I hear a lot about weddings right now. Weddings are a part of our life, right now. My kids are all in that age range. One is married, one is engaged and the other three are still enjoying the single life. Even my “not-the-daughter” is married. Their friends are getting married and starting families, too. So, weddings and marriage are definitely on my radar.
Through the years, I’ve watched as the wedding itself has taken precedence over the marriage. This was true when I was planning my 1st wedding in 1987. In my 20’s, having a wonderful wedding and a magical wedding night was of the utmost importance to me. I thought the marriage part would be a breeze since we were soooooo in Love. I don’t remember much about the wedding or the reception, except that Terry got tongue tied and the wedding cake was late arriving. I was so tired afterwards, that all I wanted to do was cry. Magical may not be the best description of our wedding night. But, the biggest shock: Being married was HARD!
We left our wedding after being told “the two shall become one” and had no idea what that meant. We were two 20-something’s used to doing our own thing. Now, there was another person to consider. There was another person using “my stuff.” There was another person “in my space.” There was another person with opinions and preferences that were different from mine. He didn’t do things when I wanted or the way I wanted. I tried to “train” him in my ways, but he was pretty sure he was okay and didn’t need my help. We struggled. We grew. We fought. We loved.
I learned that criticism was not the best approach. Regardless of which party was doing the criticizing, the other would react negatively. It would lead to contempt toward our relationship, defensiveness for personal protection, or withdrawing from the moment to avoid things until it died down. And as a result, there would be a fight or worse, no communication at all. It took a lot of time for me to mature and learn how to be a good wife.
If you are in the beginning of your marriage, here’s my best advise:
1. Don’t criticize. He may not put clothes in the laundry hamper. Maybe he plays more video games than you like. Or, maybe he doesn’t wash and fold clothes the way you would. It doesn’t matter what the subject is, just don’t. You can calmly talk about the issue and explain your reasoning. But have a REAL reason, more than just “I don’t like it.” Come to an agreement such as only clothes in the hamper get washed.
2. Stop manipulating. The definition of manipulation is “control or influence (a person or situation) cleverly, unfairly, or unscrupulously.” I learned at young teen how to “work” my dad. I knew his interests and would casually drop something I wanted Into the conversation and ask his opinion. Usually, he would get the idea and take care of my desire. (I got a car and a car stereo that way.) As a young adult, I would mention guys I had dated in front of the current young man I wanted to date. It nearly always resulted in a date with the new interest. After I married, I just had to pout a little to get my husband to jump through hoops. Not a very honorable thing to do to someone you say you love. When your goal is to get your own way with trickery, pouting or nagging, it’s manipulative.
3. Drop your defenses. Marriage is built on trust. You should feel safe in expressing your desires, feelings, likes and dislikes. So should your spouse. As trust grows, defensiveness dies. It takes work, If criticism and manipulation are your favorite methods of communication, defensiveness will thrive.
4. Stay connected. My first reaction to most anything negative is to withdraw into myself. If my feelings get hurt, I shut down. I’ll keep everything shut up until the inevitable explosion, usually over something really minor. Withdrawing is not a healthy way to deal with the inevitable stresses that come with relationships.
Successful marriages are hard work. Even harder and more stressful than planning the ultimate wedding and hopefully, longer lasting. If you are planning a wedding or just wanting to plan a wedding, I challenge you to take as much time preparing and planning your marriage. This is more than just premarital counseling, take the time to find out what both of your expectations are. Compare you marriage ideals and family backgrounds. Don’t assume you know all you need to know. Decide what you want to incorporate from the best parts of your parents’ marriage and what to avoid repeating.
“Becoming one” is a process. It’s more than sex. It’s more than wedding vows. It means cooperation and commitment. It’s recognizing that neither of you rank higher in the relationship. It’s wanting the best for the person you love, even if you have to sacrifice.
Are you willing?