At just under two years of marriage, I don’t pretend to be an expert yet. However, with my background in social work, I do know a thing or two about people and relationships. I have also learned, from experience, a few things on how to give marriage the best possible start. My husband and I followed the principle that you should plan for marriage, just as you plan for the wedding. While the wedding is only one day, the marriage will last a lifetime. There are enough surprises in life; so, we decided to be as prepared as we could and set a solid foundation.
A suggestion to remember
One of my college courses was Marriage and Family. It’s been over 10 years and I don’t remember much of the details except that the professor said it’s a good idea for newly married couples to live at least 1,000 miles away from both families for at least the first year of marriage. This advice has always stood out in my mind. And so, my husband and I followed this suggestion.
It was one of the best decisions we have made as a couple so far. We needed the distance to form our own family. It gave us a great foundation because now we know how to depend on each other, rather than relying on others and involving outside parties. When family gets involved in marriage matters, it creates a mess – too much drama. And I say, ‘No, thank you’ to that!
Moving also allowed time for us to develop our marriage rather than feel obliged to visit family on a regular basis. Being so far away is a great reason to not attend every event. Not that those events aren’t important – but in the early days of marriage – it’s more important to focus on our relationship.
I must admit, the first Christmas was a little hard for me. I was so used to spending the holiday with my parents and brother. It took a little adjustment. I was certainly happy to spend it with my new husband, but missed my family, nonetheless.
I highly recommend moving away. It makes setting the boundaries much easier. Boundaries for family are important, especially, early on. If moving the far distance is impossible, at least make a conscious effort to create boundaries. For instance – deciding on who you will celebrate the holidays with is a common one. Best to discuss that upfront so there are no hurt feelings.
Another really important one is who you discuss your relationship with. It’s best not to bad mouth your spouse to your family or talk about your marriage problems with family rather than working them out with your spouse first. Sometimes you might get stuck and need guidance and counsel. The advice I’ve heard and agree with: make sure the person you confide in or turn to for help is someone who has an outstanding marriage you want to emulate.
It’s not like 1,000 miles is a magic number – it simply represents a distance that is far enough away that makes it difficult to drive to family when there’s a fight. There will be fights and the fact that you are in a new place and know only your spouse can be a very good thing.
Seek a professional
In addition to moving away, I also highly recommend intense premarital counseling. I am not talking about just meeting with the pastor a few times before the ceremony. I am talking about meeting with a marriage and family therapist to discuss the potential issues. I didn’t want to enter marriage blindly.
Everyone has baggage, expectations, etc. These need to be brought to light beforehand. An expert can help navigate the discussion and give feedback. We went to a marriage counselor in Saratoga for 3 intense 2-hour sessions. I cried a lot each time. There were some issues we needed to settle before we got married. One major one was friends of the opposite sex. We both had a lot of friends of the other gender and disagreed on how to handle at first. Through counseling, we set a boundary we both could commit to.
We also learned skills to help us with future disagreements. It was time and money very well spent. If you didn’t make it to premarital counseling, then go now! It’s never too late. Seeking professional help is a great way to prevent, fine-tune, or solve marital problems.
In addition to counseling, we did a workbook together. The book prompted excellent discussions on many topics that we wouldn’t have thought to talk about ourselves. Money, in-laws, kids, goals – all important things to discuss so there are less surprises later. We also watched a great video on marriage. The speaker was funny while providing insight on the differences between men and women as well as suggestions for improving the relationship.
With 50% of first marriages ending in divorce and even higher divorce rates for second and third marriages – prepare, for the best possible outcome. Realizing that marriage takes planning and work, we can’t rely on those “loving” feelings to keep us together forever. Feelings come and go. The most successful marriages come from those who take the time and effort to learn and grow. I am thankful my husband and I learned this before we got married. Moving 1,000 miles away and planning for the marriage through counseling and the workbook helped us begin this journey with a great foundation.
What are some other recommendations for a great start to marriage?