What will you bring to marriage? Before you start packing for your honeymoon, make sure you are adequately packed for your marriage.
The Family Proclamation emphasizes the sacred responsibility of spouses to love and care for one another and their children. Providing that love and care isn't always easy, and it's critical that you are ready for your new roles.
All of us were educated about marriage through our families of origin, for better or for worse. Whether your upbringing was healthy or not so healthy, there's always room for improvement. As you look for a prospective spouse, or if you've already chosen one, it's a good idea to evaluate your readiness for marriage and pack your marital bag with skills that will help you create a successful marriage. This article will help you with those tasks.
Personality and Temperament
Each partner brings into marriage his or her personality and temperament. Some of these traits can't be changed, at least not very much, so it's helpful to know yourself well enough to explain why you are the way you are to others. When both spouses have this understanding, it's easier to accept one another's quirks and live with them contentedly.5
To get to know yourself and your personality better, take the RELATE test or the Big Five inventory at http://www.outofservice.com/bigfive/.If you find some things you're not happy about, remember that change is possible if you're aware and motivated.
The Culture of Your Native Land -- Your Family
Before getting married, it's important to check your bags for items from your native land -- your family of origin -- that could cause problems in your new relationship and future family. A first step is to become aware of what you learned while growing up and decide what you want to keep.
- How did your family deal with conflict? What is your conflict style? Do you avoid or confront conflict?
- How did your family solve problems? How do you solve problems? Do you like to figure out problems on your own, or do you prefer to work things out with others as a team?
- What was your parents' relationship like? Did they fight often? Did they divorce? If yes, did they remarry?
- Did violence (physical, emotional, or sexual) or drug abuse occur in your family?
- What was your relationship like with your mother? Your father? Your siblings?
- Did your family experience any significant stressful events while you were growing up, such as a death, divorce, disablement, or extended unemployment?
- Was your family religious? If so, what religion? What is your religion?
If you come from a family of divorce, high conflict, or abuse, you might be afraid that you're destined to behave in the same ways. But you aren't.16 You can leave negative family patterns behind and make healthier choices4. To learn more about how to do this, read the article, Becoming a Transitional Character: Changing Your Family Culture, found at this website.
Evaluating Your Attachment Style
Research shows that the type of attachment -- or bond -- that you have with your parents greatly influences the attachment you will have with your romantic partner.1, 2, 9 Researchers have identified three types of attachment: avoidant, anxious, and secure.
- Those with avoidant attachments are often extremely independent and might avoid intimacy.
- Those with anxious attachments may seem preoccupied with their relationships and can be very demanding.
- Those with secure attachments can confidently try new things and initiate warm relationships with others.
Are you mostly avoidant, anxious, or secure in your attachments? To improve your ability to connect to others in healthy ways, see the "Bids for Connection" section below or the article Staying Connected with Each Other, found at this website. To learn more about the effects of your early attachment on your romantic relationships, see the expanded version of Bonding with Your Infant, also at this website.
Checking Your ID -- Identity and Self-Worth
Just as a passport allows you to travel to other countries, feeling secure about yourself helps you successfully travel into other people's worlds. A secure sense of who you are helps you be more accommodating, more forgiving, and more able to reconcile after conflict.14
The Family Proclamation reminds us that "all human beings male and female| are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of Heavenly Parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny." So, while your worth is inherent and can never be destroyed or diminished7, your family history can influence your sense of self-worth.5
Researcher L'Abate says that when you're emotionally healthy, you believe that your needs and worth are as important as someone else's. You're willing to sacrifice for others, but you're not willing to be taken advantage of, and you don't completely forget your own needs - you just put them on the back burner.15 Here are suggestions for improving your sense of self-worth:
- Pray to perceive God's love for you and the value and potential he sees in you.
- Read the Feeling Good Handbook by David Burns, who explains how to change thought processes that can harm self-worth.
- See a counselor.
Checking Your Capacity to Love -- Other Centeredness and Virtue
Getting married is the end of your days flying solo. If you haven't learned how to take others' needs into consideration, your marriage will suffer.8 Being "other" centered includes being generous and forgiving toward your partner, abilities that help sustain a long-term commitment.5
As one researcher put it, "The emotional climate of marriage matters.... If spouses have a reservoir of goodwill and they show their affection regularly, they are far more likely to be able to work through their differences".13
We often think of the word "virtue" narrowly, but marriage researchers think of it as a broad way of being that includes goodness, kindness, and loyalty. Fowers describes four virtues that helps become other-centered -- friendship, loyalty, generosity, and fairness.
