This post by Katy fascinates me. Mostly because I did absolutely zero preparation for getting married, and so I always feel out-organised by those who did. And also because although Katy and Dan are Christians, you don’t have to be religious to just think about this stuff, to realise that if you had to break down what marriage (or a long-term relationship) is about, what makes it work, it’s this, what’s written below.
For any of you out there who, like me, made their marriage decision in about half a second, it’s worth reading this, looking back, and applying it to what you have got. So you can change what you need to, and congratulate yourself on what you don’t. And this isn’t a “one off” guide either - you’ll change, your relationship will change, and this is good, solid guidance to get it back on track.
Thank you Katy. Over to you:
Preparing for marriage. I mean, that’s what all this time leading up to the wedding is for, right? Yes you plan the wedding, and believe me just like they say in ‘Bride Wars’ – I believe that the stresses and pressures of planning a wedding can really highlight the harmony or fractures in your relationship. But the marriage, beyond that, is more important.
AOW has discussed this topic before, in brilliant posts by Laura and Bella. But twitter has been calling for me to write this post and, as long as Dan doesn’t think I delve too deeply in to the ins and outs of our relationship, I want to share our course with you. Because AOW readers are the type of people who want to know how they can put time and effort into their relationship! I know I love following questions and lists, and the course really gives you a framework of key questions to discuss. They say each couple will find different questions more pertinent and will need to really talk about those more.
The course we went on was brilliant! It is called the Marriage Preparation Course, and run by the same people who run the Alpha courses. You can find out if there is one near you, or a Marriage Course which is a longer and more detailed course for those already married, here.
I would like to point out that yes, Dan and I are Christians and getting married in church. But we didn’t go to a course in our church; the course was not suggested or forced upon us by our vicar. We only wanted to do it, e-mailed our closest church that did it, and got on the course. They were lovely, seriously lovely. Not only is the course completely free but we did it over a weekend and it included endless free tea, coffee and biscuits, a couple of free lunches and dinners including Sunday lunch (with wine and desserts), and a lot of volunteers willing to share their own stories and open up their relationships to us. The openness and warmth we received from the church and the people running the course was really mind-blowing to us.
Now I’ll go through the sections of the course, with some of the questions to discuss, some information, techniques and theories and some examples from our relationship! Obviously I can’t do everything as well as the course could, so if you’re interested find something properly you can do! All of these questions should be discussed with your fiancé, sometimes it’s worth thinking about yourself, and thinking about how you think your fiancé would answer. Then discuss what you thought!
Communication is a key to any good relationship. That much is obvious. But how do you ensure the two of you are communicating in the most effective way possible? Do you really understand how the other one communicates? OK, maybe you do, subconsciously, but perhaps you’ve not actually talked about it with each other….
This section had me in tears when the leader of the session made a point about how hard open communication was, and how even though you love and trust your fiancé so much it is easy to feel vulnerable and unworthy when you open yourself up like that. I know that sometimes I think something, and then think if I tell Dan he will laugh or think I’m silly, and when I’ve opened myself right up that would kill me. He never has, by the way. Showing your insecurities and vulnerabilities is so crucial when you trust someone, but so hard.
- Think about how your personalities impact on how you communicate, and tell your fiancé how you think their personality impacts on how they communicate. Are they introvert or extrovert? Logical or emotional and impulsive? Dan and I are opposites in this, apparently that’s normal!
- How did your family communicate when they were growing up? Were they direct and confrontational? Did they make it all a joke and relaxed? Was there shouting and stressed? How has this impacted on how you communicate now?
- Do you listen effectively? Are you sure? Listening is active and definitely not passive, you need to be taking in what your partner is saying when they have a problem, repeat back to them to make sure you’ve really grasped the problem, and then find out what is the most concerning thing to them about this problem. Then ask if either of you can do something about it. We had to do this as a role play exercise. Dan and I found it difficult, when Dan was telling me his problem all I wanted to do was defend myself and argue back. Instead I had to just really listen to understand his problem without getting on the defensive!
- Think about where you feel you can communicate the most effectively, where you feel most open to raising and listening to issues. For us this is somewhere out of the house where we don’t get stuck into the same routine, like out at a bar or restaurant. Or in the car!
Why are you picking marriage is really the question here – and how to build a solid basis for the rest of your marriage. Obviously some religious reasoning could come in here, but it doesn’t need to! The course really emphasises that marriage is for friendship, and for family, and about making sure you are spending quality time together, and apart.
- What do you each believe is the role of marriage in society, and why are you choosing it?
- Go through your marriage vows and decide which is the most important to you and your fiancé. Discuss your choices. I chose the word ‘faithful’, as it encompassed for me the love, commitment and the giving of yourself to the other person that marriage is to me.
- Plan how you’ll spend time investing in your marriage together on a daily, weekly, monthly or annual basis. For us this was committing to going to the pub/out for dinner, going on holidays, having dinner just the two of us at home…
- Discuss your parents and in-laws. How much say might they expect to have, and how much will your fiancé expect? Can you foresee future tensions, and how might you deal with this?
- Write down things you expect to do without your fiancé, and him (/her) to do without you. How much time will these take up? Do you have the same expectations?
Conflict, ha. It will happen. There is nothing here about avoiding conflict, it’s not realistic. This is more do you understand how the other person approaches conflict? Again, Dan and I are polar opposites. The course talked about the ‘hedgehog’ (me) versus the ‘rhino’ (Dan). Neither of these options are right or wrong, although you may think the other persons way is wrong! The hedgehog tends to ball up the problem, internalise it and think about it, maybe avoiding the problem altogether. Rhinos explode, they just rush in with their side and their problems, and maybe they’ve not thought about it as well. Understanding which you and your fiancé are will help you deal with and resolve conflict more effectively!
