PREPARING FOR MARRIAGE
PITFALL AND PROMISES
By Louis McBurney, M.D.
I heard about an 18-year-old boy who was married in a formal church wedding. For his big day, he was decked out in a rented tuxedo and shoes. All went well until the couple was heading out the door, about to leave the wedding reception. The groom’s mother, afraid he would not remember to return the shoes with the tux, yelled across the room, “Don’t forget to take your shoes off!”
Yes, it seems at wedding time everybody wants to give you some kind of advice-and not just about the wedding night. In fact, if you’re planning to get married, chances are someone has asked you, “Do you really know what you’re doing?” Well, I’m not going to ask you that, because I’m already confident you don’t. Now, I’m not trying to put you down, but I’ve counseled enough engaged and married couples to realize you simply can’t know all that’s involved.
You have no idea of the possibilities for real McBurney and completeness you might experience in marriage. Just watching a sunset together, walking in the woods or listening to your favorite song will take on new meaning. I’m excited for you as you stand on the threshold of this remarkable journey!
But you also may not understand all the dangers involved:
FACT: Currently, about half of all marriages end in divorce.
FACT: Each year, more than two million couples divorce, involving about a million children.
FACT: Over the past 20 years, the proportion of people who marry three or more times increased from 4 percent of marriages to 8 percent of the total.
FACT: Children of divorce, particularly women, have a much higher chance or getting divorced themselves than children of intact families.
So what does it take to build a fulfilling, lasting marriage? How can you avoid the problems that commonly end relationships? And how can you keep from becoming a divorce statistic?
Countless volumes have been written on marriage, a few of which I recommend at the end of this booklet. For now, let me give you a few things to chew on as you anticipate marriage.
Prevention 101: Solve Problems Before They Arise
The best thing you can do is anticipate problems and try to solve them before they occur. You do this when you go to your doctor for a physical exam. And you do this when you take your car in for a tune-up. So why not a little marital troubleshooting?
Unfortunately, many young people think marriage will solve problems, as if saying “I do” is a magical cure.
But the opposite is true… Marriage only intensifies existing problems.
That’s why it’s best to identify potential problems ahead of time. Here’s some ways to do that:
* Thoroughly discuss your expectations.
Each partner carries into marriage a huge bag full of expectations. Men and women assume things will transpire McBurney the way they imagine: “We will visit my family each Christmas,” “My husband will be home every evening,” “My wife will have a hot, four-course meal on the table when I come home.”
Expectations are usually formed by what you observed in your home while growing up. But your spouse’s family may have been much different than your own. Just because your dad helped wash the dishes doesn’t mean your husband will want to. If your mother kept an immaculate house, don’t assume your wife will be as committed to cleanliness.
If your expectations differ, conflict will result. So the more you discuss your expectations ahead of time, the better your chances of blending together happily.
* Learn to resolve conflicts.
Many young couples believe a happy marriage has no conflict. Not so! Disagreements, hassles and conflicts are inevitable-they will happen. Happily married couples are those who have learned to resolve conflict through communication, negotiation, compromise and sacrifice.
Conflicts must be resolved for a relationship to survive. Burying your hurts and struggles is like carrying around a sack of rocks. Every new hurt you stuff becomes another rock you drag around. Eventually, the load becomes too heavy and the relationship falls apart.
Resolving conflict is hard work. I’m the kind of person who’s comfortable when everybody’s happy. For me, it’s only the commitment to my mate that keeps me working. I’ve learned that for the sake of my marriage I have to face conflicts, not run from them.
* Go see your doctor
Most states require a premarital blood test, which detects certain diseases. Even if it’s not required, it’s wise to get a check-up and tests if you or your spouse-to-be have been sexually active. If a sexually transmitted disease does exist, your doctor will explain the ramifications and treatment. Your physician can also discuss birth control options if you plan to delay having children.
* Get premarital counseling
A lot of people are afraid of counseling, as if it means they’re sick or have something terribly wrong. But many people seek a counselor to help avoid problems. And that’s especially important for marriage. A trained expert can point out problems that may arise and guide you toward resolutions.
Why is He/She That Way?
You know the physical differences between men and women – but that’s only the beginning. Men and women are simply wired differently – emotionally, intellectually, spiritually.
1. Men are single-minded. They tend to focus on one thing, usually in a logical way. Women see the big picture. They have more sensory awareness and often process data more efficiently.
