Do you want to get divorced? It’s not the sort of thing anyone wants to talk about as they plan their big day. A day of love. Of romance. Of happily ever after. It’s just the question Fr. Bryce Sibley of Our Lady of Wisdom asks those who arrive at his office preparing to say ‘I do.’
“The more effort you put into preparation, the more success you will have,” Fr. Sibley says of marriage.
He compares marriage to a football game that requires preparation and teamwork, including a coach who pushes you and helps you work hard for the best results.
“We look at every aspect of preparing the couple. One of those things is to look at your family of origin and the baggage you may have and let’s talk about it and get you the help you need and deal with some of the wounds,” he says.
When it comes time to prepare for wedded bliss it may seem like you should focus entirely on romance, but even before the wedding bells comes the work to approach marriage in a way that’s healthy.
“We have this idea in our culture that marriage is this beautiful couple just looking into the eyes of each other on the wedding day and it’s just me and you babe … it’s not just about you two and going it alone. You need the support of family and friends and a church community and neighborhood. It’s a social entity and I really encourage couples to reach out for help and a network. They need to establish a support system,” Fr. Sibley advises.
In addition to establishing a support system, Sibley says there’s one big effort that can make or break every marriage. The top marriage killer is something we learn at a very young age.
“The No. 1 thing I see that destroys marriages is selfishness,” Sibley says. “I want you to build up the habit of selflessness. Do one thing every day and put the spouse above you.”
He suggests easy-to-do activities like texting your partner during the day to cheer them up, bringing flowers, praying for them during the day, letting them pick the movie.
“Think of them before yourself. Build that up and that’s really positive preparation,” he says.
Sibley points to discussions before marriage covering the big issues as well, like children, educating and raising those children, attending church if that’s important to you and how finances will be handled. Licensed counselor and social worker Brenda Walters, the resident marriage counselor at Acadiana Medical Psychological Services, points to those same hot button topics to tackle before the big day.
“The most common areas of conflict in marriages are: communication, money, sex, in-laws, parenting, different value systems, and different ways to approach problem solving,” Walters says. “Most couples want the other person to behave exactly as they would. Ultimately this is not possible because each comes from different backgrounds. So each has a different approach to life, thus creating conflict.”
The big areas she points to include handling finances and developing a budget, children including a timeline for when to have them, how to handle conflict when it arises and rules to fight by and how often each want to communicate.
“Conflict is inevitable, so expect it. I believe it is important to make every effort to address conflict in a very rational way. The difficulty in doing that is that sometimes our emotions get in the way and we are blinded by them. The best approach here is to ask yourself what about this situation has made me so angry. Try to define a certain issue rather than assume that your partner had deliberately attempted to short-circuit you. Often we have polar opposite views on certain issues and we trigger the other person’s anger without even realizing it. Conflict expressed appropriately can become an enriching experience because it broadens one’s overall view of the wants and needs of the partner,” Walters says.
While compromise is essential in every relationship, Walters says marriage doesn’t mean compromising core values.
“It is important for each person to hold fast to those values. What is acceptable in compromising are the smaller things in life that are not critical to one’s integrity. Make sure that when compromising you are able to feel like you have gained something for yourself and given some to your partner. An excellent question to ask is would you rather be right or be married? It is also important to engage your partner, by asking them out loud, too in helping to find a compromise. That way you both are on the same path,” Walters says.
The essence of preparation is getting to know each other and bonding. In order to do that, couples should do far more than discuss their ideal futures together. It’s about being honest and vulnerable, as well.
“If you ask your partner, and answer the same question for yourself, what did they want from each of their parents that they never got, then you have gotten down to some core emotional issues in the other person,” Walters says. “Each of us marry because we want to have the ability to fulfill in our lives the emptiness we suffered in childhood.”
She says while it is true that our parents did not intend to leave anything out of our lives, they were human beings imperfect in their own ways and they were likely to not be perfect in their parenting of us.
“When we can identify those breaches within ourselves and inform our partners of that need, we can have a much more fulfilling and satisfying marriage,” Walters says. “One thing every couple should do before they marry is take the time to get to know the needs, desires, and likes of the partner. By understanding what the other person wants, you begin to ensure that you are operating from a knowledge base rather than shooting in the dark and guessing as to what the partner wants.”