She Said, He Said: Staying on the same page
July 9, 2018
Dear Lori and Jeff,
My fiance and I are getting married in October and have been struggling over some basic relationship issues in the past few months. Things like money and household responsibilities that have been workable in the past have become sticking points between us as we get closer to tying the knot. I'm feeling more stressed and increasingly worried about going through with the marriage, but she keeps reassuring me it will be better once the wedding is over. How do I know if this is just pre-wedding jitters or a bigger problem?
Getting Cold Feet
Dear Cold Feet,
Lori and Jeff: Whether you're having jitters or justifiable resistance can only be determined through deeper exploration. What we can tell you is differing expectations about money, sex and the sharing of responsibilities are the top causes of divorce in the U.S. We encourage you to meet with a coach or counselor to get on the same page before tying the knot. A 2003 study in the journal Family Relations found that couples who had completed some form of premarital counseling had a 30 percent increase in marital satisfaction compared with those who hadn't.
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Jeff: Premarital counseling or coaching can help get couples started off on the right foot in their marriages by having those challenging conversations about values and expectations, which a lot of couples don't often have on their own. As marriage gets closer, things get more real — the stakes become higher. Things that were once more easily put aside or ignored are now front and center and what once seemed "workable" becomes an obstruction. The foundations of solid relationships are primarily made from trust, the ability to resolve conflicts and cooperation toward shared goals. When you engage in the deeper conversations about beliefs, values, money, sex, responsibilities, family, careers and children, you will need that foundation to be able to negotiate a common path forward. Married life can take some adjusting to. Understanding how significantly things can change after you get hitched can make working toward those shared goals much more effective.
Lori: Relationships can be challenging in the best of times so when you add a major stressor like a wedding, conflicts that once seemed manageable can easily become overwhelming. Your partner may be correct in predicting that things will get better on their own once the wedding is over (we know firsthand how wedding planning in itself can be a crazy-maker). But her logic is likely flawed. The reality of married life is that it is full of stressors — buying a home, having kids and changing jobs to name a few. What will happen as these events show up on your horizon? The key is to focus on process over problems. Learn to navigate stress and conflict with your partner now by creating a pattern of honest, respectful dialogue, and you'll begin to master the art of fighting fair. Also, don't forget the strengths you already have as a couple. Take a few minutes to reflect on what made you successful at navigating these challenges in the past. Were you more patient with one another or more thoughtful about how you spoke to each other?
Lori and Jeff: Healthy couples fight, and topics to fight about will never be scarce. But, with knowing you have the same goals, and a solid process of communicating and supporting each other, you can manage whatever comes your way.
Lori and Jeff are married, licensed psychotherapists and couple-to-couple coaches at Aspen Relationship Institute. Submit your relationship questions to info@AspenRelationshipCoaching.com and your query may be selected for a future column.