The Mini-Marriage

The question has been popped, the ring is on your finger, and now you’re engaged.
Congratulations! You just made the most important decision of your relationship. However, the initial joy and excitement about the engagement will soon fade (though not vanish) and the practicalities of a planning a wedding will take over. During the course of your engagement you’ll have to find new ways to communicate, compromise about family differences, follow a budget, and make dozens of decisions about things big and small. In other words, being engaged is just like being married.

I like to think of it as a mini-marriage

If anyone tells you that planning a wedding is easy, they’re pulling your leg. A day that is so loaded with emotions, traditions, and personalities is bound to present some drama. Just take a look at reality TV–“Bridezilla,” and “Say Yes to the Dress” document the ups and downs (and craziness) of all that’s involved weddings. Besides all the vendors–venue, caterer, band, florist, photographer, videographer, hair and make-up artists–there are all your friends and family that are involved. You might find yourself wondering how a day that is supposed to be just about your and your future-spouse has turned into such a production. When you dreamed about your wedding did you ever think that so many people would have an opinion? Are there ways to avoid having family conflicts turn into relationship problems?

The saying goes that the only way to make sure your wedding truly feel like your day is to elope. That may be true in a purely technical sense, but it’s not a hard and fast rule. Being engaged can very rewarding–a time to really think about and nurture your relationship. And at the end of it is a wonderful day and then your life together. Yes, there are a million logistics and the thoughts and feelings of your spouse and both of your families. But once you accept those things as necessary, your engagement can be a very satisfying experience. Here are five suggestions to help guide you and your fiance through the process as you develop a foundation that will help your marriage remain strong through the years.

It is no longer “me” but “we”

Becoming engaged solidifies your commitment to your partner and that means looking out
not only for the needs of you and your spouse, but also the needs of your relationship. The
decisions in your life now directly impact another person and their input needs to be part of your thinking.  Think of your relationship as a three-legged stool. Two of the three legs are represented by the two
individuals in the relationship and the third leg is the relationship itself. The stool cannot sustain
any significant weight if either of the legs is weak or shaky. Both you and your partner generate
the energy and passion to keep the relationship fresh and vibrant while also providing rules and
expectations for how the relationship is to function.

Discuss your expectations of the engagement and the marriage

Unrealistic and unmet expectations often lead to resentment and conflict in a marriage. The
engagement is a good time to communicate to each other your expectations of how the
relationship should work. Take responsibility for the roles and responsibilities you commit to in
the relationship. It’s important, though, to be willing to compromise and be flexible.

Learn how to communicate effectively and resolve conflict

Not being able to communicate effectively is a primary factor in marriages failing. Your
partner and the relationship should always be protected when you are communicating your
feelings about an issue. When you disagree, look for solutions that resolve the problem while
still maintaining your integrity as well as that of the relationship. Of course, it never hurts to
apologize if you are wrong.

Talk about money

Money is the number one issue that causes conflict in most relationships. Planning a wedding
is the first major joint financial decision in your relationship, so it is important to discuss how
you will deal with the challenges of planning what is usually a very expensive day. Develop a
budget early on to ensure so that both of you have clear ideas of what is possible for the actual
wedding.

Attend a premarital preparation class

Couples who participate in premarital preparation classes experience a 30% increase in marital
satisfaction than couples with no education. These couples are able to communicate more
effectively, have stronger conflict management skills, enjoy a more intimate relationship, and
improve their ability to have a stable and satisfying marriage.

Not Tonight Dear, I Have a Headache

Think you’re not having sex enough? You’re not alone!

A husband walks into the bedroom holding two aspirin and a glass of water.
His wife asks: “What’s that for?”
“It’s for your headache.”
“I don’t have a headache.”
He replies, “Gotcha!”

If you believe the typical jokes about marital sex, you’d think there was an intimacy drought in America’s bedrooms.  And most of the time, the blame falls on the woman.  Of course, this is just crass humor.  In reality, one third of marriages struggle with problems associated with frequency of intercourse, with one study finding that 20% of married couples have sex fewer than 10 times a year. And don’t believe what you hear about women being the ones who aren’t interested in having sex.  Contrary to popular belief, many of the country’s leading sex therapists report that low sexual desire in men is America’s best kept secret.  But it shouldn’t matter whose fault it is.  Sexual intimacy is crucial in starting and maintaining a relationship.  Sex is not the end-all, be-all, but it is important for couples to communicate their love for one another in a physical way.  So when one half of the relationship is not interested in sex, it can cause frustration, resentment, and anger.  We have discussed sex in marriage here at The Flip Side Blog and we have even offered some unique approaches to spicing up your sexual relationship (Love and Sex . . . and Sex and Sex), but let’s take a look at the causes of this problem and find some strategies to make it better.

First, the causes.  Sometimes it’s medical (e.g. low hormone levels or medication side effects), but for the most part it’s due to emotional factors.  Sexual arousal can be impacted by past traumas, negative body image and other emotional and relationship problems.  For men, this manifests itself in erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation while women may not lubricate or feel excitement when they are sexually stimulated.  Whatever the reason that couples stop having sex, it leads to problems.  While women are troubled about a lack of sexual energy, it rarely drives them to questions their basic femininity.  But men, on the other hand, feel that if they’re not having sex they’re somehow less of a man.  For many men, sex is connected to feelings of self-worth and how they perceive their value in their relationship.  And to make things worse, they refuse to talk about it.

So while this all may feel daunting and overwhelming, the good news is that kick-starting a sluggish sexual relationship is a very achievable goal for couples.  After reading this article, the first thing to do, of course, is to begin a conversation about it.  Here are some tips on how to broach the subject in a constructive and solution-focused way:

  • Keep your expectations realistic. As I told the couple who came to my office asking for help achieving mutual, simultaneous orgasms, don’t complicate your sexual relationship with unnecessary goals and unrealistic fantasy.   Have faith in your partner to work with you and develop a more realistic vision of your sexual needs that works for both of you.
  • Be creative.  What changes are you and your partner comfortable making to keep the passion alive in your relationship?  Many couples allow their sexual relationship to become routine and predictable, even boring.  Intercourse should not be the only behavior in your sexual repertoire and orgasm should not be the only goal that determines sexual satisfaction.  Just remember that creative does not mean kinky.  If your partner offers a suggestion that makes you uncomfortable, that idea should be taken off the table.
    • Communicate.  If your partner doesn’t know what you want and what makes you feel good, you have to let them know.  Talking about your passions and fantasies as well as your fears brings you closer, strengthens your relationship, and creates more options for each of you to meet your needs.

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    The Relationship Center, LLC offers the information on this web site for educational purposes only.