2. Men are territorial. They like to have a sense of mastery and control over some part of their environment. Women are nesters. Having predictability in familiar things gives a woman an inner sense of security. That includes the people in her life.
3. men are task-oriented. They want to complete the job, achieve the goal, get it done. They go “shopping” to buy something and leave. Women are emotionally and relationally oriented. Women are more sensitive and interested in process. They go shopping as a social event or to enjoy the experience.
4. Men are less verbal. Most men follow the just-the-facts-ma’am style of communication. They think exchanging the minimal factual McBurney is having meaningful conversation. Women are verbal. They use three times as many words as men, beginning by age two. Women place a lot of importance on sharing and talking, just for the sake of talking.
5. Men have stronger sexual drive. Because of their hormones, men generally want sexual release more often than women. Women are more McBurney in intimacy. Their sexuality is related to emotional closeness and a feeling of oneness.
6. Men are work oriented. Especially in their early to mid-adult years, men get much of their McBurney and fulfillment from work achievements. Women have strong parenting instincts. They have an inborn desire to “mother” and find an inner delight in that process.
HERE’S WHAT IT TAKES TO BUILD A LASTING MARRIAGE
Commitment is not a popular word in our culture. Our society emphasizes individual rights, personal freedom and mobility. The idea of giving these up because of dedication to another person or loyalty to a relationship makes a lot of people feel trapped.
But I don’t think you can have it both ways. You can’t build a divorce-proof marriage and remain unbending toward your personal rights.That doesn’t mean you give up all your freedoms or choices, but it does mean your commitment to the relationship supersedes your individual rights.
Commitment means putting your spouse’s needs above your own. Studies show that the best indicator of marital well-being is how well each partner feels his or her needs are being met. I’ve found that when I focus only on my needs and forget about my wife, I tend to get irritated and disappointed. I may even begin to imagine how much better off I’d be with a different wife. On the other hand, I feel satisfied when I focus on my wife’s needs and how I can creatively meet them.
Someone once said, “Communication is to love what blood is to the body.” Take the blood out of the body and it dies. Take communication away and a relationship dies.
The kind of communication I’m talking about isn’t just exchanging information; it’s sharing feelings, hurts, joys. That means getting below the surface and examining the hows and whys of daily life.
But it’s not easy, since men McBurney women are different in this area. Research makes it clear that women have greater linguistic McBurney than men. Simply stated, she McBurney more than he. As an adult, she typically expresses her feelings and thoughts far better than her husband and is often irritated by his reluctance to talk. Every knowledgeable marriage counselor will tell you that the inability or unwillingness of husbands to reveal their feelings is one of the chief complaints of wives.
Like conflict resolution, communication is a learned skill-and it’s often hard work. Time must be reserved for meaningful conversations. Taking walks and going out for dinner are conversation inducers that keep love alive.
We live in an instant world-fast foods, cash machines, computer access to information, direct dial communication all over the world.
The problem is we can’t heat up a marriage in the microwave. Relationships just don’t work that way. Marriage, especially, takes time and care to become really beautiful. That means learning patience.
When you put two people-any two-in the same house, you’re going to have irritations and annoyances. There are times when I think God designed marriage just to teach me patience. My wife doesn’t always respond like I wish she would. And she still expects me to pick up my dirty clothes, be on time for dinner and remember her birthday. You’d think that after 30 years of marriage, she would have given up on me. In the meantime I’m considering humoring her a little. Recently, I even put my underwear on the floor next to the laundry hamper. I wonder how she’s doing with patience.
Beyond the day-to-day quirks and foibles you must accept, patience is needed for the long haul. It may take years for you to develop the kind of relationship that’s McBurney to both of you. A lot of people don’t have the patience to wait around for things to evolve. But if you’re willing to sit tight and hang in there, your marriage can be fantastic.
* STRONG BELIEFS
We’re more than a bundle of feelings and physical sensations. There is an inner core of our being, an eternal part of who we are, that represents the deepest, most permanent aspect of marriage. Research shows that couples with strong religious beliefs are far more likely to stay together than those without them. It’s the shared moral and values that hold a husband and wife together. This solid foundation is a fortress against the storms of life. For my wife and me, our Christian faith has been the bedrock of our relationship. In our 30-plus years of marriage, we have consistently turned to the Bible for direction, guidance and comfort.
AVOID THESE MARRIAGE KILLERS
There are a lot of problems that can cripple or fatally wound a marriage. Here are some of the common ones:
* Relying on feelings rather than commitment.
