The dream of marriage is one that holds true for many people. The joys of building your future with another, perhaps creating a family, and finding lifelong companionship and support from another is a worthwhile dream after all. Yet current statistics of failed marriages (between 40-50%) can make this step feel more daunting. On the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, marriage-related events rank as 4 of the top 7 biggest life stressors- so the impact of getting it right, or wrong, is significant.
Select The Right Partner
The most important choice in life is the choice of your partner; who may also become the parent to your children. While there is no checklist for love, it is worth stepping into the biggest life choice you’ll make with thoughtful consideration as well as love in your heart. If you talk to enough people, you’ll see that the recipes for a great and lasting marriage are many; but there are some universal and helpful things to know and consider before making a lifelong commitment that can give your marriage its best chance of success.
As unique as every person is, so are their dreams, life experiences and modelling of what a relationship looks like or could be like. Each person’s dreams of marriage can therefore be vastly different, too. Marriage involves a shared ‘well’ both people draw from for the rest of their life. Taking the time to understand deeply who you are and where you’ve come from; as well as who your partner is and where they come from, is a significant piece of knowledge to hold before you decide to walk life and create your well together.
Selecting the right partner for a long and healthy marriage has much less to do with their job title or favourite Saturday night spot; and much more to do with whether you know yourself enough to know what is immovable in who you are. These non-negotiable values should not be in conflict with your partner’s core values. All kinds of other things (hairstyles, lifestyle habits, backgrounds, culture) can be different, but if your value-pillars undermine one another’s, the foundation the marriage will be built upon is already stressed.
Two people can certainly be very different and make a marriage last; but lasting marriages tend to pool together these differences, as well as the shared values, experiences of joy and kindness and an admiration for each other as individuals, and deposit them into their own special ‘marriage well’. When times are tough, this is an important resource to draw from. A lasting marriage relies on both partners to regularly refill this well to be able to draw on when needed.
Love can be a sprint, but marriage is an enduring marathon. The future state of a marriage depends on how much you put in early on; and prevention is most certainly better than a cure. Checking in on these topics below can help you move into an exciting time in your life with hope, solid ground and gratitude for knowing each other better than before.
Decide what Marriage Means to One Another
You are the trailblazers on your own path of what your marriage will be made of and what it will mean to you. You will forge your own path together, but often not in isolation. People rely on all sorts of images, comparisons and models for what their marriage will look like- sometimes knowingly and other times not.
Your own parents; friends; work colleagues and their partners; ex-partner’s parents and family structures; not to mention gender roles, class and ideas of status and power sharing all influence deeply who we are and what we want. Acknowledge first that these influences are undeniable on where you are heading, and you can better address them together. You are not trapped by your upbringing or your past experiences; honest self-reflection and insight to know who you are, what you want in a partner, and why you want it, is the most important tool for creating a successful marriage that lasts. Selecting the right person that fits this, is the next.
Whether you’re fortunate enough to have great modelling of successful relationships or whether you have goals to correct the relationships you’ve grown up with or experienced, invest time in teasing out where you want to take your conversations and visions together- this will prove a strong investment for a marriage that can tolerate the blows and rattles of life.
In their book “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work”, John Gottman and Nan Silver pose some questions to action with one another that help assess your ‘love map’. Carve out some time together to discuss and share your answers to questions such as the following these can be simple knowledge questions, or ones creating more in-depth understanding of each other.
- Can I name my partner’s friend who they would turn to in time of need
- Do I know my partner’s current biggest worries
- Can I tell you my partner’s philosophy on life
- Can I list my partner’s favourite music
Questions such as these are a great starting point to learning about you and your partner’s shared values, shared philosophies and shared dreams- which becomes your shared language and the foundation of your marriage well.
Learn how to Speak about the Hard Stuff
The beauty of romance can sometimes be found in the things unsaid. For a stable and healthy marriage however, this is categorically untrue!
For two individuals with unique experiences to build a shared dream that lasts and grows, a lot of unconscious assumptions, hopes and ways of seeing the world also need to be discussed and accessed. Money; sex; family and social roles; decision making power- all vitally important decisions with a lot of room for discontent if wants are mismatched. Many of these topics can feel taboo, distressing, or feel emotionally disconcerting to bring up; but if you are in love and assessing your relationship for marriage, there couldn’t be a better time to try and learn.
These conversations require respect and honesty; and with practice before the problems arise, this mutual respect to share deep things leads to really cool conversations. Having these conversations, and practicing how to have them, is a buffer for a lot of disagreements that often lead marriages into divorce through fighting and rejection of one another’s needs.
When the going does get tough- as in all partnerships- you and your partner’s ability to express your wants and needs in a healthy way can help you get to the other side and reduce the impact of turmoil on the marriage. Having the courage to talk about the spooky stuff without fear that fighting will derail the conversation, and doing it with respect for differences, is a core ingredient for a stable and loving marriage where hurdles can be experienced but don’t derail.
See if you can answer:
- How have you seen power shared/distributed in a marriage before, and is that what you want?
- How is money earned and money spent going to be distributed? How are decisions made about this?
- How do you deal with conflict?
- What is your idea of a good time?
When we learn to talk about tricky subjects without triggering our internal alarm systems, we get to have better conversations and be closer to one another.
Have you come to terms with what marriage will mean?
For some people, marriage, monogamy and saying goodbye to sexual partners or experiences is easy and simple. For others, this may be a lot to forsake. Marriage readiness involves an active and knowing choice to choose the benefits that come with marriage over the benefits outside of marriage. Creating a life with another person involves many new positive aspects, but it may also involve losses. Most things in life that are truly great are difficult; and you may benefit from taking the time to weigh up and know what you are giving up and gaining.
Have you painted the picture of what your family picture will look like before making the commitment of marriage? Many couples wait until after marriage to discuss their family ‘portrait’, and it is where surprising conflicts can arise. As two collaborators painting a family portrait, have you discussed what this will look like?
- How many children do each of you want?
- Will your household be multi-generational, or is there an expectation from family elders or in-laws that they will one day progress to living with or near you?
- Do you see yourself and your partner actively at home, or can you manage travelling for work or leisure?
- Does marriage mean you will change your expectations of your partner? Do you assume they will ‘mature’ after marriage, or start saving more, or quickly wish to progress to parenthood?
Marriage involves making space in your life and committing to the relationship long term. Marriage readiness involves a commitment to sharing decisions, both big and small, and doing things sometimes your way, sometimes theirs and sometimes compromised. If you can collaborate on this picture before your marriage, you can feel more solid walking ahead.
Successful relationships and marriages can work no matter how different the two individuals are; yet marriage has aspects that are important to be built and shared together for a lasting marriage. Before anyone can live harmoniously together, you have to understand and get to know their beliefs and values.
Marriage is complicated because each of us bring our entirely unique perspectives, experiences, views and modelling of what a relationship can be like. If you can articulate these, and those of your partner’s, in a way that understands difference and builds some shared perspective or meaning from the outset, marriage can be a buffer and sanctuary from some of the rockiest roads of life.