Dr. Bill Cloke has worked with many couples in his long career, and there are few things he thinks you should know about your partner before you tie the knot.
We pan in on a newly married couple gazing lovingly at each other on the dance floor dressed in white and aglow with happiness and sweet expectation for a life together. They read their vows professing love sublime with misty eyed friends and family looking on. It’s a happy time for all, maybe one of the happiest times in life.
So what happens when the honeymoon is over and you are in the day-to-day with your mate for the next umpteen years? Soon enough married people become some kind of bastardized facsimile of their original family dynamic. So what can couple’s do to get a hedge on what the future holds long before the bells start ringing?
What are the factors that determine relationship happiness? What are the important ingredients for a happy marriage, and how are couples supposed to determine if they have those before they make what could be their biggest mistake or the best decision of their lives?
Here are 10 things every couple should talk about before any knots get tied.
1. Get a History Lesson. It is supremely important that you know what your mate has been through in his or her life. Rich, poor, happy, sad, alone, what happened in school, all the dish about the big moments and how they went down. How did Dad treat Mom or was there a Dad in the house? Did their family fight all the time? Did they ever discuss things below the surface or did they punish, abandon or beat each other up? Was Dad or Mom into the drink, drugs or popping pills? Were Dad and Mom faithful? It’s good to know just how far the apple does fall from that family tree.
2. What are Their Values? What do they hold dear, who are they committed to? Have they ever thought about it? Have they ever taken time out to consider who they are? Have they ever been in therapy of any kind? Have they been married before and did they take some time to consider what their part in the breaking apart of that marriage, if they were divorced?
3. Is there Rockin’ Sexual Attraction? This is a must. There has to be an attraction that is powerful to begin with. If the attraction is not strong in the beginning it will be gone before you know it. Sexual non-attraction is a perfect storm for extramarital affairs so choose wisely. Once an indiscretion occurs and there is not an agreement that it’s okay to have other sexual partners, it spells major trouble for trust and security. Also, check out what their moral values are and if they are able to live them not just talk about them.
4. Own up, Show Up and Be a Grown Up. Can your mate take responsibility for his or her mistakes, failures and foibles and own their part of a problem? Are they someone who always has to be right? Can they do what they say they will do? Can you count on them to be there when the chips are down or to be there when they say they will? Being a grown-up means that your mate is able and willing to look at themselves and then take action, changing when necessary, and is capable of acting unselfishly.
Watch for defensiveness, retaliation, withdrawal and criticism as negative factors that are ways of pumping one’s own personal issues onto one’s partner. Not a grown up thing to do.
5. Anger Management and Conflict Resolution Skills. Very necessary skills in a relationship. If your partner cannot control his or her anger, then it’s going to destroy the connection and it will take a long time to repair it each time. If that goes on and on then it will eventually erode the relationship. People need to learn how to stop, cool off and then come to the table and find a working solution.
That’s where family history, personal work and the ability to be responsible come in. Good conflict resolution skills are incredibly important for long-term happiness. Whatever you do, don’t think you can change someone once you get married. You better take them as they are because changing is really hard to do.
6. The ability to Function. If one or both partners have not resolved their personal life issues, they will infiltrate the primary support system. Team work, partnership and the ability to take care of one’s own end are critical for a balanced relationship. If one member of the relationship is not working, can’t find what they care about in life, are confused or unable to function is a basic ways, it will be overwhelming to both people and eventually will create resentment and anger. Know this going in. If they are between jobs during the courtship they might be that way during the marriage.
7. Sense of Humor. A healthy sense of humor is a critical factor not only in life but whenever there is a conflict. Being able to find humor in difficult situations is not only life sustaining but relationship sustaining.
8. Is there Empathy? Empathy is the most important relationship skill. Seeing what our partner is telling us from their point of view not only enables connection but will ease every conflict. Empathy is defined as “vicarious introspection,” which means that we are able to introspect from the other person’s point of view.
9. Trust and Comfort. It’s important to feel not only comfortable with our mate but that we can trust them. Trust is the foundation that relationships are built on. Being comfortable means that you feel accepted. If you feel that you need to “catch” a person who feels unattainable or unavailable, or somehow get them to accept and want you, then bark up another tree and get into therapy immediately. By the way, if you need to play games, manipulate or push your mate to get married you need to know now that it never works, so you can save yourself a lot of grief.
10. Are They A Good Listener? Does your mate have the ability to listen and then let you know that you are heard? If they don’t have that ability, you are going to be really frustrated later on. The ability to actively listen is an essential tool for harmony and keeping love alive.
Marriages fail because no one is listening and letting the other person know that they are understood—not necessarily that you agree, but that you get it. Acknowledgement and validation keep arguments from going out of control. If the other person does not feel heard, they are going to ramp it up and then it will spin into anger and more arguing. By the way, there are no good lovers just good listeners. The obvious meaning here is that love remains viable if we connect and that means good listening skills.
As I read over this list I’m thinking along with you, whew, this is complicated. Well, guess what, it is. There are a lot of pitfalls and black holes in relationships that we have to be aware of before we take the plunge.
For lasting happiness and for love and lust to remain active, we need to be able to fashion a connection and then learn how to keep it. That’s not necessarily a walk in the park but is ultimately doable. If your mate has the ability to stop, look, and listen you might be able to create something truly magical for the long haul. If not then you are in for some real difficult times.
If your partner has the ability to face up to their part in a problem and listen not only their ears but with their heart, they just might be able to pull off a real coup in the lasting love department. And hopefully you can have some kicks along the way.
Lead photo: Cameron Nordholm/Flickr
Wedding cake: Shelley Panzarella/Flickr