Summer love is in full swing, especially with some great tunes! Personally, I am digging Taylor Swift’s break up song, as I walk around feeling like I’m “22” and navigating some seriously “Blurred Lines.” Many are probably dancing until the crack of dawn out to “Get Lucky” and looking for that “Ooh-la-la.” But, if you have managed to get past all of this and decided to tie the knot, you are now playing in a whole different ballpark. You are less focused on which parties to attend and more focused on hosting the biggest event of your life. Excited yet nervous at the same time, you have some major issues to work out with your significant other. After 15 years of helping couples with their prenups, and sharing my words of wisdom as a matrimonial lawyer on things to avoid, here are my top 5 tips:
1. Talk about finances– you may not want to do a prenup, but at least have the discussion about (a)what you think should be kept separate, (b) what you consider to be joint, and (c) how you will handle the household budget. If you are willing to memorialize this in a prenup, even better. These do not cost a lot of money and buy you a tremendous peace of mind. In the meantime, if you feel overwhelmed by money talks or find that the two parties have vastly different views on spending vs. saving, go meet with a financial planner. On a more pratical and immediate level, however, you need to set a realistic wedding and honeymoon budget. These are not minor or easy discussions, and they often involve other family members, so these can be fairly sensitive discussions– better to get these out of the way sooner rather than later under incredibly calm (preferrably sober) circumstances. .
2. Premarital counseling– This is totally different from couples counseling that you seek when things are already breaking down– if you are there, that is NOT a good sign. What I am talking about is a pro-active effort to get some professional advice on strategies that will enhance your relationship. Many religious institutions offer courses, and there are some great on-line resources or workshops for couples, just one weekend if you like, where you can have a facilitated dialogue about how you envision your partnership working. What is important to you in a spouse? What are that person’s needs and desires? Do you share the same core values and vision for the future? How can you ensure that you continue to communicate well? Can you establish some rules for resolving conflict? A quick workbook that you can purchase to help you with these discussions is “Focus on Forever,” which is available at www.aaml.org.
3. Learn Your Love Languages– Dr. Chapman wrote an entire book about this, but you also go to his website www.5lovelanguages.com and take a 4 minute quiz to determine your love languages. Rarely do we pick a partner with the same love language as ours, so you need to learn to use theirs and appreciate when they are expressing love in their own language. For example, mine is Quality Time- you will know that I love you if I make time for you, and similarly I will know that you love me if you make time for me. If I am paired up with someone who needs Words of Affirmation, I am going to have to make a serious effort to praise that person.
4. Build Your House– I’m not suggesting you literally go buy a bunch of bricks, but you need to work on your emotional foundation every day. Don’t take each other for granted– just because you put a ring on someone’s finger, does not mean you have purchased them. Dr. Gottman talks about building on your friendship, which is your foundation, and working through your conflict resolution skills by avoiding the four dark horsemen. (Get his book: Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work). With trust and respect as your two pillars, you can slap that roof on top and work on nuturing your dreams and aspirations together.
5. Set Boundaries– Dr. Cloud wrote a great book, “Boundaries in Marriage,” which explains the need for us to remain true to ourselves while forming a partnership. You don’t actually become one, you remain two separate individuals that are now overlaping in large areas of your life. To make this union work, you have to know and respect each other’s boundaries. For example, my work and my son are top priorities in my life, and these are fully my own domain. If anyone ever tried to undermine either of these two aspects of my life, they would at the speed of light see me bail. It is okay to have a zero tolerance policy on certain things like drugs, adultery, smoking, anger management issues… the point is that Mr. or Mrs. Right will know how to walk that line.
Not everyone will be able to successfully negotiate all the details of merging two households, and that’s totally okay– better to find out sooner rather than later, trust me on that one! This is why I would recommend at least a nine-month engagement period, and there really is no better way of knowing someone than when you live with them. While doing so, pay attention to your feelings, and how others around you perceive the whole situation. Is everyone around you supportive, or are they expressing concern? Are you happy, or are you dreading each and every decision that needs to be made? Don’t ignore your gut– your instincts are there to protect you. If you need more time to sort things out, someone that loves you will understand and will not try to pressure you. Don’t let anyone rush you or try to guilt you into doing something you are not ready to do- ever.
I have talked with a lot of people that have called off engagements– both on a professional and personal level. Not a single one has ever regretted that decision. Meanwhile, over the years I have had to counsel over 1,000 people going through a divorce, and every single one that ignorned the signs has regretted lacking the courage to call it quits before the big day.
The reason it is such a big day is precisely because marriage is not easy– it is hard work, and you need to take your time to find the right partner that is not just your “ooh la la,” but also your rock. Finding someone to have fun with is rather easy, but when you come across someone you can trust and respect and grow with–now that is a challenge. You need someone that you can not just build a house with, but a life together– that requires loyalty, and a commitment to working things out and never taking each other for granted. Without these sentiments, the ring, the house, the big party are all meaningless.
So, to those of you that have managed to find that meaningful someone, I send you my heartfelt congrats! I know the journey was not easy, and is probably littered with discarded frogs along the way, but now you are about to close that chapter and start a new life, which is a huge cause for celebration– just remember my 5 tips and have a blast!
by Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.