Choosing a life partner might be the single most important decision we make. It’s hard to think of another decision which has as big of an impact on our personal, professional, and family lives. Many people enter marriage unprepared for the strains and pressures that inevitably arise. The first year of marriage is particularly difficult for many couples. When couples enter therapy early in their marriage, it often becomes apparent they put more effort into preparing for the wedding than they did preparing for the marriage. That’s not an uncommon problem. I understand the seduction of wedding planning. The wedding industry is a powerful force pressuring couples to make hundreds of decisions for their big day. There’s a long list of choices to make from flowers and music to food and the honeymoon. The path for a happy marriage is less clearly defined and the complexities facing couples cannot be addressed with a series of commonly shared decisions. Planning a wedding can distract couples from the deeper conversations about planning their lives together. Marriage is complicated. Joining two individuals with their own histories of conflict resolution, money management, sexual expectations, and parenting philosophies requires careful thought and preparation.
When I see couples with several years of marriage under their belts, a different set of challenges emerges. Differences in personality and attitude which were overlooked in the early days of a marriage can start creating problems. Opposites can attract, but differences which were once considered fascinating can become alienating as time passes. The power of early attraction can override those signs of potential future conflict. The rubber often hits the road when children enter the picture. What one partner initially thought was quirky or fun in their partner starts to look a little different when they think about that quirk being poured into their children. And what if it isn’t just a quirk? What if it’s something along the lines of a significant religious or philosophical difference? It far easier to ignore or avoid differences in core values before children enter our lives.
All marriages can be strained when spouses have different values. I often see that reflected in financial disagreements between couples. How we spend our money reflects what we value. If one partner values security while the other partner values new experiences, that could lead to arguments over how to spend money. Finances can get complicated when couples are deciding how to manage their money individually and as a couple. That challenge is compounded in second marriages. I sometimes see happy, committed couples who come to therapy for the sole purpose of getting on the same page financially.
Conflict in marriage is inevitable. It’s not something we need to fear or avoid. In fact, conflict can move our relationships to a deeper place of understanding and commitment. My hope for engaged individuals is that they put some thought into what conflicts are likely to arise in their marriage. The attached article identifies 13 questions couples should discuss BEFORE they get married. Photo by Luis Tosta on UnsplashVisit Website