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What do you want to know about your partner before you are legally committed to another? Have you started to make decisions about what you both value and desire for your marriage? What questions and topics do you want to have discussed and clarified together? What do you both value and want for your relationship? What do you want for yourself as an individual?  Imagine what your relationship would gain if you engage your future marriage relationship before you say ‘I Do’.

The top question I receive from friends and clients is, “What do you wish you knew before you got married?”   There are lots of different answers to this question: personal answers, answers I’ve found through my private practice and in clinical work, research-based answers, answers I have gained through years of specialized higher education and an on-going thirst for knowledge and education (nerd alert- I know!). So, what do I think is essential to know before you get married? Here’s a sneak peek into my top tips for a strong, healthy and happy marriage:

You do not know everything there is to know about your partner, and this is a GOOD thing. Alongside the benefits of comfort and reliability, a sense of mystery and subsequent curiosity about the other is important.  There’s always more to learn. Cultivate a curious perspective.
A little flexibility goes a long way.  Just because you always do it one way doesn’t mean you have to always do it that same way in the future.  Just because he said that one thing one time 3 years ago does not necessarily mean it’s true for him today.  Just because your parents did it that way doesn’t mean you have to do it that way. It’s important to embrace the fact that behaviors and ideas can and do constantly change.
Empathy will get you through a lot.   The ability to put yourself in your partner’s position and allow yourself to feel what he or she might be feeling creates understanding and compassion.  Learning and communicating empathy can be difficult, but it’s a skill that every relationship needs and one that I will help you learn.
Communication is a ‘skill’ and it’s the best one to have in your marriage. Knowing how to communicate your feelings, needs, and desires and knowing ways to increase the likelihood of being heard and/or understood will keep your relationship strong and take your marriage far. Learn how to actively listen and convey understanding to your partner.
Learn how your partner feels love- and you too! Being mindful of the ways in which your partner needs to be shown love and being aware of the ways in which you feel loved will make all the difference in the world.
Develop relationship norms and values- this is KEY to your marriage prep process.  Our last session involves one of my favorite practices where couples express their vision for their marriage as well as relationship norms and values.  I document this information and later format your  “Relationship Norms”. This is a great document that couples can refer back to throughout their marriage to center and realign. Know that the norms and values you create together are flexible; they may change as you and your relationship change through the years.
Emotional intimacy and sexual connection may not always be positively correlated.  A sense of closeness, reliability, and safety is required for emotional intimacy; an element of mystery and unpredictability is often required for sexual passion.  Learning how to balance this need for connectedness and separateness in your relationship is a process.
Get comfortable talking about sex. On that note, you can talk about sex.  It’s not only okay, but it is encouraged to discuss what may be uncomfortable and anxiety-provoking topics. You will survive! And maybe even thrive!
Arguments and disagreements are GOOD for your relationship. They are an indication that you are engaging with each other. Remember, there is a healthy way to argue, which you will learn in premarital counseling.
Marriage is a huge life transition.  Honor this transition and allow yourself to feel whatever comes with it- excitement, love, joy, and passion.  Frustration, fear, anger, and sadness, too.  All are OK!
Remember YOU in your marriage. Shared interests are great and foster connection between couples. Maintaining individuality is also a significant part of a successful marriage. You are two parts of one entity.  Nurturing self-awareness and a sense of independence indirectly nurtures the entity.

Just the other day, I had an individual beautifully describe their hope for the premarital counseling process.  They stated: “I want us to begin to address some things that could potentially come up again in our marriage.  I want us to begin to think about things and to be challenged in a different way together. I know the end of our sessions with you won’t be the end of the conversation and a sort of “check mark on the box / we’re good to go” kind of deal.  It’s the beginning.  I just want to make sure we begin the conversation and can continue it into our marriage.  If we learn just one thing about one another, the investment will have been worth it.”

How inspiring and encouraging is this statement! Premarital counseling sessions are a comfortable and positive place to begin many conversations, to learn new skills, and to develop your relationship into one that will strengthen and grow for years. It is truly impossible to be fully prepared for all that marriage entails. However, it is possible to honestly and openly engage your partner, yourself, and your relationship.

Megan Broadhead is a Licensed Associate Professional Counselor in the state of Georgia and practices within a therapeutic community under supervision and direction. She is a member of and blogger for the American Counseling Association (ACA), as well as a professional verified member of Psychology Today. Megan is also a certified PREPARE/ENRICH couples counseling program facilitator. Learn more about Megan and ENGAGE: Premarital Counseling Services here.

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