They also discuss the “6 steps to resolving conflict”
1. Hit the ‘pause button’ – is now a good time to have an argument? Do you have enough time to iron out all the issues? Personally Dan and I are part of the never go to bed on an argument kind of people, we wouldn’t pause it!
2. Identify the issue – sounds obvious but what is the real heart of the problem? Don’t get distracted by other issues and just dump everything at once.
3. Discuss the issue, do not attack each other! Start sentences with “I feel” rather than “you always”.
4. Listen to each other.
5. Work out solutions. Try to work out more than one, maybe write a list.
6. Pick the solution you think works best. If it doesn’t work, try another.
Finally they discuss forgiveness. It is inevitable that you will be hurt in the course of the relationship, and hopefully your partner will be able to say sorry. You need to be able to accept this. You don’t have to forget the hurt done to you, but choose to move on. Forgiveness is a choice, not a feeling.
- Are you a rhino or a hedgehog? Ask your fiancé what they think you are!
- Examine your differences. Where do you think you and your fiancé sit on the scale of certain issues? Do yours and your fiancés, then swap paper to compare!
(E.g. Spend or save? Adventure or relaxing holidays? Go out or stay in? Tidy or messy? Have time in hand or cut it fine?…)
- What patterns of resolving conflict did you observe in your parents? Are there trigger points of conflict for you? What causes your conflict to escalate?
- Money is often a big source of conflict between couples. Take some time to discuss your finances; are you going to share everything? Are you aiming for the same level of savings? How much would you feel happy one person spending without consulting the other?
Keeping Love Alive
Have any of you had the “but you’re only XX years old! Are you sure you want to be with one person forever??” from friends or family or well-meaning strangers? This section deals with those people, making sure they are never right. The keys to this are fairly obvious, but sometimes you just need them pointing out! I found the most interesting bit our ‘love languages’ – the 5 ways that we show and receive love. They are:
1. Loving words – saying I love you or any other words that are loving, compliments and acknowledgement for the other person.
2. Quality time – spending time together, not just sitting next to each other on the sofa, being affirmed through the other person wanting to spend real time with you.
3. Thoughtful presents – this is a real thing people! When your partner buys something for you, makes that effort to get your favourite chocolate from the supermarket or sending you a funny internet link, then some people find that a really loving gesture.
4. Physical affection – sex, a hug, a kiss, a touch when you’re in a crowded place…
5. Kind actions – making you dinner because you’re shattered, cleaning the bathroom because you hate it, something that shows the other person has thought of you and changed their behaviour to make you happy.
- Friendship is a key to keeping love alive. What do you do to have fun together, and can you see yourself doing these things for the next 20 years and beyond?
- When have you really felt your fiancé’s love for you? Rank the love languages from 1 to 5 in importance for yourself and your fiancé, and then discuss your answers. This was maybe my favourite thing, it really made me understand that sometimes I do things because they are what makes me feel the most loved, and vice versa! Also Dan had me completely wrong, which was amusing. I’d say for us we text so much and stick ‘I love you’ on the end so often that words is now one of the least important of the love languages for both of us, we’ve devalued it!
- Let’s talk about sex. Basically, talk about it. What are your boundaries? Do you need to get passed past relationships? They said no-one has a perfect sexual relationship, like the media would have you believe. There will be times you have problems, and you need to be able to talk about them! Again make time for each other.
Shared Goals and Values
You should be building a life together. This means you need to let go of any expectations that are unreasonable, you’re not going to agree on everything and expecting too much can lead to a downward spiral. You can change your behaviour, and you will need to to share your lives, you will need to become less selfish!
- Your marriage will need appreciation to survive. Not just now or at the beginning, when you think everything they do is awesome. You should never stop appreciating all the good qualities that made you admire your partner to begin with! Write a list of your fiancé’s best qualities and the things you admire the most in them. OK, I lied, this one was my favourite. Hearing the things Dan said about me was amazing, and things that I didn’t even know about myself!
- Choose your 5 top values. Put them in order and write out how you plan to live them out. Ours were really different, I think this isn’t too unusual if you have different things in mind, for example mine were very family orientated, and Dan’s were more related to striving to be the best person possible.
- What are your roles and responsibilities going to be in your marriage? Write down things you expect to take responsibility for, things you expect your fiancé to be responsible for and things you think will be of equal responsibility. There’s a lot we want to be jointly responsible for, but, for example, Dan is definitely responsible for the car. I am responsible for planning and organising things.
- Talk about religion, God or spirituality. How important is it to you and your fiancé? Focus on each other’s needs, would you like to pray together regularly?
Now talk about what were the most important things from the course to you? What do you want to take away and what do you want your partner to take away (hint hint)?
So this was ridiculously long, sorry. I hope it’s helpful! You can always come back to it and work through over a couple of days and a couple of bottles of wine… I would anyway, if I was doing it again. I definitely want to review it at some point in the future. I’d say it really deepened our understanding of each other and putting that time and effort into our relationship felt really worthwhile. I would definitely recommend!
Photo from our Engagement Shoot © Albert Palmer Photography 2013 – In this photo we were playing 20 questions, but the answer was a key time in our relationship. This is when I won, because we are awesome and put time into our relationship (or, you know, I’m just cleverer than Dan).