Every couple has differences and disagreements; it’s a natural and inherent part of relationships. Two people, making the beautiful choice to vow to do life together, bring with them differing personalities, habits, experiences and views.
The biggest disagreements that my husband and I have had in the first 6 months of marriage have been about buying (more!) guitar gear, anime and how to stack the clean dishes. You wouldn’t think that such topics could cause heated arguments, but with us they somehow do. For some obscure reason, nothing sends me on a rampage like seeing another guitar pedal arrive in the mail. Learning to live with one another for the first time, each with our own idiosyncrasies (often learnt from our very different families), working out how to compromise and how to stand firm about the things that are important, as well as adjusting to a joint savings account. Each have had their own challenges, but it’s the smaller insignificant details that have strangely seemed to challenge us to our core.
Going into marriage, a lot of our friends warned us how difficult the first year can be. That’s partly why we decided to do a marriage preparation course with a trusted friend of ours during our engagement. The fact that I’m nerdily reflective and thrive on any kind of personality tests and scales, and marriage prep means reflecting on who we are as individuals and on our relationship, may also have contributed slightly. We also knew that we would be spending the 5 months before we married living on separate continents, which made our desire and need for good communication and a well-built foundation to our relationship even stronger.
Marriage preparation – ‘old and stuffy’ you may think, or ‘only for the religious’ perhaps. Those thoughts definitely did cross my mind, but the recommendations of a few friends convinced two ‘willing to give it a try’ people to have a go.
Such a willing partner however, is not everyone’s experience and both parties being keen is sometimes half the battle. I’d recommend finding someone you know who can vouch for it, or showing them this article.
Over a few casual sessions myself, my fiancé and our older (and much wiser!) friend chatted through everything from our personal stress factors through to conflict resolution and family mapping, all over a lot of pots of tea on the couch and much laughter. Over these sessions Andreas and I learnt a lot about each other, our values, our communication and conflict styles, gratitude and compassion, and what is key for us to help keep our marriage healthy and joyful. Not only did we build on our strong relationship, we fell more in love with each other. And we certainly had a few ‘aha’ moments:
- When we were asked to name ‘strength areas’ and ‘growth areas’ in our relationship, we were surprised to find that we weren’t exactly on the same page. Whereas Andreas thought that our ‘financial management’ was a strength in our relationship, I had put it as an area where growth was needed. We actually realised that as two different people coming together, we sometimes view our strengths and weaknesses differently.
- We realised that your feelings grow out of the stories you tell yourself and your actions grow out of your feelings. I often get caught up in telling myself ‘a story’ about Andreas’ actions, for example if he is on his phone I tell myself ‘he doesn’t want to spend time with me, he’s more interested in other people’. If I don’t talk to Andreas about this, it then leads me to withdraw or become snappy, when Andreas might simply have been checking for an important email.
- We found that research (that is based on people’s lived experiences) shows that successful, happy and life-long marriages are less about how compatible or similar you are, and more about how you resolve conflict and build skills to cooperate in times of stress.
Through growing and learning, we also found that marriage prep helped centre us again. In the midst of a wedding culture that measures such an important day with dollars spent or how pinterest-worthy decorations are, our conversations helped us ask ‘why are we doing this?’ and ‘what’s really important to us at the end of the day?’.
Even the most focused of brides and grooms-to-be sometimes get swept up in the vast array of messages trying to sell us the idea that the event of your wedding day is the most important part of your marriage.
I do have a warning for those considering doing a course like this though – you get out what you put in.
And what we reaped from marriage prep didn’t come without vulnerability and some discomfort. Reflecting on who we are and our glaring faults isn’t comfortable or easy, our pride and humanity shy away from it. Having a space to talk about these things before we made vows has made us stronger, and more honest, a team. Brene Brown, possibly one of my favourite social workers and researchers, has much to say on vulnerability which has helped me in marriage; that vulnerability in relationships is not a weakness, but a strength, and is essential for human connection. If we’re not willing to step out into discomfort and vulnerability in order to be seen, known and understood by our spouse, developing a healthy marriage could prove a daunting and elusive path.
So, my verdict on marriage preparation courses? Worth considering for any couple, no matter how long you’ve been together. The hard yards, the vulnerable conversations, the reflective moments, the time invested, are not the most glamorous parts of a marriage, but they’re definitely the most essential.
Andreas’ verdict? ‘It’s like when you buy guitar gear. You always feel the need to buy a new flashy pedal or amp, but it’s the integral, overlooked things like the cables that make it work. Investing in the foundations of a relationship, like you do with marriage prep, is one of these cables; it makes the whole thing work.’
That’s my husband; true to form.
By Jessica Follers, for Less Stuff – More Meaning.
If you’d like to give marriage prep a go, we highly recommend taking Sarah Tolmie’s Miracle Marriage course. Available online, Sarah reveals her tried and tested principles of happy relationships in a relatable and down-to-earth way, helping you to harness the energetic power of manifesting a Miracle Marriage.
Thank-you Lina Hayes Photography for sharing these stunning images.