- The virtue of friendship. Fowers says that the kind of friendship needed for marriage is "character friendship".12 People in a character friendship think of themselves as partners on the same team and do things together that grow out of their share interests and values. For more ideas on cultivating friendship in marriage, see the article Nurturing Friendship in Marriage at this website.
- The virtue of loyalty. The bond of loyalty holds marriages, friendships, and families together through the tough times. This bond is made up of "hundreds of tiny threads which sew people together through the years".8 People who are loyal to one another keep each other's confidences and can be depended on to honor commitments and be supportive when needed.
- The virtue of generosity. Both partners in a marriage will make mistakes, and generosity can help repair them. Generosity helps us see past the negative in others and recognize the positive. Fowers says we can act generously by:
- Seeing the best in others.
- Expressing gratitude to others rather than catching them in mistakes.
- Letting others know we appreciate them.
- Freely forgiving.
- Giving others the benefit of the doubt by assuming good motives, even if they have hurt us.
- Not taking small slights personally.
- Remembering the times we ourselves have been forgiven.
- Avoiding brooding over transgressions against us.
- Giving of ourselves by listening, offering compassion when others are suffering, and offering small gifts of service.
- The virtue of fairness. Partners in a strong relationship don't split everything equally but rather understand that each partner contributes in different ways. "[Fairness] in marriage means being able to recognize your own and your spouse's particular capabilities and limitations and arrange your marriage so that these inequalities contribute to your relationship rather than create discord between you".8 For more ideas on creating a fair marriage, see Equal Partnership in Marriage at this website.
Do You Speak the Language? Effective Communication
Just as you might travel abroad for your honeymoon, you might find marriage a lot like entering another country. In both situations, you need good communication. Marriage researcher John Gottman divides communication patterns into four areas.
When a couple encounters bumps along the road, they need to talk about them. "Harsh start-ups" typically begin with blaming or criticizing. If you want to nurture your relationship, says Gottman, avoid blame and criticism and instead:12
- Describe without judgment. Explain the problem objectively so that the other person doesn't feel attacked.
- Be clear. No one can read your mind, so explain the problem precisely and clearly.
- Be polite. Remember to say please and thank you.
- Be appreciative. Express your appreciation for what the other person does well and has done well in the past.
- Don't store things up. Whenever possible, bring up problems at the time they're happening or soon after.
Anytime we try to resolve conflict, tempers can flare. If this happens, use communication "brakes" to repair the situation. For example, if anger and criticism are escalating, try injecting some humor or giving your partner a goofy smile. Memorizing-escalation phrases also can help. Here is a list adapted from Gottman's The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work:
- That hurt my feelings.
- I feel blamed; can you rephrase that?
- I don't feel understood.
- Can I take back what I said?
- I'm sorry.
- Can we start over?
- Let me try again.
- I see what you are saying.
- I agree with part of that.
- One thing I admire about you is ...
- We are getting off track.
- Please don't withdraw.
- I love you.
- I understand.
- That is a good point.
For more information on handling conflict, see the article Handling Conflict in Marriage at this website.
Five Positives for Every Negative
Gottman has found that happy couples, when they're discussing a problem, have five positive interactions forever one negative interaction. When packing, be sure to include five nice things to say for every one not-so-nice stowaway.12 For information about building more positive relationships, see the article Building a Fondness and Admiration System at this website.
Bids for Connection9
Every day each of us sends out hundreds of "bids" for connection to friends, family members, dates, and even strangers in line at the grocery store. Bids can be verbal or nonverbal, funny or serious, physical or intellectual. A clear bid sounds like this: "I miss you. Can we get-together tonight?" An unclear bid sounds like this: "What are you doing tonight?" When your bids are clear, it's easier to get what you want. When they're not clear or they're delivered with a mixed message, they can cause the other person to become defensive.
Sometimes bids are fuzzy or offensive because the bidder is trying to avoid rejection, can't admit he is seeking connection, or simply doesn't know how to clearly bid for the connection he needs.
Gottman says it's important to see past people's anger or fear, then recognize and turn towards their bids as often as possible. Consistently turning towards bids, even if they're clumsy, builds solid foundation for relationships.
Turning away bids causes people to suppress feelings and become hostile. For more information on bids for connection, see the article Staying Connected with Each Other at this website.
Important Issues for You and Your Potential Traveling Companion
Making Good Choices
As you embark on the marriage journey, you can make many choices as a couple that will improve your chances fora happy and lasting marriage. Research shows that following the principles below can significantly improve the odds that your marriage will last:3
- Postpone children until after marriage.
