When Mike and I became engaged we had been dating for four years. It was 1993. He was working at a social service agency and I was at a psychiatric hospital doing admissions so we were both surrounded by psychiatrists and therapists. Everyone had advice for us on how to make our pending marriage last a lifetime. The best piece of advice I got was from a therapist named Ginger who told us to not only attend the premarital education and counseling at our church, but to also go for three to six sessions of couples counseling. We followed through with her suggestion. I strongly believe the work we accomplished before we walked down the aisle built the foundation for our marriage.
Committing to premarital education and counseling during the engagement process and up to the first six months of being married can reduce the risk of divorce by 30% and increase your happiness in marriage. Most couples choose to wing their marriage, instead of becoming educated, which translates into making it up as you go along. That is comparable to putting a newbie on the street fully armed with no FTO program or going through the academy. That is an equation for disaster!!! Yet couples go into marriage without any training and then wonder why am I not happy and then file for divorce or just decide to live a miserable existence. Other couples decide to cohabitate to see if it will work out, but research does not support the idea that living together increases your chance of marriage survival. However, research is very supportive of marriage education through an organization such as a church and couples counseling with a licensed therapist.
Imagine being hired by your agency, being issued your equipment, uniform, and squad, and then going out on the street the same day alone with another rookie. In the process of trying to understand the multiple radios blasting in the car, somehow you come to the conclusion there is a stolen vehicle in front of you. You are a veteran of action adventure movies, cop dramas, and constantly watch Cops on YouTube. In your mind you are now an expert on how to perform a felony stop. Of course, as you read this scenario you can visualize everything that will go wrong including the possibility of an officer being memorialized. With a divorce rate of 50% for civilians and 65% for first responders, it is imperative to train yourselves in marriage survival skills that build a foundation for a lifetime during your engagement while you are still trainable and have not developed bad habits that will kill the relationship. Below are some areas to focus on.
Combining finances along with your values about money is a difficult challenge. Discuss your attitudes regarding debt, credit cards, saving for the future, spending, disposable income, and who will be in charge of the money. Be honest and give full disclosure about your financial status. Have many conversations and come to resolution about how your money will be managed once you are married. Financial stressors are one of the leading causes of divorce.
Many couples enter marriage believing success is in how you compromise on the areas of disagreement. However, compromise leads to marital dissatisfaction because one person ends up winning while the other partner feels like they are giving in. Eventually compromise leads to anger, resentment, and dissatisfaction in the marriage because one or both spouses feel like they are losing too many battles. Instead, an advanced marriage skill is conflict resolution. It is learning negotiation skills that lead to resolution where both spouses can say the solution is a win/win. You have achieved this when both of you walk away feeling and believing this is a solution that will work for you. Again it is an advanced marriage skill that takes a lot of practice and diligence, but it is also one that will set up your marriage to survive.
Children, parenting, and blending families
If you are the first time marrieds it is imperative you discuss your values regarding children and parenting. How many children do you want? Where do you want to raise them? What are your beliefs on childcare, best methods for discipline, education, and will you both work or will of you one stay home? It seems common sense that engaged couples would talk about their dreams of building a family, but it is not uncommon for couples to have these discussion post-nuptial. That is a lousy time to learn one person wants five children while the other wants none! These are important conversations to have, because during the engagement if there is significant disagreement in these areas you may choose not to get married. It is also not uncommon for one partner to believe the other spouse will change their mind once they are married. Do not bank on this; it is very manipulative and deadly to a relationship. Be sure you share common values on children and parenting skills.
If you are blending families from previous relationships know that you are not only marrying your spouse but you have now gained relationships with their children and that child's other parent. Discuss strategies for blending all the relationships as well as define roles. It is also important to discuss the roles, if any, you play in each child's life when it comes to discipline, finances, and role modeling. It is a delicate balance being a step-parent. Define the roles and know there will be many bumps along the road.
When Mike and I were first married we both had different expectations of me as a wife. At that time I was working full time in a job that was stressful, going to graduate school three quarters time, doing a twenty hour a week internship, developing my research for my sixty page thesis while attempting to be the perfect Martha Stewart wife. As the months passed I became increasingly frustrated to the point of insanity for not living up to my expectation of giving Mike perfection in every area of our relationship. However, Mike's expectations of me as a wife were very different. It turns out he had little interest in a Martha Stewart-worthy wife! It was a very life changing conversation when we finally sat down and we discussed what he wanted and needed in a wife. We also discussed how I viewed his role as a husband. It led to many conversations that have helped set us up for success.
Being a married single
This is the best phrase I can use to describe being a police officer's wife. It is a challenging lifestyle because the LEO's job will become a third entity in the marriage. That is because being a cop is more than just a job, it is an identity that is carried with them at all times. Spouses of cops need to be willing to sacrifice beyond the normal call of marriage for the sake of the job. Before becoming married to a cop be sure your personality is suited for this lifestyle. Talk to spouses of cops and go in with eyes wide open of what is required. There are reasons LE has a high divorce rate. If you are the LEO, work hard to include your future spouse in your life and to develop interests outside of the cop world. Nurture all dimensions of your relationship.
Being engaged is so much more than just planning the wedding. It is also about building a foundation for your relationship that is rock solid so that you can build a lifetime together. The above are just a few areas for discussion before getting married. Other topics include communication styles, sex, spiritual beliefs, recreation, hobbies, friends, families of origin, and even what constitutes a clean home. Do not assume because you are similar in other areas all of these will work out after wedding. Seek out self-training in marriage survival skills by reading books and attending couples counseling, plus a premarital education seminar, and by seeking the counsel of successful marrieds. Doing this at the start of our marriage has helped us celebrate 15 years this month!