By Andrew McNaughton LCSW, CADC
“What should we expect?”
There is no simple or direct answer to that question. Marriage expectations are highly subjective and based on the needs and beliefs of the individuals comprising the couple. Marriage is almost never easy, but seeing the relationship as an evolving process can set reasonable expectations. Starting the process of communicating important issues now is far better than winging it down the line. Some of the most common topics to discuss at home and during premarital or marriage counseling sessions include:
- Career goals and financial planning: Where does each partner see themselves regarding career and finances within the next 5 years and beyond? Has the possibility of a career change, a shift in work schedule, relocation for a job, or a return to school been explored? What is the couple’s current financial situation, budget, and extent of emergency savings? Is homeownership desired, and if so, when and where? Who is expected to pay for what? Must all purchases be agreed upon?
- Intimacy: Communicating needs and desires is key to a satisfying sex life. It is better to be up front about them than to make assumptions and risk slipping into dissatisfied resentment. What does each partner prefer in terms of frequency of sex, and how does each partner’s needs get met if their sex drives are not at the same level? There is no correct or simple answer, but the individual needs of each partner can be better met if they, as a couple, define basic terms and expectations.
- Deal Breakers: Boundaries ought to be defined regarding deal breaking transgressions. These may include cheating, stealing, lying (especially about money), or increased drinking, drug abuse, gambling, shopping, consumption of pornography, or other potentially compulsive and destructive acts. Begin to address this by setting basic terms and expectations. For example, what constitutes infidelity? Sex outside the marriage would seem obvious, but what about online flirting, even if it is with someone who almost certainly would never be encountered in real life? Standards vary for each couple, so communicate them now to avoid conflict, grief, and therapy later.
- Kids, Family, and Friends: Differing values directly impact expectations of having children. Does each partner even want to have them? If so, when and how many? How will they be raised, especially in terms of a religious upbringing (or lack thereof)? Likewise, how much time does the couple want to spend with extended family? How does each member regard the other’s family? This can also apply to non-mutual friends.
- Death and Illness: We are all going to die, and most of us will get seriously ill at some point in our lives. Admittedly, this is unpleasant to think about, especially for younger couples, but at least ought to be acknowledged since it is nearly impossible to plan for. Pretending it will never happen will just make it more difficult when eventually does. Discussing ideas and preferences ahead of time will make it easier when one partner is struggling with grief down the road.
Some, if not all, of these topics are extremely difficult to discuss and may seem easier to put off until later, but starting to think about them sooner will benefit the marriage. Help your marriage start off on the right foot with premarital counseling to avoid more emotion-fueled marriage counseling when problems arise.
Start simple: Many issues couples face can be looked at on a spectrum of best and worst case scenarios, so what is the least each partner can live with, and can this be reasonably achieved, or even exceeded? Even if a clear cut consensus is not immediately reached, remember that relationships are a process. Identifying and preparing for the “known unknowns” can condition couples to be prepared for when the eventual “unknown unknowns” occur.
Premarital counseling is a good place to start. To set up an appointment with a relationship counselor, please contact Symmetry Counseling through this website or call 312-578-9990 during regular business hours.