Calling all couples who are past the DTR talk and are now considering long term commitment such as engagement, marriage or an alternative long-term relationship: this essay is for YOU.
You now have more choices than ever before in terms of taking smart, educational and healthy steps in a “prevention” way to invest in “relationship insurance,” so to speak. Regardless of what you call it, taking the time to get your relationship fine-tuned is one of the biggest gifts you can give each other.
Research shows that depending upon the program you choose, preventative education or premarital counseling can help your relationship stay together, on average, 3-8 years longer than couples who did nothing. This finding isn’t saying that your relationship is simply going to break down at a later date; it means that you’ve helped your relationship beat the divorce or break-up odds by taking 8-12 hours of time together – to think through plans, skills, and meanings of what you’re getting ready to begin. In other words, the odds will be even MORE in your favor than before.
In other-other words? Premarital or pre-commitment preparation is a no-brainer. A hard core, serious, bona fide NO-BRAINER!
Because the options are many, I’ll be writing more on the content of what you should have covered by the time you finish your program. I’m taking my basic points from the PREPARE inventories created by Olsen, Druckman and Fournier. I’ll suggest other premarital inventories and programs at the end of this post, but I’m very familiar with PREPARE and like how they constructed their information. In case you were wondering, they created these instruments by doing a content analysis of a large number of family and relationship textbooks. The content areas that were most covered were put into their assessment. The instrument has been around so long there are now more than one million couples in their database. How d’ya like them apples? Over a million! That’s a lot of data that keeps helping therapists and educators provide better and better information for YOU.
Here are the main content areas they cover…and YOU should be covering with your pastor, your relationship educator, your therapist…and certainly with each other.
1) Family and friends – How do you get along? What works when dealing with each other’s groups? Where are the trouble spots? How can you help each other with those tricky situations? What are the bottom lines in terms of how you’re willing to interact with various members or families between the two of you?
2) Communication – How do you communicate? What works best when one or the other needs support? What seems to get you into a place that has “no exit” written all over the wall? When do you need communication most? How can you improve what already works well to overcome other growth areas? Who brings up topics? Who shuts them down…and on and on.
3) Leisure and Fun – How do you relax together? Is one of you a beach person while the other loves the mountains? Do you love sports? Do you hate them and need other ideas to connect while relaxing? How often do you want to go on vacation? Are vacations important to you? What type of vacations do you envision for the two of you? What about when you have children? What about with your families we mentioned earlier?
4) Finances – One of the big three…what is your life plan? Do you have one? If not, why not? Who is the saver? Who is the spender? How do you budget? HAVE you ever budgeted? When and what constitutes an emergency in order to break into your savings? How do you decide what is discretionary as opposed to a purchase decision you need to make together?
5) Sex – You knew it was in the list, right? Have you talked about sex? What kinds of attitudes or beliefs do you have out this subject? What’s okay and not okay? When is okay and not okay? How do you solve bedroom problems if they come up? Who is responsible for birth control? Do you USE birth control?
6) Problem Solving/Conflict Resolution – Any time you have more than one person in the room, the potential to have differences of opinion arise. So, how do you solve those conflicts? What works with your style? What doesn’t? How does the relationship win, even though both of you may have to give a little? Do you honor the solution? Important stuff!
7) Parenting Styles – If you are planning on having children at any time, then you need to be talking NOW about this topic. How were each of you parented? How would you like to change that in your family? What would you like to keep from your family? What are your parenting philosophies? How about your correction or discipline methods? What do you need to learn about child rearing or child development? How will you do that?
8 ) What about Roles and Responsibilities? – How do you plan on managing your household, responsibilities and your life together? Who does which chores? How do you divide them up? “Divide and Conquer” is the key. Who cooks? Who manages birthdays or gifts? Who repairs things? Why or why not is it you or your partner? Yes…this is MORE important stuff!
9) Personality Type – Well, this is a biggie. You are who you are and that might mean you’re a little introverted, a little extroverted, a little avoidant…who knows? Well, the two of you should know – – at least about each other. Jung, Meyers-Briggs, the PREPARE inventory, or many more assessments on the market can help you learn about how each other’s “beings” are hard-wired. Knowing how your partner’s personality works with yours is a key element in staying together.
10) Spiritual or Religious Views – Research tells us that sometimes when many other areas in a relationship are breaking down, if they have similar spiritual or religious views, they’re able to weather the tough times, as well as build a community of resources not otherwise found, around their relationship and family. Knowing where each other stands on this area is key to many other areas listed above, and sometimes foundational to how you might approach your general life together. Need to discuss factor: very high.
11) Genogram (Family Tree Thinking…) – An interesting approach to thinking through your future lives together is to do “genogram” work. A genogram is a visual picture of both your families, together as a whole…usually done with at least three generations (you, your parents, and your grandparents if possible). Looking at your family histories collectively will help you see themes, trends, attributes or talents, or all kinds of other information. In fact, you could discuss some of each #1-10 through a genogram exercise if you wish.
12) Willingness to Get Help – Last but certainly not least, contingency planning is in order. What if you DO run into trouble? Do you have mentors you’re willing to approach? How about family or friends who you trust to help you work through a wrinkle…or crisis? If you have an agreed-upon plan for how you approach seeking help when storm clouds come into your life (and they will…they always do at some point or another), then it makes things a bit easier when one of you raises the issue. Making a plan of how you plan to get through rough times gives you that much more value to your relationship “insurance policy.”
Well, that’s quite a list, eh? But, you’ve decided to take quite a step by making a commitment and you have a long life ahead of you. Why not make it the best you can by starting this checklist when you go for your premarital (or pre-major-commitment) work.
We’ll be rooting for you!
To find a certified PREPARE inventory and feedback counselor, go here.
To find a therapist in your area, go to: http://www.therapistlocator.net/
If you are in Oklahoma and would like to know about a free premarital program, go here.
If you are not in Oklahoma but would like to know about other community marriage programs, go here: http://www.smartmarriages.com/app/Directory.BrowsePrograms