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You're in love and you're engaged, but are you really ready for married life?
Nick and Vanessa Lachey recently revealed they went to a therapist before they wed to help them understand how to communicate with each other, calling it “super helpful.”
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But if it’s a good match to start with, don’t couples just instinctively know how to have good relationship? Not necessarily, said Liz Higgins, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Dallas, Texas, who offers premarital counseling and specializes in millennial couples.
“There are definitely elements of many healthy couples that can make them have a strong solid foundation,” Higgins told TODAY. “But every single couple — no matter how healthy, happy and into each other they are — are going to experience conflict at one point or another.”
Here are nine things she wants couples to know before getting married:
1. Your spouse is not going to complete you.
That famous line from “Jerry Maguire” sounds romantic, but don’t expect your partner to complete your life, Higgins said.
“It’s really important for you to focus on you — not in a selfish way, not in a way that disregards your partner, but in a way where you understand taking care of yourself is going to help you bring your best self to your relationship,” Higgins said.
Couples need to be able to have a balance of separateness and togetherness, she added.
2. Be aware of the expectations you’re bringing into the marriage.
You probably want a lot from just one person: A companion, a passionate lover, good parent and more, so issues can come up after Higgins presents couples with “an expectation inventory.” Here are some sample statements — would you and your future spouse agree?
- My partner will meet all of my needs for companionship.
- I don’t believe romance should fade over time.
- I don’t believe that my partner’s interest in sex should be different than mine.
3. You won’t always feel “in love.”
“You could be with the most perfect partner in the world for you and you’re going to go through seasons where you feel like you’re not aligned and you’re not in love,” Higgins said. “That’s where it’s really important to be grounded in the values that you identify as a couple, versus trying to follow the feelings that you think you’re supposed to be having.”
4. Your partner’s family relationships are key.
How did you partner get along with his family? Were they close or distant? Was there conflict? That information is very significant, Higgins noted.
“Many of the themes in our family of origin repeat or resurface in marriage,” she said. “When couples are able to talk about that stuff without judgment, are able to listen and tune into their partner’s experience, it’s so huge. It creates a deep level of trust.”
5. Know your partner’s finances.
Higgins believes you should both disclose your entire financial situations. From there, start to decide: What’s the best way to manage the finances? Many young couples today have one joint account, plus their own separate accounts.
“That’s fine, if that’s what works. But you want to talk about it to make sure that’s not because you are feeling controlled or you’re bringing in insecurities,” Higgins said. “Finances are where the mistrust and issues can surface. It’s one of the top reasons people divorce.”
Money can be such a touchy topic that for some couples, talking about it can be more uncomfortable than discussing sex, she noted.
6. Conflict is inevitable — recognize your role in resolving it.
When you’re in the honeymoon phase, it’s hard to imagine there will be arguments or that your spouse has annoying traits and habits, but all of that awaits. How will you deal?
Often, the things you dislike or despise later in your relationship have more to do with you than your partner, Higgins said. It’s all about the vulnerabilities, insecurities and discomfort you bring in.
“A big piece about how to handle conflict and anger is knowing that it starts with yourself... how you can manage your own anxiety, practice healthy ways of taking care of you, and just making sure you’re in a good place to address whatever stressors are happening,” she noted.
From there, it’s about knowing how to come together and communicate as a couple. People are very quick to respond and react, but what you need to do is stop, be present and listen, Higgins advised.
7. Discuss what a breach of trust would mean to you.
Will you be monogamous and committed only to each other, or are you OK with a more open marriage? It depends on the couple and what their personal boundaries and values are, Higgins noted.
What would a betrayal mean to you? For some people, unacceptable behavior can mean flirting, sending texts or having an emotional affair. For others, the only deal-breaker may be sleeping with someone else. Talk about it before you get married.
8. When the going gets tough, don’t call it quits right away.
Many young married couples get divorced very soon — less than five years into their marriages, Higgins has observed.
“There’s a mentality in our world today that if something’s not working for you, get rid of it,” she noted. “But conflicts in marriages and relationships are opportunities to grow.”
Unless you’re experiencing abuse or other intolerable behavior, give yourself the chance to try to work things out, she advised.
9. Express love
Research by psychologist John Gottman found a “magic” 5-to-1 ratio among healthy couples: For every one negative interaction during a conflict, people in a stable and happy marriage had five or more positive interactions.
“The positivity is crucial. It’s really important to feel like you’re in a good place, and that is definitely shown through the little acts of love,” Higgins said. “Not the big things, like planning lavish trips or spending a million bucks on your partner, but just waking up in the morning and giving them a kiss.”