Relationships are wonderfully complicated. It’s so easy to fall in love but it’s not so easy to stay in love when the infatuation fades. If you’re thinking about popping the question in the New Year, or taking your relationship to the next level of commitment, make sure you’ve discussed these important topics.
Gary R. Birchler and his colleagues developed a basic framework for evaluating marital distress and they came up with some important considerations for couples. As Emotionally Focused Therapists (EFT), we will put a little “emotional” spin on their framework! First, and the most important premarital advice: while you are discussing these topics, pay attention to your emotions and feelings—are they heightened, are you holding back, are you feeling anxious just talking about these topics?
For example, if talking about money is especially stressful for you, it is okay to say to your partner, “This will be a hard topic for me. If I get frustrated while talking about it, please know that it is not you…I just made some bad decisions in the past about money, and, at times, I still beat myself up for them but I may appear as if I was angry at everyone and everything.”
Premarital Advice: The 8 C’s
1. Communication, or in EFT terms, Connection!
- We all know that communication is an important part of healthy relationships. As we all know, communication is both verbal and non-verbal. More important than talking can be active listening. Active listening means that we try not to let our feelings and thoughts block our ability to really hear our partner. It can communicate that we care about what our partner is saying, even if we don’t agree, which often creates a sense of safety.
- Feeling heard increases the likelihood that we will share more vulnerable emotions, which can create deeper intimacy and stronger connection! Since non-verbal communication is so important, have a discussion with your partner about what non-verbal cues you pick up on that might send you a “danger signal” of “he/she is not paying attention” or “he/she is mad at me.”
How great would it be if you both can be sensitive to your danger signals?
- Talk about HOW you talk! Internal processors tend to think about things in their mind before sharing their thoughts, whereas external processors tend to make sense of their thoughts as they talk out loud. Internal processors can be misunderstood as unengaged or unwilling to participate in the dialogue, and external processors can be misunderstood as “too much” or “too loud.” Remember, there is no right or wrong way.
- Most of us feel unwavering in our commitment, so as our relationship ebbs and flows, we might sometimes start feeling less steadfast.
If that happens, don’t panic, and definitely don’t make any quick decisions.
- Ask yourself if you and your partner got caught up in a pattern of disconnection where you are feeling more distant and your “only” solution that you feel you have is to go separate ways? Please remember that this doesn’t have to be the case. If you have a safe connection with your partner, your commitment to each other doesn’t have to suffer even when there are ebbs and flows in your relationship. So the perfect solution when you start feeling less steadfast is to check HOW CONNECTED DO YOU FEEL TO YOUR PARTNER. Call us if you don’t feel connected to your partner and you don’t know how to find your way back to him/her.
- Relationship contracts are the expectations we have for one another. Division of household chores, how free time is spent, how money is budgeted, who manages the finances, does one partner stay home with the kids, etc. Problems tend to arise when there are unclear expectations, conflicting expectations, breach of contracts (such as infidelity) and when life transitions or unexpected events cause couple’s to re-negotiate contracts. Discussing expectations early on and being willing to adapt as circumstances change, can alleviate disappointment and resentment down the line.
- The most important contract of all might be how will you cherish each other, how will you connect emotionally at times when things get stressful, when you are tired or when you are busy? How will you be emotionally available, accessible, and engaged with your partner so that he/she feels like you always have his/her back?
- Feeling cared for is usually one of the most important components of a happy relationship. Love is often shown through verbal and physical affection, spending time together, bonding moments, acts of service or thoughtful gestures.
- Many couples struggle and don’t know how to be verbally affectionate with each other, so they rely solely on the time that they can spend with each other. BUT when time is scarce, these couples can get into trouble! If you would like to learn how to express your love to your partner verbally, call us and we will show you!
- Character refers to individual attributes, talents or issues. Mental illness, substance use, temperament and personality can all play a role in the cohesiveness of a relationship. These are also things that can be very hard and shameful to talk about!!! Go slow, don’t label, try to understand, and always reach out for help if needed!
- Culture itself is the customs, values and traditions we embody, usually inherited from our family of origin. Do you share similar cultural/religious beliefs and practices? What are important traditions inherited from your families? How will you spend the holidays? Cultural differences can enrich a relationship so try and learn about your partner’s background and look for commonalities.
- Remember to talk about the culture of emotions. Talk with your partner about how emotions were communicated in your family. When growing up, which emotions were most prevalent and which ones were rare? How do you express the soft and tender feelings? Do you ever get vulnerable? When? How does your vulnerability impact your partner?
- Children are both rewarding and challenging. Knowing where your partner stands on whether they want to have kids or not can be a clear deal breaker. Parenting style differences are normal but can become divisive. Talking about parenting practices, values and expectations before deciding to have children are helpful in determining compatibility for long-term relationships.
- Make sure that you talk about what kind of fears you have around having or not having children! Also, share with your partner how did you experience growing up in your family, and what type of parent do you hope to be for your children.
- Money can’t buy you love, but it sure can tear it apart! Differences in money management is one of the top complaints that show up in couples therapy. Often couples don’t talk about finances before marriage because it can be uncomfortable. It’s so important to sit down and talk about each person’s values and goals around finances. For example, some people like having a little bit of cash saved up and that brings them SAFETY. Talk about the SAFETY piece in order to have a deeper and more fulfilling conversation.
Written by Heather Talbot, LPC. Heather specializes in working with couples using Emotionally Focused Therapy. Heather welcomes your feedback!