“The closer we get to the wedding, the more we fight,” said
Nancy. “Sometimes we look at each other like, Do I really know you?
It seems like we keep finding more and more things to disagree about.”
If your wedding is just around the corner, you may know just what Nancy
is talking about.
You may find that the nearer your wedding, the more landmines you discover.
By landmines I mean those old sensitivities that you manage to forget much
of the time. They are buried but not defused, and an intimate relationship
is just what it takes to reignite them.
As a teacher, Nancy made considerably less money than her fiancé Todd,
a medical recruiter. Todd was happy to treat Nancy to nice dinners or more
expensive hotels than she could afford on her own. Sometimes it made her
a little uncomfortable, but they both agreed it made more sense than the
alternatives. Todd didn’t want them to miss out on experiences they
could enjoy and Nancy didn’t want to stretch her budget by trying to
But as the wedding drew closer, Nancy started getting scrappy when Todd
paid for something. One night she referred to Todd as “Mr. Hot Shot,” to
Nancy made a classic relationship mistake that is probably familiar to all
of us. Something hurt, she decided the reason was something Todd did, and
she struck out at him. Of course, this sequence wasn’t anywhere near
as reasoned and deliberate as this makes it sound. It all happened in a flash.
And suddenly she had a very unhappy fiancé.
At moments like these, we tend to reach for communication skills to help
us smooth out the bumps in the road. But what if these bumps are the road?
Like many relationship counselors, I believe that the most rewarding relationships
are about growth. A healthy intimate relationship is the way you defuse your
old landmines, mend the cracks in yourself esteem and become a stronger,
more fully developed you.
Of course, life provides other growing experiences as well, such as work
challenges, friendships and family relationships, and transitions of all
kinds. But nothing else in life makes you take such a long, searching look
in the mirror. Nothing else makes you face your weaknesses and then reach
deep, deep inside yourself to find strengths you didn’t know you had.
This is because in order to have a successful relationship, you have to
become firmly attached to your partner and at the same time remain a strong
individual. This is quite a trick. Just ask anyone who’s tried it!
For Nancy, becoming attached means that she lets Todd see her insecurity
about earning less, along with all the meaning that holds for her. It means
helping him understand the anxiety she felt watching her mother raise her
and her sister alone as well as the messages she received about never depending
on anyone. It means letting him see her fear that receiving gifts from him
will lead to her depending on him. In short, Nancy needs to allow herself
to be known.
Becoming a stronger individual means Nancy has to dig deeper to find her
confidence in herself. It was easier to feel confident when she was single.
But now she compares her salary to that of her fiancé, and comparisons
are the shortest route to diminished self-esteem. Nancy can raise her self-esteem
by learning to value her career in itself, regardless of anything Todd does.
She needs to learn that her worth comes from other sources besides her earning
power. And she can shore up her faith in the value of her non-monetary contributions
to their relationship.
At the same time, she needs to explore her own values about money and earnings
more than she did when she was single. Maybe her discomfort means that being
a high earner is more important to her than she thought. Maybe she needs
to consider a career shift.
Amazing where one snappish comment can lead, isn’t it? If you see
it as an opportunity to learn, it can bring you increased intimacy with your
partner, deeper self-knowledge, and a new level of confidence in yourself.
As rewarding as this kind of personal work is, most of us won’t engage
in it until we hit a bump in the road. That’s the great gift of a relationship.
So, the next time your feelings get hurt, remember that there’s a
lot more to hurt feelings than first meets the eye. Try not to jump to the
conclusion that your fiancé has done something wrong. Resist the urge
to strike back. Instead, ask yourself: What can I learn about myself and
my landmines? How can I find more strength and confidence within myself?
And how can we understand and accept each other more, so that we strengthen
If you do, you’ll be well on your way to a fulfilling marriage. And
that means your wedding will be extra wonderful, too.
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