How to Prepare for Marriage
[As printed in The Women’s LifeStyle Magazine of Greater Kalamazoo, February 2018 Edition]
How do you know when you are ready to get married? How do you know when you have found “The One,” and not just the “Next Best One?” These are hard questions that cause many to struggle. However, there are some steps you can take to answer these questions and best prepare yourself for marriage.
Much of what we know about successful relationships comes from research by Dr. John Gottman. He and his associates at The Gottman Institute have been doing research on couples since the 1970s in literal lab that they call the “Love Lab.” What they have found is that there is not one perfect match for a person. Instead, there are about seven “perpetual issues” that will have no resolution in a relationship, although the specific issues vary based on the couple. This may be differences in religion, child rearing, or chore delegation. From this we learn that the focus is not on finding the perfect match, but on managing the conflicts that are bound to emerge in a relationship.
Choose Someone You Can Live With
I do not mean to burst your romantic Hollywood-inspired bubble. But, put bluntly, this mean that we have to find someone whose issues we can live with. Ask yourself: “What are deal-breakers for me?”, “Would I rather have someone who does not pick up their socks or would I rather have someone who does not have the same political views as me?” The grass is not greener on the other side. It is greener where you water it. So that compatibility is possible, choose someone whose perpetual issues you can manage in relationship to your own needs.
When I work with couples in therapy, I notice a trend: couples who are struggling tend to not ask each other big-picture questions of interest. So, remember to be curious. Before the wedding, explore who each of you are as people. Here are some open-ended questions to get you started: “Where do you see yourself in five years?”, “What are some of your dreams right now?”, “How do you plan to handle the holidays with family?”, “What are some things missing in your life?”. Get curious. Learn about each other. Successful partnerships are based on a solid foundation of friendship. Use questions as a tool to get to better know your potential partner and keep the love alive for years to come.
Increase your Ratio
While relationships do not magically work (Though that would be nice, wouldn’t it?), there is a magic ratio to successful relationships that has been identified by The Gottman Institute. In lasting relationships, there is a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions. This may be a kiss on the cheek, a word of appreciation, or a successful conflict resolution. If couples are able to maintain this ratio, they are able to maintain a positive outlook on the relationship even during the tough times. Because they continuously deposit into the emotional bank account that is their relationship, they have funds from which to withdraw when things are falling behind. Therefore, they thrive.
Because marriage, in itself, is not what creates a lasting relationship, do not forget to invest in the relationship prior to tying the knot. Ask open-ended questions about your future and your dreams. Seek compromise and compatibility. Practice creating that 5:1 ratio now. Perhaps see a couples therapist to help create dialogue between you and your partner even before your nuptials. Remember, your relationship will give you a return on what you invest. So, invest wisely and invest often.
~Ashley Carter Youngblood, LMSW, LMFT, CADC, ADS
Ashley Carter Youngblood is both a fully-licensed Clinical Social Worker and Marriage and Family Therapist who has been in the field since 2007. She offers counseling at Inner Peace Counseling, PLC for those in Kalamazoo, Portage, Mattawan, Battle Creek, Paw Paw, and the surrounding areas of Southwest Michigan. She is passionate about her work with clients, whether it’s providing individual counseling, couples counseling, family therapy, or life coaching. Her specialties include holistic healing/mindfulness, counseling for women, anxiety, couples counseling, and addictions/substance abuse.
I welcome you to contact me or leave any questions or feedback you have about this post. Please keep in mind that the above information is the opinion of an individual, should not be considered medical advice, and is for entertainment/educational purposes only. I write these blogs as an expression of my passion for wellness and with the hope to be able to help as many people as possible. Therefore, I would encourage anyone seeking mental health advice to contact a therapist in your area who can better evaluate your situation and provide you with case-specific information for treatment. Also remember, if you are experiencing an emergency, contact 911 or present yourself to your nearest emergency room.
Thanks for reading.