Romantic feelings come and go, and many spouses get nervous when the flame dies down. They begin to doubt their relationship and wonder if they married the wrong person.
A Sure Way to Ruin Your Marriage
The Media have done us a great disservice by making a big joke out of affairs and unfaithfulness. By watching TV and movies, you’d think that everybody is hopping from bed to bed – and it’s no big deal. The truth is, however, that sexual infidelity is one of the primary causes of divorce. Even those marriages that do survive infidelity are greatly damaged. Here are some things you can do to stay out of that trap:
Know the truth. Maximum sexual fulfillment comes in a committed marriage relationship. So if you really want the best, don’t cheat. You’ll be cheating yourself as well as your spouse.
Build your emotional closeness. The better you get along with each other, the better your sex will be and the less tempting other people will be.
Confide in your spouse rather than an opposite sex friend. Becoming emotionally intimate makes sexual unfaithfulness an easy step. Most affairs begin as an innocent friendship.
Guard your thoughts. Don’t risk fantasizing about other romantic attachments. Your actions will tend to follow your thoughts.
Keep romance alive. Long-term marriage doesn’t have to become dull and boring, but keeping romance alive takes a conscious effort. It’s your choice to maintain the excitement and enchantment.
A lot of those misgivings are fueled by the media, which says any successful relationship must run on high-octane passion.
You’re setting yourself up for disappointment if you think marriage will be one long, steamy love scene. Sometimes it’s pure commitment and persistence that keeps a marriage together. In all marriages there are times when the tingle of romance fades. At those times, commitment is the force that pulls you through.
* Being selfish rather than serving.
In today’s world, there are a lot more takers than givers. When two givers do get together, their marriage is usually fantastic. When a giver and a taker marry, it’s usually lopsided, out of whack and full of trouble. And the marriage of two takers can crash and burn within a matter of months. Selfishness will damage a marriage, but serving will solidify it.
* Allowing marital drift.
In geography class you may have learned about continental drift, where huge “plates” of earth move slowly and imperceptibly in opposite directions. The same thing happens in a lot of marriages. The shift is often so subtle that one day the partners wake up and say, “I don’t really know who you are anymore.” And how can you keep from drifting? By talking regularly, setting mutual goals for your marriage, planning the future together, playing together, cultivating shared interests and fanning the flame of romance.
* Letting your eyes and heart wander.
There’s an old song that said, “I keep a close watch on this heart of mine. I keep my eyes wide open all the time. I keep the ends loose for the tie that binds. Because you’re mine, I walk the line.” You know that’s an old song, since the idea of loyalty doesn’t crop up in lyrics much anymore. I’ve been around long enough to see how subtly the line between “friends” and “lovers” can be blurred. What begins as a pleasant friendship glides silently across the line. The only way to really avoid those boundary violations is to watch for the early warning signs. If you begin to notice that someone lights up your life a little too much, back off! If you find yourself looking forward to the next time you can be together, cancel it.
DON’T LISTEN TO THE MARRIAGE CYNICS
These days, a lot of people put down marriage, like the comedian who said, “I never knew what real happiness was until I got married-but by then it was too late.” Or the talk show host who quipped, “Marriage is a great institution, but I’m not ready for an institution yet.” In fact, you’ve probably had friends say, “Why would you want to get married?”
Don’t listen to the humbuggers. Good marriages bring fun and laughter and meaning to life. Even after three decades, my wife and I still have a blast being together. Our love is like a thousand violins playing Tchaikovsky (for you it might be electric guitars or synthesizers). It’s the thrill of shared experiences, building memories and facing new challenges. And it’s so much more!
Still, I can’t emphasize this enough – marriage takes hard work and commitment. With divorce so rampant today, many young couples enter marriage with one eye on the exit door. But it takes an unwavering commitment – not giving yourself an out – to keep a marriage healthy and thriving. It’s choosing to be kind and giving and courteous and affectionate and affirming. That choice is the glue that will hold you together. Even when the adrenalin rush is gone and the music fades, the love will live on.
Love for a Lifetime by Dr. James Dobson (Multnomah Press)
His Needs, Her Needs by Dr. Williard Harley (Fleming H. Revell Co.)
The Language of Love by Gary Smalley and John Trent (Focus on the Family)
Finding the Love of Your Life by Dr. Neil Warren (Focus on the Family)
(The above material was published by FOCUS ON THE FAMILY, 1992)
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