes) can be different from their unconscious beliefs (e.g., my mother always made dinner and did the dishes for my father). Even if we do not consciously agree with our role models, they still have a profound effect and familiarity can be comforting.
Becoming a spouse can change expectations and you may not even know it. To illustrate, you may not understand your frustration with your partner after they announce they will work after your baby is born, even though you agreed before the wedding. If your mother or father stayed home, you may have an unconscious belief that your partner should do the same. You or your spouse wouldn’t be the first to utter, “My father/mother always did it this way.”
2. Fantasy versus reality.
Movies, books, and the media make it easy to believe in the romantic, happily ever after version of marriage. When our expectations don’t live up to the real thing (e.g., I thought he would open my door for me, or I thought she would put away my laundry), it can be disappointing and the blame game begins. “You aren’t…”
3. Unanticipated differences.
You will continually learn new things about your partner especially as you encounter new situations like combining finances. You may find you do not agree or you do not like how your partner does something. Perhaps there are a few things you thought would change after the vows.
I realize this is a lot to think about. So, how can you tackle these issues?
- Visit a counselor, spiritual advisor, use a tool like Relationship Reveal, or find a premarital couples event to attend. Spend time defining your values, what you expect from marriage, what you think might be different after the ceremony, and agree on your vision for the first year.
- Acknowledge issues are going to come up and that it is not the end of the world. You will have highs and lows throughout your marriage, it is how you respond to them as a couple that will help you get through them successfully.
- Talk about your role models and what unconscious expectations you may have with your partner. Challenge what you learned and come up with what works for you, not what you think it should look like. Pay extra attention any time the word should shows up.
- Discuss and define how you will resolve conflict. For example, if you lived apart before the wedding, you had a place to get space. If you need it while living together, how will you get it? Do you need to take time after a fight and think, or do you need to resolve it right away? How do you talk about what bothers you? How do you talk about getting your needs met?
- Build trust and make it safe to be up front and honest. “I don’t know how to deal with this. It wasn’t what I expected,” or “This isn’t working for me this way. Is there another way we can work this out?”
- Understand your attachment style. Attachment theory helps you understand how you connect with other people and is based on patterns formed in childhood. It is the basis for many of the leading relationship books and is super helpful in learning how you and your partner respond to each other. This link may be helpful in understanding this idea.
Start how you wish to go on.
Make the investment now and lay a solid communication foundation that will carry you forward. When you take the time to create positive communication habits in your first year, you have more fun and less stress.
SANDRA FISCHER is the creator of Relationship Reveal: 64 Cards for Discovery, Skill-Building, and Growth, a new card game that gets to the heart of what matters in happy, healthy relationships. Sandra writes for businesses, creates fiction and consults in communications, people development and optimizing organizational effectiveness. With 25 years of experience working for companies including Microsoft, Amazon and AT&T, her experiences have been as unique and broad as managing the homepage for Amazon.com to developing an online marketing campaign for a literary novel launch.