And why shouldn't get married if you're only in Stage 1.
The average couple will spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars preparing for their wedding day. I get it. It’s an important lovely day. It’s a party for family and friends and, in some cases, an opportunity for the bride’s childhood dreams to come true.
So, while you’re doing everything you can to prepare for your wedding day, you might want to consider the 50 years that you’ll, hopefully, be spending together after the honeymoon. Consider adding some Marriage Preparation to your Wedding Planning.
Statistics show that couples who do some premarital counseling, divorce approximately 30 percent less than those who don’t! It’s like buying insurance.
Premarital Counseling is not always therapy in the classic sense. Yes, some couples do come in for help in resolving certain issues that surface in the face of wedding planning.
I’m thinking specifically of financial pressures, religious differences, and family dynamics.
But even if you’re not exactly struggling with one another, now is a good time to learn better communication skills and put some important tools in your Marriage Toolbox to give your new marriage every opportunity to succeed.
Did you know, for example, that relationships unfold in predictable stages?
1. The Romantic Stage
Nature helps us out with a chemical cocktail to get us going. We are flooded with cortisol, dopamine, oxytocin and vasopressin. These hormones increase our alertness, pleasure, motivation, trust, attachment, sexual arousal, attraction, and obsessive thinking while decreasing our sadness, fear, and boredom.
This is where we fall in love, believing that we’ve found our soulmate and that nothing could ever go wrong. For a lot of people, this stage is where the decision to marry and the proposal takes place.
2. The Power Struggle Stage
For better or worse, the Romantic stage is not meant to last. After several months (up to two years), it is replaced with the next stage, the Power Struggle stage. At this point, the chemicals wear off and we slowly (or suddenly) begin to see that our partners are not actually perfect.
We may begin a campaign to get them to change back to the way that they were when we were in the Romantic Stage. The only problem is that this is their true selves. We’ve just lost our chemically induced rose-colored glasses.
Research tells us that the average amount of time that a couple waits to seek counseling after they begin the Power Struggle stage is six years.
This means that they will experience a significant degree of discomfort and unhappiness while trying to negotiate the natural ups and downs of their relationship dynamic… usually without the right tools!
Research also shows that there is a window of opportunity during the year before the wedding and the six months or so after when couples can receive the optimum benefit from marriage preparation.
Later, under stress, negative habits and relationship patterns may become established and be much harder to resolve.
3. The Mature Love Stage
If you can get premarital counseling, either before or during the Power Struggle stage of your relationship, you can avoid much pain and agony, as well as circumvent the formation of bad relationship habits.
In other words, you can leave the Power Struggle behind and move toward Stage 3: Mature Love.
The thing that you will learn in the pursuit of deep and lasting love with your partner is that we don’t get married to be happy. While being happy is nice, actually, marriage has a higher mission. Its mission is to assist each other in transformation.
When we experience conflict it is the opportunity for growth and expansion of our highest selves. Our spouse becomes our ally in helping us to reach our highest potential as human beings. Your marriage becomes a living laboratory where our deepest wounds are triggered and, hopefully, healed.
The healing, however, can only take place when you have the right tools. Arguing and fighting about or burying and ignoring issues, will not promote healing. In fact, this is more likely to cause even deeper wounding with the person you love most.
What are these tools?
- Deep listening without judgment
- Connection through touch and eye contact
- Curiosity about your partner’s world
- Zero negativity
- Learning and speaking your spouse’s love language
- Creating sacred relationship space
- Mutual goal setting
In an ideal world, we would all have the capacity to stay centered and present in the face of our spouse’s upsetting behaviors. We would be able to employ these tools easily without emotional reactivity. The truth, however, is that it’s difficult and requires coaching and practice.
John Gottman, PhD, a leading researcher in marital relationships, found that couples who stay married work to keep criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling (refusing to discuss) out of their relationships. He calls these “"The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse".
Indeed, these patterns can become apocalyptic in your relationship, especially when repeated over time. In premarital counseling, you can begin replacing those habits with good, healthy communication patterns including the tools listed above.
Now you know that it's important to get some help learning and using good communication tools before the wedding. But what are the topics you’ll want to address with your fiance during your marriage preparation? Start with these:
- Shared goals
- Lifestyle Expectations
- Sexuality and Intimacy
- Families of Origin
- Religion and Values
- Personality Traits
Couples today face more demands and have less support than ever before.
The typical marriage is complex and includes managing two careers while rearing children without much support from extended family. Gone are the days where Mom and Dad live next door and are available to help in tangible ways.
Parents are likely to still be young and vital enough to be working, traveling and pursuing their own interests. It is more necessary than ever to build a strong foundation with your spouse that will get you through the stresses and strains of modern life.
Marriage preparation functions as an immunization that boosts your capacity to handle potential difficulties. Why not give yourself every advantage to succeed?
This article was originally published at Mary Kay Cocharo, LMFT website. Reprinted with permission from the author.