Saturday, July 21, 2007

Premarital Primer


A good friend of mine recently wrote me, asking what I would say to a couple who is about to begin premarital counseling- what they need to talk about, and what advice I might give. And here's what I came up with (as always, feel free to comment or add your own advice in the comments!):

T
he main thing I would tell any engaged couple is this: TALK ABOUT EVERYTHING YOU POSSIBLY CAN!!! If something comes to your mind, you might as well talk it through! You'll never be sorry that you discussed something in advance of making the biggest human commitment of your life.


SOME SPECIFIC THINGS TO TALK ABOUT

  • How each of your parent's marriages worked-- the pros/cons strengths/weaknesses
  • Be COMPLETELY open and honest about who you REALLY are- when no one's looking, what REALLY gets you mad/sad/frustrated/etc. Talk about your real weaknesses- the ugliest things from your past that no one else knows... he should know yours and you should know his.
  • The situations that seem far-off... what to do about birth control? how many kids to have? whether you dislike some particular age of children? whether either of you have fears about having children, or having boys, or girls?
  • Household things - how you'll split household duties
  • How you are with pain/sickness... how much you depend on medicine... (by that I mean that some people never take anything, and some people take Tylenol and Sudafed at the drop of a hat- that might be good to know) Plus it's good to know if your future spouse is a real weenie about pain or will tough it through most anything... it's just good to know in advance.
  • What your feelings are about ailing relatives, aging parents... how much will that affect your work and home? Will you want to take them in and care for them or will you be prepared to help a sibling or facility take care of them in your stead?
As you get closer to marriage, you'll want to talk about any fears/issues that come up with intimacy. Share about your sexual histories- be fully blunt and honest. Talk about how you both feel about the roles of a man and woman. Find out the REAL scoop- not to discourage you but to prepare you realistically... how much of this will be your responsibility or his? Does he like certain chores more than others? Do you? Find out who does which chores in your parents' homes: cutting the grass, doing dishes, cleaning the garage, cleaning the kitchen, maintaining the garden, caring for pets, etc. You may be surprised to find out that your expectations of who does what may be different.

And then what about finances? I won't delve too far into that one because there are heaps of books and resources that talk about that... who will pay the bills? Whether you're a spender or a saver? What about him? Etc...

PRINCIPLES FOR MARRIAGE
There are some principles I want to share with you that have served us well in our marriage:
  1. Don't let the sun go down on your anger. We have always talked things through- even if we're up til 4am, which happened a time or two early on but hasn't happened in years, we deal with arguments and disagreements before we go to bed... we don't have lingering "issues" that cloud each day and each additional disagreement.
  2. Don't ever let divorce be an option. Don't mention it, don't threaten it. Don't talk about roads not taken. Once you commit, commit. And let that be evident in your communication with each other-- "you're my only". (And of course, I'm NOT talking about situations of abuse or infidelity. I'm talking about in normal marriages with two fallen human beings who disagree and differ on many things, there shouldn't be an easy "out".)
  3. Don't entertain ANY hint of affection towards other people. Other Christian women will talk about how "cute" some actor or musician is... but this has always been off-limits for me. I don't even allow a HINT of attraction to be fed in my mind or heart- one way that I go about this is to not "feed" male friendships, and not have physical contact with people of the opposite sex. We just don't want any hint of it... sometimes it will mean that I seem cold or distant towards other men, but that's OK. In this day and age of over sexualization, I would rather be seen as unapproachable by a man than to be seen as someone that he thinks he can have a flirtation or fling with.
  4. Just say "YES" (to meeting each others' needs). Once your married, I mean. For me, that means that I don't say no (in words or body language) to intimacy. We didn't start out with this as a rule, but we've just always been open to each other in that way. I've found that a LOT of my friends use or have used sex as a negotiating tool and it has become a point of difficulty in their marriages. For my husband, that has meant being willing to TALK and meet my communication needs, when that was not his natural bent. Both of us have gone out of our ways to be open to saying yes to each other so that we are the ones meeting each others' needs, rather than each of us feeling like our needs have to be met outside of the marriage relationship.
  5. Be each other's biggest cheerleaders and defenders. Your husband ought to know that if ANYONE has his back, it's you. You are the one that cheers for him and promotes him in his strengths, and shields and protects his weaknesses. In many marriages, sadly, it's the other way around: the wife is the one who points out every failure and flaw and overlooks the strengths and good things in her husband. And that just ought not be. He ought to know that you are going to protect the areas where he is weakest (for example, that might mean that you take the lead on balancing the checkbook, or that if he struggles with an organized workspace, that you take the time to organize it for him so that he can be effective and efficient... rather than deriding him for the disarray in his office.) Basically, this is just being a good helpmeet, I think. Where he is weak, I can help him, and where he is strong, I can promote him and praise him.
  6. Make your marriage your top human priority, just behind your relationship with God. Too many women in particular allow the kids to take the place that the marriage ought to have in their mind and hearts - children become a bigger priority than their husband, and that just ought not be. Our "nest" will some day be empty, but we will still be together. I don't want to get to that stage and just be barely hanging on by a thread- I want to get to that stage, excited about our time together- ready to start a new phase together, and delighted in the job we've done together as parents. The way to make that happen is to continue pouring ourselves into the marriage relationship- with physical and verbal intimacy... making sure that we're on the same page about life choices and events, and then continuing to work on it and work on it and work on it, and - well, you get the picture.
  7. Commit to do the maintenance! It's constant upkeep and work- but I've heard some analogies that it's kind of like a car or a house- that you can either do the regular maintenance and enjoy it for a LONG time, or you can skip the maintenance and end up with HUGE problems to fix. It's true- as a couple, we just try to do the maintenance and adjustments on the front end, rather than at some future date when there are way too many "issues" to narrow it down to what the real problem is.
For further reading:
For female readers, I would HIGHLY suggest that you read "For Women Only" by Shaunti Feldhahn. It will give some great insights into the male psyche and make-up.

Establish your "norms" now!
If you are a newly engaged couple, I would encourage you to talk through these things and establish a pattern of honest communication now. You can lay the way for a good marriage by communicating openly now, and giving yourselves realistic expectations about what's to come. I pray that this next phase of your life is a true thrill and a blessing to your life- that God will grow you and change you into the man or woman he wants you to be through this new role as husband or wife. Many Blessings!

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