How Do You Prepare for Marriage?

You've decided to get married.

Or maybe this is your second go at it.  What do you need to know to prepare yourself for a successful and thriving marriage?  By now, you may have researched current divorce rates and figured out that your odds are about as great as flipping a coin.  Pretty great odds at a horse race.  But this isn’t a horse race, and what you’re betting is much more important than money. 

Your decision to spend the rest of your life with someone is an exercise in vulnerability. 

There’s no way around it. You cannot possibly know for sure that the person vowing to be yours and only yours forever will make good on that promise.  You are hedging a bet, a very important wager.  The best you can do is be hopeful that the person you’ve chosen will continue to make that wager with you, each and every day. 

So how do you prepare?

David Schnarch is a marital researcher who writes that the only thing that can prepare you for marriage, is marriage.  This is true.  Marriage is not only a commitement between two people, but a legally binding contract with the state.  Research suggests that marriage is different from cohabitation in this way, both because of the legal benefits and because of the emphasis that our culture places on marriage.  You can agree or disagree with this, but either way, it still makes an impact on your relationship.  If you are remarrying, then you have some idea what you’re getting into.  However unless you’re marrying the same person, and unless you have no children, you are still heading for uncharted territory. 

Prepare to be surprised.

You cannot perfectly prepare, but you can get a general idea of what you might expect to go through.  You can prepare by speaking with a couple and family therapist about how your unique family backgrounds, couple relationship, and individual personalities can be a risk and strength.  Do both of you want children?  Do your career goals align? Will you be willing to sacrifice for each other if they don’t? What are you sexual expectations? Do you share the same values? Religious beliefs? 

Couples I see who have been together for at least two years have usually done this work for me, which makes my job easier.  Younger couples who have been together a year or less will want to spend a good amount of time discussing these issues. 

The only thing that can prepare you for marriage is marriage.

You might find it helpful to spend time learning marital myths, like the one that says “you must always feel in love with your spouse,” or “you should never go to bed angry at your spouse.” Ultimately, however, the foundation of good preparation involves answering the question, “what makes couples last the test of time?” There is enough research to answer this question, but the answer may surprise you.  Resilient couples fight well.  They are selfless, and sometimes they are selfish.  They listen.  They find a balance between autonomy and togetherness.   Most importantly, resilient couples are vulnerable with each other.

Togetherness. Independence. Risk. Acceptance.

As a couple and family therapist, premarital therapy is one of my favorite types of work because I partner with clients to strengthen one of the most important relationships of their lives. If you're looking for support or help as you venture into this big step,  call me today, and let's see if I can help.

Dr. Mathis Kennington