Some couples enter marriage believing nothing will change. Maybe you already bought a house together, raised 3 children together or with the help of lawyers created living wills together Maybe for some couples, nothing really does change with marriage. However, for others marriage is a turning point. You have formally announced to the world that this is your life partner and formally closed other options that you might have had. No longer can you simply ask yourself what is best for me? Now, you must ask yourself, what is best for us. The me is still an important question to ask, but must be asked within the context of the marriage. Your focus, as well as your relationship, to friends and family has fundamentally changed.

Marriage is an exciting chapter in one’s life. You have made a lifelong decision to mix your fate with someone else’s. Successful lifelong relationships require that the two of you will boundary off your relationship. How you decide to boundary off your relationship and what marriage exactly means will look different for each couple.

While many long term couples scoff at the importance of formally getting married, the actual act of marriage can best be thought of as a ritual designed to help new couples prepare for the challenges ahead.

The act of planning a wedding ceremony often raises all kinds of interesting questions.

  • How should money be spent?
  • Should you spent 50 k on a wedding, pay off school debt or should that same money be put as a down payment on a home?
  • Whose parents, if any should pay for the wedding or is that the couples responsibility?
  • Who should plan the wedding? And whose input needs to be incorporated?
  • Should you elope? Have a small wedding, large wedding or a destination wedding?
  • What if your parents want to invite their friends?
  • Who is the focus of the wedding?
  • Who should be included in the wedding?
  • How do you blend the rituals from different families?
  • What kind of relationship do you want with your in-laws?
  • How much time should you spend with friends and family versus your spouse at the actual wedding?

The Meaning of Marriage

You may feel like you are already married. And are woven into each others families. However, marriage is a legal and social statement about your commitment to be together that most often does change the nature of your relationship.

People treat you differently. Maybe take you more seriously together, imagine that you are more mature, or start to articulate their questions about when you are going to have children or buy a home together. All the voices in your head, from your future spouse, your family, their family, friends, work, school, society can be very overwhelming. To help boundary off your relationship and create a path for success we encourage couples as they take the plunge to slow down, and coauthor your newlywed chapter together. The nature of this tip is from a narrative family therapy approach applied to the essentials of premarital therapy. Narrative therapy is based on the work of writing your own story. In marriage, the most successful couples coauthor their newlywed chapter by prioritizing the we over the former individual chapters of your life.

What is your vision of marriage?

Sit down individually at first and imagine what your future looks like. If you enjoy drawing, feel free to make this a picture instead of a story.

Guiding questions:

  • How do you see yourselves together?
  • Us again them, how should friendships change?
  • Is it expected your spouse join in every event?
  • Do you have mutual friends or split time with each person’s respective friend groups?
  • How much do you share about your relationship with friends and family?
  • What topics are kept private within your marital team?
  • Who has keys to your house in case of emergency or convenience?
  • When do your needs as a couple come first?

Why me? And why now?

Add in the details about your partner and the relationship that make you choose to make the commitment you are about to make. Along with the reasons you will continue to choose to be with this person each day that challenges you. Moments you may argue and question your past decisions. Have these details prepared so you can reflect on them when confronting difficult aspects of marriage and life.

Team against the World

After first writing down your image of your marital future together, spend time discussing what you wrote with your partner.

While your partner is talking about their experience, listen as though this is the first time you are learning about them. The book you have not yet read. If it is tough to come up with an answer, allow yourselves time to journal about the meaning you assign to marriage and then share them with each other when you are ready. After the initial sharing, spend time discussing the following questions together. It is normal to hit sticking points where you and your partner have trouble agreeing. Many people have not thought through the details of their marriage before. Be kind to your partner’s different perspective and remember you are in this together, as a team, to decide which things you will stand strong in advocating for your lives together and some may require bending on the issue to put your partner’s wishes first. This is all a normal process every couple goes through writing their newlywed chapter.

  • How much will outsiders (parents, cousins, friends, bosses, coworkers people in your community) be involved in your relationship?
  • Does anyone have keys to your home?
  • Extended family?
  • Friends?
  • How much time will be spent working, socializing and spending time together alone?
  • What aspects of your relationship are private?
  • What will you share openly with others?

Financial goals

  • Saving versus spending
  • Role in earning
  • Pre-nuptial debt
  • Who is responsible for what spending happened before the marriage?

Future

  • How much discussion will go into spending habits on the daily? Big purchases?

Children

  • How many?
  • Do you want to adopt?
  • What if you struggle with infertility?
  • Is adoption an option?
  • What will be used as birth control until you are ready?
  • How will you decide when you are ready?

Career goals

  • Who has the primary job?
  • Do you take turns?
  • Will this change if you decided to parent?
  • What if your spouse ends up making more money than you?
  • When do career needs trump the family needs?
  • Do you work to live or live to work?
  • How important is career success and what are you willing to sacrifice for it?
  • Is your ultimate goal money? Fame? Positively influencing your community? Or earning enough so that you can be home and do other things?

Traveling goals

  • Is traveling across the country or foreign countries a luxury for a time you can afford the break? Or a necessity for your life?
  • How similar are your interests in traveling activities?
  • Do you plan out the whole trip with new fun things to do?
  • Are vacations for relaxation and minimal planned activities?
  • Is it important to find a deal with all inclusive resorts?
  • Or intentional locations and places you decide together you would like to visit?
  • What are appropriate requirements for traveling together?
  • To take advantage of PTO in the moment as you collect it?
  • Build up PTO and splurge after a few years of staying put?

Roommate Roles

  • How you will be negotiating your chores of living together.
  • What are each of your roles?
  • Everything 50-50, or different domains?
  • Is it each partner left to clean up after themselves?
  • Who will do the grocery shopping? Toilet repairs? Gardening? snow shoveling?
  • Cooking?
  • When one person cooks does the other clean up the dishes?
  • Does one partner take care of all aspects of the meal on certain circumstances so the other can relax?
  • How is this determined each day?
  • Who decides?
  • Who takes out the garbage?
  • Does the laundry?
  • Puts laundry away?
  • Decides where clothes belong?

Needs/Wants

Alone time

  • How much alone time do you want in a day / week?
  • When you need to be alone, how can you ask your partner for the time without a message of abandonment or rejection?
  • If you have to be physically apart, how much time is reasonable to spend on the phone or skyping to get quality time together?

Together time

  • How can you maximize on time spend together to enhance the quality?
  • Are phones allowed during dinner?
  • Time watching TV/Netflix vs. talking about your day vs. doing shared activities together
  • How frequently will you make time for sex?

Sex

  • When do you want sex?
  • How might your desires and needs for sex change over time?
  • After children?
  • When lust decreases and comfort increases, what will each partner do to prioritize sex?

Rituals

How you begin and end each day sets a tone for your choice to be married each day. Morning people and night owls sometimes end up together and it can be a great complimentary partnership or it can be two ships passing in the night. Have a conversation about how you want your day to day living to be.

  • Will you kiss each other goodbye before starting your day?
  • Shower together at the start or end of the night?

Premarital therapy is a great idea for every couple. If you and your partner struggle to have the conversations in this exercise, a therapist can help! Premarital work is usually a total of 5 sessions and covers topics that all couples will need to deal with (money, in-laws, sex, family planning, career goals, and fair fighting techniques). Or highlight some issues that require more intensive couple’s or individual therapeutic work. Call the number below for more information, today!

To locate a couples counselor near you in philadelphia, PA, Ocean City NJ, Mechanicsville VA call 215 922 LOVE and speak to a therapist at The Center for Growth.