What You Need To Know Before Saying “I Do”

By Suzanne E. Harrill                   

Investing in the stock market is a better risk than getting married these days. The 1998 Census Bureau Report found that between 1970 and 1996 the number of divorced people in the U.S. more than quadrupled. Current statistics show that more than 50% of first- time marriages end in divorce, and it is even higher for second marriages. Of those who stay married, many say they are not happy. What’s wrong and how can you beat the odds to live happily ever after?

Many people have a fantasy that says, “If only the right person would come along, then   I will have the perfect, fulfilling relationship that I’ve been waiting for my whole life. I will recognize my love-at-first-sight prince (princess) by the way he/she ignites the spark of physical desire within me.” What is wrong with this belief, besides the obvious fact that there are no perfect people, is that you always have to live with yourself, including negative behavioral and thought patterns learned from your family and society when growing up. So don’t be surprised that when the newness of the relationship wears off, your partner may not look so perfect, and may even start reminding you of traits you didn’t like in your mom or dad or a character on that favorite TV sitcom.

What should you do then? End every relationship that reminds you of your past? No, because no one would ever stay with a partner for long if that were helpful. Instead,   learn the truth about building a satisfying, long-term relationship. It begins with knowing yourself, understanding the stages that relationships go through, and learning skills to improve problem areas in your life; such as, assertiveness or good communication patterns.

The first thing you should know before saying “I Do” is that you will be attracted to people that help you heal unfinished business from the past. In other words, as issues you could not resolve with mom or dad (or siblings, ex-partners, etc.) come up in the current relationship, you as an adult now have the opportunity to handle things differently. The good news is that the more you know yourself, the better job you will do matching up with a partner with whom you want to heal these patterns. This includes finding a partner who is willing to know her/himself as well.

Now let us look at seven common mistakes people make in choosing a life partner that lead many to later disappointment or divorce. Mistakes people make include:

1.      Thinking physical attraction is a good predictor of a lasting relationship. Wrong.  Meet all parts of the other before assuming that feel-good sensation of “chemistry” between you two is love. While dating, be a detective and observe how the other’s values, habits, preferences, beliefs, goals, and personality traits fit in with yours.

Many people make the mistake of falling head-over-heels for someone they barely know and need to remind themselves that infatuation is not true love. The solution is to assume there is much more to a person than what meets the eye during the first six months of courtship. Getting to know someone on a deeper level than just the physical takes time.  This is time well spent and improves your odds of having a lasting relationship.

2.      Believing that when romance fades the relationship is ready to end or is doomed to unhappiness. Wrong. Mature relationships move past the infatuation of the first stage to build something deeper a relationship supporting growth, healing, fulfilling goals, commitment, and responsibility, to name a few. It includes living with a person who cares about you and wants to travel with you through the twists and turns life will bring.

 3.      Assuming you can change what you do not like in your partner once you’re married. Wrong. People change when the motivation comes from within. Most do not easily or willingly change just because their partner wants it. Think about the effort it takes to change one of your own habits or personality traits. It is naive to assume your partner will change in the ways you have in mind. Unrealistic expectations set you up for disappointment.  It is normal to not like everything about your partner, but do pay attention to how much you do not like the other person’s habits, beliefs, values, goals, etc.  If there are too many things you do not like, consider that person may not be a good match for you. On an up note, people change when we change ourselves. To instigate improvement in your relationship, change your dance steps and your partner has to change his/hers, or there is no one to dance with.

4.      Thinking power struggles mean the relationship is not a good one. Wrong. The second stage of relationships is a power-struggle stage, where two different personalities work out how to live together.  It is a disappointment to many after the romantic first stage, because reality has set in and it takes a lot of dedication to workout your differences. Learning good communication skills helps you move beyond pure arguing to fighting fairly to resolve conflict and to problem-solve. The sooner you face the power-struggle stage, the sooner you move onto the third stage  of a relationship, the unconditional love and acceptance stage. Here you know the difference between what must be accepted in the partner and what can change. The part that can change requires continual communication and negotiating on a day-to-day basis to maintain a healthy relationship.