- Marry at an older age, about 22 to 25 years old.
- Don't cohabit.
- Affiliate with a religion.
- Get a college education.
- Have an adequate income before marrying.
Understanding One Another's Values
Prospective spouses should thoroughly discuss the values that matter to each. You should agree on core values and on most other values. Consider the following values and how each foo would answer the questions:16
- Importance of marriage. Is marriage the most important thing in life, or are other things, such as career or hobbies, just as important or more important? If you were having marital problems, would you consider divorce an option?
- Gender roles. Do you have a traditional view of the roles of husband and wife or a more egalitarian view?
- Importance of careers. Do you believe both spouses should work? When children come along, will one of you stop working to care for them?
- Importance of material wealth. How important is it to you to have plenty of money and nice clothes, cars, trips, and "toys"?
- Individuality and privacy. Do you need a lot of time alone, or do you prefer to do most things with your partner? Do you need someone at your side every waking moment?
- Sexual intimacy. What are your expectations about the importance and frequency of sex?
- Family planning. How soon do you want to begin having children? How many you should have? How far apart they should be spaced? What are your preferred methods of birth control? If an unplanned pregnancy occurred, would you consider abortion?
- Couple boundaries. What kind of things should be kept just between you? What kind of things is it okay to discuss with friends or family?
- Importance of religion. What are your religious or spiritual beliefs and how important are they to you?
- Background similarity. How similar or different are you in race, religion, socioeconomic status, education level, intelligence, and age? The more differences you have in these areas, the more you will need to negotiate and compromise.
Other resources for helping you evaluate and build your marriage readiness include:
- The RELATE Institute questionnaires READY and RELATE. READY is a test that measures your readiness in the areas discussed in this article. It takes about an hour. RELATE is a couple's version of READY that gives you a report about your strengths and weaknesses as a couple.
- The Forever Families article The Case for Marriage Preparation helps couples choose a marriage preparation program.
- PEPARE-ENRICH is one of many programs designed to help you evaluate your relationship and prepare for marriage.
- A book called Should We Stay Together? by Jeffry Larson includes self-tests from the RELATE questionnaire.
- Larson also wrote the Forever Families article�Important Factors to Consider Before Taking the Marriage Plunge, which includes excerpts from his book.
Written by Rachael Baguley Shaw, Research Assistant, and edited by Jason Carroll and Stephen F. Duncan, Professors in the School of Family Life, Brigham Young University.
- Ainsworth, M. D. S., Blehar, M., Waters, E., & Wall, S. (1978). Patterns of attachment: A psychological study of the strange situation. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
- Bowlby, J. (1994). The making and breaking of affectional bonds. New York: Routledge.
- Bramlett, M. D., & Mosher, W. D. (2002). Cohabitation, marriage, divorce, and remarriage in the United States. Vital and Health Statistics, 23(22). Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics.
- Broderick, C. (1988). Marriage and the family. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
- Carroll, J. S., Badger, S., & Yang, C. (2006). The ability to negotiate or the ability to love? Evaluating the developmental domains of marital competence. Journal of Family Issues, 27(7), 1001-1032.
- Day, R. D. (2005). MFHD 160 Introduction to Family Processes Lecture. Brigham Young University.
- Dollahite, D. C. (2000). Strengthening our families. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company.
- Fowers, B. J. (2000). Beyond the myth of marital happiness. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
- Fraley, R. C., & Shaver, P. R. (2000).Adult romantic attachment: Theoretical developments, emerging controversies, and unanswered questions. Review of General Psychology, 4(2), 132-154.
- Gottman, J. M., & DeClaire, J. (2001). The relationship cure: A 5 step guide to strengthening your marriage, family and friendships. New York: Three Rivers Press.
- Gottman, J. M. (1999). The marriage clinic: A scientifically based marital therapy. New York: W.W. Norton &Company.
- Gottman, J. M., & Silver, N. (1999). The seven principles for making marriage work. New York: Three Rivers Press.
- Huston, T. L., & Melz, H. (2004). The case for (promoting) marriage: The devil is in the details. Journal of Marriage and Family, 66(4), 862-879.
- Kumashiro, M., Finkel, E. J., & Rusbult, C. E. (2002). Self-respect and pro-relationship behavior in marital relationship. Journal of Personality, 70(6), 1009-1049.
- L'Abate, L., & Baggett, M. (1997). The self in the family. Canada: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
- Larson, J. H. (2000). Should we stay together? San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.