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Prepare For Marriage Or Living Together

written by: Kosjenka Muk

If you look around a bit, it seems that in most "stable" relationships partners communicate more through grumbling and sarcasm, than with warmth and respect. These same partners, if somebody years ago suggested that they sit down and make a serious agreement about how their life together should look like, would probably say something like "but this is so unromantic!" or "What is there to talk about, we'll solve problems as they come!".

Some years later, more serious challenges appear - maybe financial problems, intrusive relatives, demanding or sick children. Each partner responds to stress as they have learned in their families. The desire to please the partner has in the meantime faded away, and every disagreement causes more tension and frustration. Without pre-determined strategies to respond to problems and disagreements, both have a vast array of immature and inappropriate reactions to choose from.

Reacting in a healthy and mature way to continuous irritations is often not easy, because it requires responsibility and thoughtfulness just in the moments when we are at our most subjective and most impulsive. In such moments, it is good to have a firm agreement, preferably on a sheet of paper, which you can remind yourself of. It's easier to make a fair, balanced agreement while both parties still feel mutual trust and desire to invest in the relationship.

Therefore I suggest, if you plan to marry or move in with your potential partner, that you sit down together and discuss your expectations, attitudes about specific potential problems and personal quirks. Even if it may seem too formal, I recommend that you write down the essential parts of your agreement. Later, you will probably be glad you did. If your partner refuses such a conversation, tries to ridicule or belittle your suggestions, this is a good indication of how (s)he is likely to act later in the relationship. Notice if you start finding excuses for such behavior and ignore the warning signals in your body.

To start with, let both of you think separately of (and ideally write down) your views on the following topics, and then discuss them together:

  • Which habits of other people annoy you? Perhaps you like quiet environment, or strong smells bother you? Or do you hate being woken up by snoring? Even if they sound ridiculous, such trifles eventually lead to the accumulation of irritation, so it is good to clarify them in advance and decide what to do about them.

  • What are your habits that could eventually annoy your partner? Maybe you like to go out with friends several times a week, which might be OK while there are no children, but could easily become a problem once a child is born. You may have different biorhythms. You may spend a large part of the day on the computer. What are you willing to change, and what are you not?

  • What do you expect in terms of tidiness? What kind of compromise are you ready to make?

  • How will you divide the household chores? Are you ready to learn to do something you are not used to?

  • How would you handle money? Do you spend without too much thinking, or do you weigh each purchase and like to save? How can you balance possible discrepancies? Will you have joint or separate accounts? Who will be listed as the owner of the house or apartment? (I do not recommend that it be just one of you.)

  • Where and how would you live? In a city or in the country? Do you prefer a modest life style or luxury? What do you like to do in your spare time? Do you expect that you should spend together most of the time, or busy yourself with different hobbies? (A short side-note: generally it's a good idea to follow separate hobbies and spend some time apart. Insisting on doing things one of you might not like just for the sake of being together might create resentment. Spending some time apart also reduces the likelihood of taking your partner for granted. Every couple is different, however, and if it works for you both to do most things together, go ahead.)

  • How will you raise children? How much time should each of you invest? What are your views on discipline and religion? How will the family function if a child happens to have health problems? What if you have children from a previous marriage and it generates problems for your partner? Many young couples tell me that children require much more time and effort than they have imagined or expected. Talk to other couples who have children about their experiences. Be prepared for your life and priorities to be turned upside down. There are frequent clashes between new parents if one feels that (s)he has taken over the majority of child care, and the other person wants to continue with the former lifestyle.

  • What would you do if one of you feels that parents interfere too much in your relationship? What if your parents do not accept your partner? This is not uncommon.

  • How could you communicate in situations of disagreement, stress or irritability? What are your communication habits? Perhaps this agreement will not be easy to implement when the real situation occurs, but it can help you to pull yourself together and motivate yourself.

  • What will you do if one of you starts to feel attracted to somebody else? This is one of the possible problems that new partners least often take into account, but it is certainly possible and does not depend on rational decisions and beliefs. It is quite possible that at least one of the partners might eventually feel strongly sexually or emotionally attracted to a third party. Lately, it is not uncommon for one partner to (try to) persuade the other that it's okay to have an "open marriage". Is it important to you that your partner is fully committed to your relationship? How will you handle the temptation, if it happens to you? (Strong attraction is often based on transference and /or biological factors, not necessarily quality assessment.)

I recommend that you talk to other couples about their experiences, what problems do they face and how (and if) they solve them. A good approach is to make a deal that you will follow for about a year, and after one year to make a "revision" - discuss what do you do well, what does not work and what attitudes might have changed in the meantime.

One of the biggest mistakes in such a discussion is believing that your view is the only correct one. Perhaps it is right for you, but someone else might have totally different feelings, beliefs, constitution and so on. What is important to note is the way you communicate. Do both of you show compassion, understanding and respect even if you disagree? Are you able to at least partially adapt to the needs of the other?

If your partner doesn't show much interest in your feelings, if (s)he communicates like an irresponsible adolescent, you can expect this problem to continue and increase in the later stages of the relationship. You need to decide whether you can accept such shortcomings and live with them, even if they eventually get worse, or not. If your partner's behavior doesn't feel acceptable to you, it's a good idea to check why do you stay in such relationship. Are you bonded by fear of being alone, by the hope that your partner will "magically" change (or that you will be able to save him/her), or do you feel that you have to be with this person, but don't know why? Check also our article Patterns in Love Relationships.

"Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate." - C.G. Jung

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