If only I knew then what I know now. But do I know it all now? No, but I have been a Marriage and Family Therapist for over 30 years. And perhaps more importantly, after a divorce, I have been married to a great guy for over 20 years. I married young and have learned things since then that would have made my life so much easier. I was in love and eager to start my life. You may be in the same situation and wonder what would make you feel safer to make the all-important promise about spending your life with someone you are attracted to now.
1. Your brain changes when you're in love.
Be aware of what happens in your brain when you fall in love. A chemical "love bath" infuses your brain, making you amazingly energetic so you could dance all night or talk on the phone for hours. You are super optimistic along with the extra energy. Music sounds sweeter, everything looks brighter. This feels wonderful, but like other drug induced states it does not last. After eighteen to thirty-six months it will wear off and reality will settle in. You will notice that he/she isn't so perfect, has some faults, and is maybe at times a bit boring or maddening. This is normal. You may not feel as much in love, but actually that is when real love begins. You can ask yourself, "If I were not in a romantic relationship with this person would we be friends?" It is so helpful to be friends with a mate.
2. It's important to let the "love potion" wear off.
Since it takes time for the "love potion" to wear off, taking ample time to make the decision to marry makes sense. It helps if you have known each other for a long time. I met my first husband in college and we were married ten months later. This was not long enough to know each other well enough to make a lifetime decision.
3. Getting to know your in-laws is VERY valuable.
Knowing each other's family is important because who we become is influenced by the family we grew up in. Here it helps to be as objective as possible and try not to let the "love potion" blind you. Talking to each other about what it was like to be in his/her family — and yours — would be helpful. Seeing him/her with family at informal gatherings is important. If the family is far away, visiting for as long as you can so the newness wears off is a good idea. These new people will be part of your family for as long as you are together with your love. I didn't spend time with my in-laws to be, and when circumstances changed and they were part of my everyday life, it was difficult to deal with.
4. Being aware of how your new love handles stressful situations is important.
Some people work more, some drink more, some spend more time alone or with old friends, and some exercise more. If alcohol or drugs have been a problem for you or someone in your family, pay close attention. Actually counting drinks might help. Addictions can have an inheritance factor which you might want to consider and talk about. In an ideal situation, when neither of you is stressed or anxious you would be able to talk about what each of you does to relax. How can you support each other? Touch is calming and hugs work to calm most of us.
5. Managing your childhood issues first will save you heartaches and headaches.
Ask yourself if he/she is like a parent you had a problem with. I discovered my husband began to treat me like my dad had treated me and my mom. At first that seemed familiar and comfortable, but over time I realized it was not the way I wanted to be treated. At first I took it for granted as the way all relationships were. Dad was of the old school of thinking, "Someone has to be in charge here, and it is up to me!" It took me a long time to realize this, but of course I was married by then. Perhaps I was trying to correct my relationship with my Dad by working it out with my new husband. It makes sense to want to improve an earlier unsatisfactory relationship by repeating it with a new relationship as a grown-up with more power. If both partners are aware they are healing old childhood wounds and they think and talk about it, this can be a magical way to grow and heal one another.
If I had known in my 20's what I know now, my life would have been much easier — and my kids would not have gone through their parents' divorce. I hope you can learn from my mistakes and get it right the first time — or even the second time. Wherever you are, in relationships there are more things to learn about each other. Use what you learn to grow. Encourage new activities. Knowing more about earlier painful events in both your lives can give you the opportunity to heal old wounds with comfort and support. Learn more about relationships or teach others
To learn more about your relationship see "Fishing By Moonlight, The Art Of Enhancing Intimate Relationships" at www.fishingbymoonlight.com, and for information about teaching the course inspired by the book, see the web site, www.betterrelationshipcourse.com.
—Colene Sawyer Schlaepfer, MFT, PhD