Marriage is such an important step in our lives, but many of us enter into it without a plan or any serious preparation. We’re caught up in the romance of it and the notion of happily ever after. We put more diligent effort into other more mundane things, like getting a driver’s license. To earn your driver’s license, you have to study a handbook, take behind-the-wheel lessons from an instructor, and practice on your own. And even after all that preparation, you may still flunk the driving test and have to go back for a second try.
When it comes to marriage, however, there’s no official handbook, no marriage class at school, no dry run. For many of us, “marriage prep” boils down to an emphasis on planning the wedding and dreaming of a perfect life together. But once the big event is over and the newlywed bliss has worn off, we discover we don’t have the tools to talk things out, or we’re stifled by taboos and avoid discussing the important things that aren’t working in our marriage.
When we change the way we look at marriage from things like:
“Everything will work out once we are married, because we love each other” to things like “Before we get married lets talk about our beliefs and preferences and see what we agree on” Or “We need to learn to compromise and work together to meet each other’s needs”. We then will adopt the approach of, working on our relationship together, as the new norm. We have this idea from the past that we shouldn’t have to work on our personal relationships. We say things like “ I work hard enough out in the world slaying the dragon” or “ I work on my career, I don’t want to work on my relationship” we adopt the attitude that says, our relationship should be harmonious and loving without us working on it. It really is a limited way of looking at marriage and commitment. Because of course, most of us could use some work on our relationship and communication skills. We are bringing all of our unique family patterns and behaviors with us into our relationships. We all need to explain ourselves and understand our partners in order for our unions to last, let alone thrive. If we worked half as hard on our personal relationships as we do on our careers we would be living very different lives. Let’s make conflict resolution and communication skills things that we teach to our children as part of courting. If we do this we will be making a great leap forward in our attempt at happy life long commitments.
Many people have the flawed notion that when we tie the knot all our relationship issues will magically be resolved. We believe that if one of us has irritating habits or we don’t agree on certain things, the act of getting married will make all those problems disappear. Unfortunately, marriage doesn’t stop dysfunctional behavior. It doesn’t prevent harmful family dynamics, compulsiveness, addictions, depression, anger issues, or any other damaging behavior. It doesn’t change the person. In fact, it can often exacerbate bad behavior over time because we may feel relaxed enough to let that part of us show. We can no longer hide the truth of our inner life from our partner. Then we’re lost in a sea of regret, and the distance between us begins to grow.