Copyright © 2016, Liz Currin, Ph.D.
OK, well I can't actually issue you a written guarantee that your marriage will never be in trouble or perhaps even end in divorce. But I can highlight for you some guidelines and principles that can go a long way toward strengthening your marriage and preserving it.
** From the outset—even before you're officially engaged, before the ring, etc.--you and your significant other should have a series of discussions to determine if you're “on the same page” with regard to the big issues of life. Some of these issues--”core values”, as I call them—include money (is one of you a spender and the other a saver?); religion (is one a Southern Baptist and the other an atheist?); children (does one of you want four kids and the other want none? Many therapists would argue that the “no kids” position trumps wanting children); and the role of extended family (does one of you want to spend every holiday and many weekends shuttling back and forth between the in-laws' homes, while the other wants to establish your identity as a family and begin to develop your own holiday traditions?) Does one of you prefer more artistic, cerebral pursuits, while the other would choose a brisk bicycle ride or a grueling hike up a steep mountain?
As you can imagine, the list of core values to be addressed can be extensive. What couples find, when they take this task seriously, is that their positions on the issues often reflect the values and the habits of the families in which they grew up. So, for example, if your family always gathered at grandma's house for Christmas, you may expect that you and your spouse will continue that tradition, versus beginning to establish traditions that reflect your new family. The truth is that couples rarely have this kind of in-depth conversation before they tie the knot. They conclude that, after dating for a year, two years—however long—they know what they need to know about that person. Or, of even more concern, whatever serious differences there are can simply be “worked out” over time.
**Pay attention! That is, pay attention to your future spouse's behavior and to patterns that you observe. For example, does he morph into a “Tasmanian devil” behind the wheel, driving recklessly, cutting other drivers off, cursing, and putting you in fear for your own life? When you go to a restaurant, does she invariably complain about her food and the service and deal disrespectfully with the wait staff? Or does your date demonstrate appropriate patience and empathy? How does he or she treat their families of origin? Is he respectful and considerate, but also able to set appropriate boundaries? The point is that you need to have many opportunities to observe your future spouse's behavior over time and in a wide range of settings.
(There is laboratory-based social psychological research indicating that, within a very short period of time, we actually stop processing new information about someone we're just getting acquainted with, thinking we know all we really need to know about that person.)
**If you and your significant other have done your pre-marital “due diligence” with regard to getting to know each other, what you value in life, and what your goals are, then congratulations to you! You've accomplished one of the major tasks required to share a long and satisfying relationship.
(Please see Part II for specific tips and guidelines for a healthy marriage.)