5.      Believing confrontation is not a good way to communicate. Wrong. Confrontation is normal and healthy and does not have to be done aggressively. It is simply telling the truth about what you are feeling, thinking, and needing. The sooner you bring up issues when you feel hurt, angry, taken advantage of, irritated, misunderstood, or ignored, the better for the relationship.  Suppressing them keeps you a victim and only leads to hostility and feeling separate from your partner. It is well worth the risk to face your partner with what is on your mind.  It builds trust when both partners tell the truth about what they are feeling, thinking, and needing.

6.      Thinking it is too late to call off the wedding once the date is set. Wrong. Listen to your inner self.  If your body or intuition tells you that something does not feel right, honor this and slow things down.  It is wiser and less complicated to call off a wedding than to set yourself up knowingly for an unhappy marriage or to go through a divorce further down the path.  A good rule of thumb is to date for more than a year, so you have a chance to see each other’s shadow side and so there will be no major surprises.  Remember this choice affects you the rest of your life.

7.      Feeling that counseling is a sign of failure and only for disturbed people. Wrong. Failing to get help when there are problems is a missed opportunity. Most people do not like to admit they need help when things take a difficult turn, but research shows that premarital counseling increases the chances of a happy marriage. Why not let a neutral third party (like a therapist, minister, or rabbi) help you see your blind spots, your partner’s blind spots, and clarify who needs help with the issues. Besides providing insights and encouraging you both to talk, counselors educate you about the basics of good communication and fair-fighting skills that most people never learn growing up.

Finally, let’s look at building a strong foundation before making the life-long decision of choosing your partner. The truth about building strong lasting relationships is to:

1.      Know yourself. Take an honest look at your traits ¾  strengths and weakness, your goals, your values, your self-esteem, how you handle your anger, and how you nurture yourself, to name a few. Learn where your blind spots are, so you can build your awareness. Gather information when you need help. In areas where you are weak, get help. Find a teacher or counselor, begin reading or listening to tapes, observing others who know this skill better than you, or taking classes or workshops on the subject.

2.      Love and accept yourself. You can only experience love to the degree that you love yourself. The degree of love, acceptance, and respect you have for yourself is reflected to your partner, and vice versa. By nurturing yourself physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, you grow in your ability to love and honor yourself, thus impacting the relationship. When two people value high self-esteem, the relationship is set on a solid foundation.

3.      Learn as much as you can about your family history. Did you know that the less aware you are of yourself and your family history, the more likely you are to repeat the same problems your parents and grandparents did in their relationships? People who understand their family patterns do a better job healing the issues that come up in a relationship, vowing to do things differently.

4.      Think about what you want in a relationship. What do you picture in a good relationship for you? What do you see in your future? In five years, ten years, a lifetime? If you don’t know what you want, you may end up with what somebody else wants for you. Empower yourself by discovering what you want to create and experience.

5.      Get to know your partner. Be a detective and find out as much as you can about him/her and his/her family of origin. No one is perfect, but you can make wiser choices in choosing a partner by using your head and your heart.

6.      Discuss openly with your partner all of the above. When you invite your partner to participate on the self-awareness journey, you have an almost sure bet of building a mature, satisfying, long-term relationship. Remember you are looking for someone with whom you want to do the dance of life, someone who will work on his/her issues as you are working on yours. Growing couples have an alive, caring, actualizing relationship.

Now you know how to live happily ever after. Improve your chances of a happy, long-term relationship before you say, “I do.” Take the time to expand your awareness about yourself, about your partner, and about relationships in general. Then choose the right partner by asking yourself, “Is this the person I wish to learn and grow with as I go into my future?” Beat the odds and marry your last partner first. 


From Suzanne E. Harrill’s book, Inner Fitness for Creating a Better You: Six Lessons for Building Greater Awareness, High Self-Esteem, Good Relationships, and Spiritual Meaning.





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