“Happily ever after” is a great ending for Disney, but in real life over 40 percent of new marriages end in divorce. Clearly, marriage is not always easy. Although love is the foundation of any happy romantic relationship, love is often not enough to sustain a healthy relationship. Every marriage has its ups and downs and both partners have to be committed to working through inevitable conflicts and differences. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to create a strong foundation for a healthy relationship before you marry.
1. Focus on Mutual Respect
The healthiest relationships are built on a strong foundation of mutual respect. Building a foundation of respect depends on having the right perspective. Going into a relationship expecting your significant other to change is a sign that you need to resolve some issues before making things permanent. Keep your attention on the admirable and honorable traits in your partner—not on the things you don’t like.
Showing respect for your partner also means refusing to participate in the “man-bashing or woman-bashing” your friends do. Bring up things that bother you directly with your partner or learn to tolerate them.
2. Learn to Fight Fair
Arguments are going to crop up, even in the best relationships. Before you commit to marriage, do you and your partner know how to have a constructive argument without tearing each other down? This skill is essential for productively resolving the inevitable conflicts, large and small, that arise in a marriage. Healthy conflict resolution will allow the relationship to grow in the long term. If you don’t have these skills, or if you want to improve your skills, you can do so with a counselor’s help.
Similarly, it’s crucial that you learn how to apologize well. Being able to apologize is a crucial predictor of marital happiness. It doesn’t matter if your apologies are awkward or funny, just that you’re able to make them. Holding on to grudges is a recipe for marital discord and disconnection.
3. Ensure Everyone’s Needs are Met
One of the biggest challenges for many relationships is figuring out how to advocate for your own needs while striving to meet your partner’s needs. This can be difficult if we haven’t learned how to tell the difference between wants and needs. Most people have difficulty advocating for their own needs.
But it’s also important to remember that both you and your partner have your own distinct needs. Many relationships fall into a pattern in which, depending on the issue, one person is the giver and the other is the taker. This creates an environment in which resentment can thrive.
4. Maintain Closeness
Staying close to your partner isn’t something that just happens. You need to work at nurturing that closeness every day. One of the best ways to do this is to truly listen to your partner. It’s said that many people don’t listen to understand but simply wait for their turn to speak. Becoming a good listener is a skill that takes practice. Actively listening demonstrates to your partner that you are attuned, responsive and engaged, no matter the topic, thereby consistently reinforcing their importance as well as the importance of the relationship.
5. Choose a Partner Wisely
We can’t always choose whom we fall in love with. But taking the additional step to marry requires taking off those “rose colored love goggles” and honestly evaluating your partner. Is your partner the kind of person you would like and admire if they were a friend or coworker? Would you unquestionably recommend them for a job or trust them with access to your bank account? Being able to evaluate your partner with an honest and critical eye will help you know if this is the type of person who’s well-suited to become your spouse.
Every relationship has a “honeymoon phase” and it is important to give the relationship time to move beyond that phase to ensure that you are making an honest assessment of your partner and not just seeing them as someone you want them to be or as they want you to see them. Pay attention to any nagging gut feelings or hesitations. Discovering that your current partner is not the kind of person you want to live with forever can be very painful, but it is better than the alternative.
Only 5 Things?
Of course, there are more than five things to consider about your partner before you marry, but this is a good start for any couple considering tying the knot. Even if you and your partner believe you have a healthy and sustainable relationship, pre-marital counseling can help build an even stronger foundation.
For more information on pre-marital couples counseling go to naomiberrycounseling.com or contact me for a free 15-30 minute phone consultation at 480-427-3553.