Our society puts a lot of focus on the wedding day. Many couples spend countless hours on wedding preparation considering where they will marry, who will come, what color the flowers will be, tasting food, contemplating wedding favors and other touches that they believe will make this day special. And it can be expensive to make this happen!
As a couples therapist I wonder why people don’t put more focus into marriage investment. I often see couples in high levels of distress that never learned good communication skills, how to resolve conflict peacefully and literally have become adversaries instead of collaborative partners. It’s understandable how premarital education can be overlooked, especially with the intoxicating impact of the “honeymoon phase” of relationships.
The warm and fuzzy feelings of new love (your brain chemistry playing a significant role in this, with the biological drive to ensure connection) can set couples up to miss a few important life facts:
- Life can be hard.
- Relationships can be hard.
What does marriage investment look like when it comes to having the strongest relationship possible? It means gathering the tools you may need for your marriage toolbox later, an awareness and understanding of the following:
- Healthy Communication Learn to speak to your partner in a kind and compassionate way. Acquire the skill of presence rather than withdrawing, calmness rather than emotional reactivity. Listening and validation skills are critical in getting through tough conversation.
- Emotional Safety Think of what it will take for you and your partner to feel confident in knowing you are the “port in the other’s storm.” A securely attached couple feels prioritized, validated, respected and generally “safe” with each other. There are many things that can derail emotional safety in a relationship. Learn what it means for each of you.
- Relationship Balance The “you, me and we” of your relationship are like two overlapping circles. Many people find satisfaction with attention paid to all three aspects. Problems can arise for couples when there are different expectations around what this balance looks like. Understand where you’re both coming from and be ready to possibly compromise.
- Family of Origin Wounds Old emotional injuries stemming from parents/primary caregivers often show themselves later in intimate relationships. Issues of trust, self worth and other unhelpful belief systems born from negative experiences can impact how you operate with your partner. Unpack your baggage and take a look at it. Be aware of any vulnerabilities you or your partner come with. Practice compassion for your wounds and theirs.
Premarital education is an investment that can have a long-term payoff in a secure, loving and satisfying marriage. If you choose to have children, it can continue to pay dividends to them as they reap the benefit of a stable, connected parent relationship. You have options; premarital counseling or clergy or a few, depending on what resonates. For the do-it-yourself couple, try my guide, The Premarital Counseling Workbook for Couples, modeled after the premarital work I do with couples in my office in Marin County, California.0