Happily Ever After?
With This Advice, Definitely!
We all know the classic rhyme: “First comes love, then comes marriage…” but rather than follow that with “then comes baby in the baby carriage,” it would be more realistic (albeit less of an actual rhyme) to say, “Then comes real life with the opposite sex!” Much like Monica’s frantic realization to her best gal pals on “Friends”—“I have to live with a booooyyyy!”—the realities of daily life with your significant other may seem a tad overwhelming.
While engagement and the early days of marriage are unlike any other stage of life, ushering in great moments and memories you’ll keep forever, they also bring their fair share of stressors; almost everything in your life is affected in one way or another by this huge transition. So, how can you be prepared? What should you expect? Here we asked three local experts to share their best advice so you have an advantage to creating a “happily ever after” ending of your own.
Conflict Will Happen
All of the professional counselors we interviewed agreed: conflict is inevitable. It’s best to acknowledge that up front so you can be prepared to address it successfully.
Elizabeth M. Jenkins, L.C.S.W., owner and partner at James River Counseling Center, Inc., recommends “putting things into three categories: what I really need to have; what I can negotiate; and what really doesn’t matter.” By establishing an order of priority, you will be able to move past small issues—“Should the toilet paper roll face up or down?” for instance—and instead focus your collective efforts on more pressing issues such as what to prioritize in your family budget.
Couples should also understand what often leads to conflict, namely, is the fact that you are each unique individuals!
“You have to develop a comfort level with the other person thinking differently than you do [and] that you see the world differently,” Chuck Rodgers, founder of the Wyndhurst Counseling Center and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, explains. Once you acknowledge those differences, then seek to truly understand the other person’s perspective. “After 100 percent understanding is achieved by both people, then true brainstorming can begin … and couples can move forward,” Rodgers says.
Also remember that conflict will always be present to some degree. “Not all conflicts can be resolved, but they can be managed,” Larry Compter, executive director of Compass Marriage & Relationship Services, points out. “Remember, it’s not the problems you face, but how you face the problems, that will make the difference in your marriage.” He also recommends premarital counseling for the purpose of learning and practicing the skills of effective communication and conflict management.
Not long after your wedding the holidays will come along, and with them, an understandable mix of nostalgia and some confusion at the realization that you’re now making new traditions of your own.
It’s a lesson I personally learned the hard way during our first Thanksgiving as a married couple. My husband was spending the holiday apart from his family for the very first time, and as a result, was feeling more emotional than he expected. Rather than asking how I could make the transition easier for him, I casually dismissed his suggested dessert request, only to find out later—and much to my dismay—that it was his favorite and one his Grandmom always made with him in mind. I, for one, wish I had taken the time to really listen before the holiday arrived!
The experts agree that when it comes to extended family, and the holidays especially, couples have a lot to discuss.
“It is very exciting but also scary to let go of some of your traditions from the past,” Rodgers says. He recommends sharing specifically how each of you celebrated holidays in the past, even to the smallest details like opening one gift on Christmas Eve or always reading Luke 2 on Christmas morning. Then, “talk about how you would like to see it for your new family together,” Rodgers says.
Jenkins echoes this advice, saying, “Couples need to be sure they discuss expectations” and this includes where you spend the holidays in addition to how. She also recommends choosing a “time to talk when you are both rested and emotionally ready to talk; stick to the topic…be respectful, and take a break if you need to.”
In addition to the holidays, extended family members may also try to insert their own opinions or expectations on you as individuals or as a couple. Compter has two recommendations for successfully navigating this topic. “One, be agreed. Make sure the two of you are on the same page….Two, blood talks to blood…this [approach] works because each of you has a history with your own family that the other will never have.”
Give Yourselves Some Space
While the early days of marriage are definitely filled with “euphoric and wonderful” emotions according to Rodgers, they are also laying the foundation for your life together from that point forward. So don’t shy away from maintaining some of your own interests and hobbies, otherwise you may experience some sense of loss because “individuals have different needs for togetherness and individual time,” Jenkins says.
Compter says that “communication is key to managing this balance; talk about what your needs are, and how much time or space you want, and when is the best time to do it.”
Jenkins explains that there is “no right or wrong answer [and] each couple has to navigate this issue together.”
All of the counselors agree that prioritizing your marriage in the midst of balancing your individual interests is critical.
“I find that as the needs of the couple are met, that each spouse is very giving to the other person to have individual needs met,” Rodgers says. He encourages couples to establish what are known as “rituals of connection” on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly cycle. Doing so builds quality time into your schedules, and according to Rodgers, research shows that it promotes satisfying and enduring marriages.
Compter recommends planning a regular date night to ensure you have quality time together for some fun and good conversation.
As you move forward into married life, keep in mind that real life happens, but it can be much sweeter together with some conscious effort and preparation!
By Jennifer Redmond