This is another column that if you are already married you might be tempted to skip, however there will still be plenty of good information for those of us who are already married (and of course my sharp wit as a bonus), so I encourage you to read this whether single or married and to pass it on to those you believe can benefit.
The best time to think about getting married is years before you begin seriously looking for your life partner. As I mentioned in previous columns, figuring out what you want for your own life as well as becoming a functional, healthy, mature, loving, human being are all things that should be accomplished before seriously looking for a mate.
Because I'm sure all of you have done the things I've just mentioned, we are going to press on, assuming you have found a partner who is also functional, healthy, mature, and loving. One might be tempted to think that if you have done what I have suggested, all that is left would be to pick china patterns. However, building a relationship is analogous to building a house, and in the previous columns we only laid the foundation for tying two lives together; we have not yet begun to put up walls or a roof.
In this analogy, a couple should build the walls and roof before honeymoon plans are started:
1. Take your individual goal sheets and begin the hard process of honest communication to reconcile those goals. Keep in mind, honest communication is paramount. Love’s early flush can keep a couple from honestly communicating, thinking to spare their intended’s feelings. This never works in the long run.
2. Make sure you cover these topics as a minimum: where you wish to live, children (how many, when, etc.), financial priorities, religious beliefs. Blended families have the additional challenge of step-children and any ex-spouses.
3. Attend marriage classes or pre-marital counseling, preferably over the course of several weeks. Go with an open mind and open heart to pick up invaluable communication and compromise skills.
4. If this is a second (or more) marriage, you really should try to figure out why your other marriage failed (and no, it was not all your ex-spouse’s fault).
5. You and your partner should both read books on healthy relationships such as “The Five Love Languages” or “Before you Say I Do: A Marriage Preparation Manual”.
Almost any church you wish to get married in is going to require a meeting with the marrying official, during which you will likely be asked questions on the topics I covered above. However this short session is not nearly long or in depth enough in my mind and will not provide the kind of tools you will need to build a successful marriage. If your future spouse refuses such help and counseling or can’t be bothered to work in order to have a successful marriage, a large red flag should go up in your head.
Surely there are a number of Marriage and Family counselors in your area, as well as churches and parenting organizations that are glad to help. If you cannot find the proper resources, email me and I will send you a list. Please do not ignore the hard work of your marriage; the sooner you start, the more rewarding the relationship will be for both of you and any children you may have.