Written By: Caitlin Edwards
In my work with couples, I first want to know what your agreements are regarding your relationship. I frequently experience couples reporting that the agreements in their relationship are implicit rather than explicit. What the relationship means, where the relationship is going, and what is and what is not okay in the relationship are often topics that are assumed rather than deliberately named and discussed. As such, I want to put forth a number of aspects of relationships that I believe are necessary to be thoroughly understood prior to entering a legally committed relationship. Premarital counseling can help couples to fully explore and understand each other regarding these various aspects of relationships. Moreover, premarital counseling can help you and your partner learn how to have hard conversations from a place of confidence and security.
What does Commitment Mean to each of Us?
In my work as a couples counselor, I have seen several couples who struggle over what commitment means. Does commitment mean we are together forever or just the time being? Does it mean that we share everything or are there certain things that need to remain autonomous? Does it mean that we discuss all aspects of our lives or are there things that need to be kept private? Does it mean that there is the expectation that you will meet all of my needs or is it okay if other people meet some of them? Does commitment mean we are monogamous?
All of these questions can result in stuck places in the relationship if they are not fully broached, unpacked, and understood prior to making a commitment. I can think of one couple in which one member assumed the other would meet all of their needs, only to feel devastated when they
learned that their partner was having “intellectual discussions” with a friend rather than them. By discussing what expectations you have around your partner meeting which needs, couples can bypass these moments.
What does the Dream of our Future look like?
Although many couples often find it easy to have basic discussions around what their future may look like, there is rarely a discussion regarding what will happen if these ideas change. As such, it is important to discuss how your dreams and ideas for your future have changed over your life. How flexible are you to adapting your dreams based on unexpected circumstances and/or your partner’s wishes?
With the couples I have worked with, I have explored what it would mean to have children, where they want to put roots down, how they want to practice their religious and spiritual beliefs, as well as practical matters such as bill-sharing.
How do we want to Divide Responsibilities?
One of the most common struggles I see with couples is their disagreement regarding how to divide household tasks. Often this appears as a tit for tat argument around who does what task in the household and what that means they should not have to do in return. Some clients will withhold doing certain tasks to see if their partner will notice or if their partner appreciates what they do. This also tends to be a significant struggle for new parents. Therefore, I recommend explicitly discussing how responsibilities are to be divided. What is comfortable for each partner? What will it mean if a task is not done in a certain time frame? How do you want to structure a schedule for each responsibility? Is there flexibility in the structure or does it need to remain rigid? Premarital counseling can help to explore each partner’s comfort level and value system regarding household tasks and other responsibilities.
Family of Origin
Another common struggle I see in couples counseling is the relationship with each partner’s family of origin. Common trope regarding dreaded mother-in-laws aside, defining how you and your partner want to relate to each other’s family is an important aspect of creating a lasting relationship. How much time do you want to spend with your family of origin? Do you want your partner to be a part of every gathering? What is okay to tell your family about your relationship? When creating a long-term partnership, you are stepping out of one family into another, which necessitates the need for clear boundaries.
Finally, premarital counseling can help couples explore their sexuality, both as independent people and as a partnership. Questions to address include how will we cope with desire discrepancies? What are our sexual fantasies? What are our values around sex? What does it mean to have sex with only one person?
Deliberate and transparent conversations about all of these topics not only ensures that you know more about the person you are marrying but also ensures that you are going forward with the ability to have hard conversations successfully.
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