He may seem to have it all- he is a good man, has a stable job and your chemistry is magnetic.But if you are dreaming of a lifetime commitment, there’s so much more you need to know about him – and he needs to know about you – to ensure relatively smooth sailing until death do you part.
“We see too many couples rushing into marriage before they are ready and without a decent understanding of the person they’re getting married to,” says Busisiwe Malangwane, a registered counsellor from Midrand.She says the rush may be because people feel pressured by parents who want grandkids, or they are affected by the social pressure to marry when their friends do.
But because you’re making a commitment to spend the rest of your life with this person, it’s worth investing some time and effort to get to know them before tying the knot. “It’s dangerous to get married during the honeymoon stage of your love life,” says Nomonde Precious Stamper, a social work practitioner at Eyam Consultancy in Grahamstown.
“Couples are very loving at the onset of the relationship, but you will never know the person you are dating if you’ve never seen them angry. How are they when they are at their worst?Do they support you? If they don’t support you during your worst times now, chances are, they won’t support you when you’re married.
“Don’t expect a change in behavior when you’re married. What you see now is what you are going to get when you are together,” Stamper says. “Knowing more about the person you are going to marry doesn’t mean there won’t be conflict in your marriage. It simply means when misunderstandings arise, you will be in a better position to handle them,” Malangwane adds.
Here are some important issues to consider before saying, “I do.”
WHY ARE YOU GETTING MARRIED? Marriage may mean something different to you both.For example, does he feel pressured to ask you to be his wife or do you feel pressured to say yes? Does it simply mean a legal agreement or is it a way to start a family? Talk about what you imagine will change after you’re married. And speak about the kind of marriage you want and your goals.
SET FAMILY BOUNDARIES:“No marriage can survive without the blessings of the family,” Stamper says.But she says boundaries around family involvement should be discussed. “Boundaries need to be set as far as their daily functioning and decisionmaking.I know of some marriages that couldn’t survive because of the parents making decisions for the marriage.”
THE BABY TALK: “Entering into a marriage when you already have children is major issue affecting couples,” Stamper says. “Couples need to honestly disclose all of their children, as this will become known and it will distract your marriage goals and affect the child concerned.”
She suggests talking openly, even if there are disagreements on how you are going to be part of the children’s lives and handle the baby mama. It’s also important to discuss whether you want to have children of your own, how many and when, as well as how your lives may change when you begin planning to extend your family. Also talk about what you are both willing to do if you struggle to conceive.
BE OPEN ABOUT FINANCES: Unpack all your responsibilities and debts. “Be specific on how you have dealt with money, as well as your plans on dealing with debt and any other financial responsibilities,” Stamper says.
She suggests dealing with as much financial baggage as possible before tying the knot by creating measurable goals for battling debt and working together. “Financial problems can steal peace and harmony and cause anger in a marriage,” Stamper says.
“Couples should discuss just how they are going to share the financial responsibilities without the other feeling the strain. A lot of couples suffer from depression because one party does not contribute as much as they should or is not open to talking about it,” Stamper says.
She adds couples should not be scared to talk about death and draft their wills.
“Talking about this issue applies not only to those thinking about getting married, but also to those who are married but haven’t yet discussed the will.Many families are torn apart because of the absence of a will.”
EMOTIONAL SUPPORT AND CONFLICT There will be times when you are down and need your partner to be the one you go to for comfort. So, it’s important to know upfront what that comfort and support will look like.
It may be different from what your partner expects. Knowing how to deal with each other during tough times can prevent you from making the situation even worse.
“Often the rosy period of early romance has everyone restraining themselves to be on their best behaviour, but decades of marriage and life in general can bring plenty of pressure,” says Andrea Bonior, a US-based clinical psychologist, in her article on Psychology Today.
“How do the two of you handle stress together? Do you retreat and isolate? Is one of you prone to yelling and getting it all out in the moment, while the other person wants space to cool down before talking? In general, the healthiest marriages have respectful and honest communication without game-playing.
Examine your styles of handling conflict, see if there is room for improvement,” Bonior suggests.
GAMBLING, DRINKING AND DRUGS:“Maybe what seems reasonable for a young, childless couple in terms of partying and drinking no longer seems reasonable with two toddlers underfoot, and yet one partner can’t seem to change their lifestyle,” Bonior
“Take a hard look at your partner’s – and your own – relationship with substances.”
Get support from a social worker if you find you cannot resolve this difficult issue on your own.
CAREER GOALS: Anything from job unhappiness to retrenchment can happen to either of you during your marriage. Talk about what your plans are, starting with the career goals of each of you. Perhaps money is your top driving goal, while your partner has always dreamt of starting his own business.
Will you be able to give him that scope to explore his dream while you bring home the bacon? “Of course, nothing can be spelled out completely clearly in advance. But the more you can acknowledge what your expectations are, what you hope for and how you would handle a change in plans, the better you will be able to roll with the punches if the need should arise,” Bonior adds.
How well do you know your partner: Busisiwe Malangwane, a registered counsellor from Midrand, says it is best to seek help from a professional marriage counsellor if a couple can’t see eye to eye on issues discussed before marriage.
She suggests tackling these important questions before getting hitched:
· Have you been married before? If yes, how has that shaped your view of marriage?
· How was conflict handled in your household growing up? Do you wish to use the same method? If not, how do you wish to handle it?
· Do you have any debt? If yes, how much? How is your credit record?
· Where do you want to live?
· How should household chores be divided?
· What is your cultural and religious belief system? And if one party’s is different, how will the other support and accept it?