It’s Spring again and a new crop of couples are preparing all the details for their upcoming nuptials. Unfortunately, many people get caught up in the romance, erotic excitement, and wedding and dress plans of that first year to two years of their relationship that they neglect to talk about some critical elements that will help them safeguard their marriage and fidelity for the long haul. Since June is one of the most popular months to marry and Americans are spending an average of $30,000 on a wedding according to theknot.com , I thought I would use this month’s blog to offer some sage advice to those out there that are getting ready to invest their hearts and money to wed.
Frequently in the media we have heard engagements and weddings called off by celebrities like Bristol Palin and Miley Cyrus . The actual statistic of cancelled weddings have been estimated at 20%, and the issues can be about lies discovered, financial concerns or frequent arguments that never seem to get resolved. I have done a lot of pre-marital counseling and have helped some couples who decide to delay their wedding until they are able to nail down some pretty challenging issues before they can say “I do” with the skills and confidence needed to fulfill their vows.
Some of the issues couples come in to discuss before their weddings include: sexual incompatibility, concerns about cheating, alcohol or substance abuse, disagreements over financial habits, whether and/or when to have children, and differing religious beliefs. After 20+ years of counseling couples who have been traumatized by infidelity, financial secrets, or constant arguing, I can state that EXPLICIT agreements are needed at the beginning of a marriage and need to be updated continually as situations change and people grow.
Relationship agreement? I know, some of you are scratching your heads and thinking: “ What agreement? We get married and we vow to honor, love and be faithful to one another, isn’t that all we need?” The definitive answer is no, one needs to discuss these issues as seriously as where they want to hold the ceremony, reception and go for their honeymoon. (As a note, I think the following tips could also be helpful to those committed couples that haven’t sat down in a while to discuss critical aspects of the marriage/relationship agreement).
- Make sure you share the same bottom line goals in life.
I am always surprised when couples have gotten engaged without discussing things like whether they both want or don’t want to have children, the religion in which they would raise their children, what city in which they would live. Make sure you and your fiancé(e) have a thorough discussion about these questions and make sure you’re agreed on the decisions. Leaving what I call deal-breaker decisions until after the honeymoon can frequently derail a marriage later on.
2. What do you consider cheating?
I know this sounds obvious but I have to reinforce the idea that couples frequently have different ideas about what they regard as broken commitments to their oath of fidelity. Most people don’t have what I have termed Sex Esteem™, the confidence, education and skills to discuss sexual issues with one’s partner and yet sexual fidelity is a critical part of the agreement you’re creating with your partner.
If this topic is too challenging to discuss on your own, or you have already run into questionable situations of trusting your partner, seek out an experienced sex therapist to have some sessions on this topic before the wedding. It could save you a lot of heartache later on. An example of what partners might disagree on would be: a one-time kiss at a company party after having drunk too much, watching certain types of sexually explicit material, dancing all night with another man/woman, and a hook-up during a bachelor/bachelorette trip to Vegas.
3. How much time do you each want to spend on your own, with your friends/family and with one another?
It’s hard to judge what your baseline needs are when you are in the throes of a new relationship because all those hormones are making you want to spend every minute with one another. But once that stage settles down you each have your own sense of lifestyle that makes one feel balanced. Your partner may have a very different expectation about how much time you’ll spend as a couple going forward. Make sure you’re clear about how many times a week and the amount of time you want to work out, how many times you like to speak to your parents/sister/brother, how many nights you want to have dinner together, and how frequently you want to have a date and/or sex etc. Take some inspiration from Priscilla Chan, wife of Mark Zuckerberg who asked her fiance to agree to 100 minutes of time each week, 1 dinner date a week and a 2-week trip abroad at the very minimum.
4. Commit to being your partner’s emissary to your parents
Some of the most stressful times couples experience as they plan a wedding is with their soon-to-be in-laws. Remember you are creating a new family with your own beliefs and traditions from your family of origin. You each need to explain to your own parents why you and your fiancé(e) have made your decisions and that they need to support you both and not blame or criticize her/him because they’re disappointed. ( I think this role needs to last for the first 2-3 years of a relationship until the son/daughter-in-law can forge their own relationship with their in-laws)
5. Plan business meetings to discuss finances
Marriages are about mutual love and support, fun and erotic connection in addition to being a financial partnership. I find that many couples discuss their financial goals and budgetary concerns as frequently as they discuss their sex life. Meaning, not as often as they should. I find those in long term partnerships or marriages need to carve out time (that is not designated for fun or sex) to discuss each of their goals, the steps they each are going to take to get them there and who is responsible for what aspect of their financial plan. Whether it’s how much to save for retirement, what each of you consider a reasonable rent, or how to plan for a vacation, preparing for a meeting and the considerations you each want to address can help keep underlying tension and anxiety from building. You can then move ahead to your fun time together more unified and eager to bond romantically.