In my counseling practice, I work with couples in all stages of life. I see
engaged couples and married couples who are struggling with their
relationships. Very often these men and women want very different things out
of life. I see men who are driven to create brilliant careers married to women
who just want them home with the family. I see women bent on building their
dream houses married to men who want to take it easy on the weekends. I see
social butterflies married to homebodies. They are disappointed that their
dreams are not coming true, and they have fallen into the habit of criticizing
the dreams of their spouses.
How many of these couples do you think talked about their life goals before
they got married? How many devoted time to envisioning their future? If you
guessed, "Not many," you'd be exactly right.
With 20/20 hindsight, they can see that this was a big mistake. Inevitably
they say they wish they had talked openly about what they wanted and how they
would get it at the beginning.
You don't have to wait for 20/20 hindsight. You can benefit from the
experience of couples who have gone before you. You can start talking with
your fiancĂ© right away about what you want out of life.
You can, but you may not. I'm well aware that once the wedding momentum takes
off, it can be hard to focus on life after the wedding, even though you know
how important it is. I'm also aware that you've probably already heard the
advice I'm giving youâ€”from books, your parents, perhaps your pastor. Rather
than tell you what you should be doingâ€”againâ€”I'm going to help you understand
the reasons why you may be putting off those crucial discussions. I'm also
going to give you some tips for getting around those reasons. With more
awareness of what's stopping you and some ideas for getting started, it will
be easier for you to have the necessary conversations about your future.
"I can barely keep up with everything I have to do now."
Enlist the help of your fiancĂ©, your mother, or a trusted
friendâ€”anyone who's good at keeping things in perspective. Ask him/her to help
you do a reality check on your wedding to-do list. First, divide your list
into critical tasks, such as reserving a hall, and optional tasks, such as
making your own favors. If you're like many brides, many optional tasks have
started to seem like absolutely essential tasks. That's why you need another
pair of eyes to help you see the difference. Tell your helper to be tough!
Most likely, you can eliminate 20% of the items on your to-do list; no one
will know the difference, and you still will have a beautiful wedding.
Make a timetable for the critical tasks. Then get them out of your head and
into your calendar, just as you do at work. One excellent way of getting them
out of your head is to delegate. Most likely you have friends or family that
would be honored to be in charge of part of your wedding.
While you've got your calendar out, schedule some down time. This could be a
date with your fiancĂ©, a walk, a pedicureâ€”the only rule is there is no wedding
talk allowed. You may find it hard at first, but stick with it. A break from
wedding planning will slow your mind down and make you feel more ready to talk
about emotional topics.
"I'm afraid we might find out that our goals are
Realize that compatibility isn't usually a question of black
and white. Most couples have some important goals that they disagree on. The
success of your marriage doesn't depend on agreeing on everything. It depends
on learning to communicate respectfully about your differences and committing
to approaching your differences with creativity and an open mind. The earlier
you start talking, the sooner you will learn these skills.
Of course, there are some issues of compatibility that are black and white.
For example, if you want children and your fiancĂ© doesn't, all the creativity
in the world will not satisfy both of your needs. If you find you have such a
conflict, it will take courage to face the truth. Realize that you do have
that courage inside you. Your courage actually will grow stronger if you
seriously commit yourself to accepting the truth.
"I believe love will conquer all. Things will fall into
place as time goes on."
At a conscious level, we all know this is not true. But
somewhere deep inside, we may be hanging on to this belief. Get through to
your inner self by doing some field research. Talk to older married couples
you know. Ask them about the ups and downs of their marriages and how they got
through the challenging times. Hearing about their struggles and successes
first-hand will help you grasp in a deeper way what it really takes to make
marriage work from day to day.
"When we talk about goals, we get into an argument."
Get some communication skills training ASAP. Begin by reading
Communication in One Lesson, in the archives of this column. Then pick up the
phone and make an appointment for pre-marital counseling. This is a problem
you need to nip in the bud.
Don't make envisioning your future the last item on your to-do list. Figure
out the reasons why you're not making it a priority; then use these remedies
to sit down and start creating a marriage that will make you both happy.
Read previous Relationship Guide articles