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Laura Hunt

Relationship Guide
October 2004:
How Did You Decide to Get Married?
by Claire Hatch
Claire Hatch, MSW is a licensed social worker and mediator who specializes in working with couples. She counsels people by phone around the world and in person in her Seattle area office.

Claire will be happy to answer your relationship questions in this column. Please send them to or call her at 425.823.2273.
Want more relationship help? Then The Bridal Sanity Workbook is for you. Claire shares wisdom from her pre-wedding counseling experience and her work with troubled marriages.

When an unhappy couple comes to see me for counseling, one of the first questions I ask is: How did you decide to get married? The answer I dread most is: “It just seemed like the right thing to do.”

“Now, wait a minute,” you might be saying. “What’s wrong with that? I know a lot of happily married people who would say that. They just felt a sense of rightness with each other. It might have been hard to describe but it was there nonetheless.”

For some couples that’s true. However, too often, “It just seemed like the right thing to do” is a warning sign. It might mean that they’re living up to their families’ expectations, that they haven’t really thought very much about what marriage means, or that each person is assuming they have the same vision of what their marriage will be without checking it out.

Marriage is one of life’s great gifts AND one of its great challenges. Marriage asks you to be supportive when you’re angry, patient when you’re tired, and positive when you’re disappointed. It will be much harder for you to dig down inside yourself and find the strength to come through if you don’t have a clear sense of purpose.

At the risk of sounding mundane for a moment, you need a purpose for your marriage just the way you need a purpose for any project. Say you are organizing a conference. You are going to run into a lot of challenges. A presenter may cancel on you. The rooms may be too small. The publicity might not go out on schedule. Why are all the headaches worth it? Because you have a picture in your mind of an inspiring and successful conference, with people learning, growing, and connecting with each other.

You’re probably used to setting goals at work. But like a lot of people, you may find it hard to articulate a vision for your marriage. No doubt you already have a picture of it in your mind. But how do you put it into words? Maybe it will help you to hear what some of my clients have said when I’ve asked them, “What does getting married mean to you?”

“Getting married means I am no longer the most important person in my life.”

“My relationship with my wife will be the bedrock of my life.”

“We are promising to treat each other with love, in hard times as well as easy times. That means it is a promise to expand our ability to love.”

“We are promising to support each other, emotionally, practically, and financially.”

“We will be cheerleaders for each other, to help each other grow and develop.”

“We are creating a family, a world, a way of life that is all our own.”

There are lots of reasons why brides and grooms don’t talk about their marriage vision. To begin with, it just doesn’t come up naturally. (“What do you want to do this weekend?” “Well, how about we talk about our vision for our marriage?”) Couples want to have fun and be romantic. And, to be honest, most people are a little afraid to bring up anything that might rock the boat. They want smooth sailing from now to the wedding. It might reassure you to know that my clients are usually delighted by the experience of exploring their vision. Taking the time to learn more about your partner and help him learn more about you is actually very romantic!

Here are some questions to get you started. Spend some time with them and you will be on your way to creating a marriage with a sense of purpose.

1. Think of someone you know who has a wonderful marriage. What do you think makes it wonderful? Do you want your marriage to be like theirs? Why or why not?

2. Think of someone you know who has a difficult marriage. What do you think makes it difficult?

3. By marrying, what is each of you actually promising to do?

4. How does being male and female affect your roles?

5. In what ways does your relationship encourage each of you to grow?

6. What qualities does your relationship have now that you really want to keep?

6. What three things could you do regularly that you know would enhance your relationship?

Please treat the step you are about to take with the seriousness it deserves. If you do, you will walk down the aisle with more serenity, and meet the twists and turns of your relationship with more confidence. And years from now, when someone asks you, “How did you decide to get married?” you can say, “We knew it was the right thing to do.”

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