Slowing down the wedding can be painful. We’ve been there with quite a few couples. Once they have made up their minds that they want to be married, it can be full speed ahead. But is that always wise?
Yes, there are couples that have waited overly long, who have been dating or engaged for years and years. Sometimes this is because the relationship is wrong but neither person is willing to pull the plug. Other times it is because the anxiety of being sure keeps them from pulling the trigger. I am not talking about these relationships. I am concerned with the couples who are willing and able, but not ready.
What makes a couple ready to exchange rings?
- They have been honest with their expectations. We tell pre-married couples that they must assume that “what you see is what you get”. That requires that both people are accurately representing who they are and what they want. There is no bait and switch within a successful marriage.
- They are adept at managing their emotions. Emotional regulation is a key skill for a secure relationship. When conflict hits, coloring within the lines is necessary. No one wants to be in a relationship with a rageful or hysteria-driven mate.
- They are able to forgive easily. Stewing for days or even hours is corrosive in a marriage. Holding grudges or keeping score weakens the bond. The answer is to be quick to reconcile, especially the little missteps we all take.
- They are open and realistic about their challenges. It is essential to talk courageously about any concerns you have about doing life together. Avoiding painful topics doesn’t make them go away, it just delays their appearance. With good preparation you may be able to lessen the impact of the negative elements you face.
- They have talked extensively about their family systems. Our families have a huge influence on our development into adults. This is not news. We cannot separate ourselves from where we came from, although we can differentiate and leave behind some of the unwanted elements we collected along the way. Be sure you let your partner have a deep and wide view into your upbringing.
- They pursue growth and maturity in their personal lives. Couples that are not satisfied with the status quo are much more likely to succeed in marriage. They don’t want to be a twenty-year-old in a forty-year-olds’ body.
- They manage the practical side of life well. They are responsible with money and commitments and time management. They rein in their desires and provide for the future. They take their employment seriously.
- They have great attitudes. Their demeanor attracts people and they have good friends. They are trustworthy and kind. They smile a lot. They compromise.
- They treat everyone with respect. It is not only the people they like, admire or agree with that they treat well. Humility is a value they embrace.
- They follow God. He is the source from which they draw their strength in both the good times and the difficult times. As a result they love well.
Back in the day (the late 1960’s) our band signed with a now long defunct record company, Dot Records. Many experts consider this era the pinnacle of the record business, where every company was scrambling for talent to promote. Money was being spent on artists with potential, as opposed to those with a solid track record. We recorded some vocal tracks at a cool little pro studio (Alamo) in North Hollywood, and the now famous Wrecking Crew provided the instrumental tracks. We were on our way. It was going to be the “big time” for us.
But then the bottom dropped out. Dot Records went bankrupt and shut down and we were left with a worthless contract. We were looked at by a couple of other companies, but didn’t generate enough interest to get picked up.
What do you do when disappointment comes your way?
Yes, grief ensued in all it’s glory: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I know we, the band, felt all of those things. But what did we DO that got us through the disappointment?
- We kept on going. We didn’t let the demise of the company mean the demise of us. We took action and started looking around for other options. Although we did not ultimately get where we had hoped, we met a lot of really great people along the way.
- We didn’t blame people. Everyone involved was affected by the company closure. People lost their jobs and had to find new employment. Trying to pin the loss on someone was unproductive: it wouldn’t have changed the outcome.
- We managed our feelings by processing together. Individually isolated we might have leaned toward pessimism or bitterness. Instead we supported each other by affirming our worth in a very musician kind of way: we spent more time practicing together and wrote more songs. We released the pent-up energy in a positive manner.
We all have had, and are going to continue to have setbacks in our lives. It is inevitable because we live in a competitive world. Your needs, wants and desires compete with other people’s at times, and you won’t always have things your way. Or circumstances emerge that are either not controllable or favorable to you and you have to adjust. It is disappointing.
The kind of work we do at The Relationship Center is largely helping people manage these challenges. We guide them through the grief, power struggles, trust issues and marital drifting that occurs, particularly in long-term relationships.
Will you see these occasions as opportunities for growth? Will you allow your feelings to accept the losses in a realistic manner without over or under reacting to them? In a culture like ours which is principally person-centered, it can be really hard to do. But that is what maturity is all about.
There are times in counseling, when clients are resistant to talking about their childhood. The most common reason is because they say they don’t want to blame their parents for their current situation or state of mind.
The truth is, we don’t want to blame their parents either. Blaming gets us nowhere. Very few parents ever get up in the morning thinking “How can I mess my child up today?” That would be just plain evil. But parents have an enormous effect on the development of their children, and understanding one’s family of origin yields great insight. What kinds of insight? Often looking at what was “normal” in a family but wasn’t healthy gives us a clue to the blind spots that someone might be carrying.
- Was there heavy drinking or illegal drugs?
- Was the home environment tense all the time?
- Was there constant criticism?
- Did a parent hold impossibly high expectations and could never be pleased?
- Was there physical or emotional abuse?
- Were there relational fractures or abandonment?
- Was there poverty or deprivation?
- Was there wealth that created entitlement or superiority?
- Was there unearned or overstated parental praise that created an inflated self image?
- Was a parent or sibling frequently depressed, anxious or mentally or physically sick?
All these conditions, if normalized, have the potential to promote maladaptive coping mechanisms. They can become strategies for survival during our child and adolescent years, but ones that may challenge or destroy relationships or become self-destructive when we become independent adults.
What are some of these maladaptive coping mechanisms?
- Anger, rage, passive-aggressive behavior – resentment
- Withdrawal – timidity – dissociation – depression
- Substance abuse or other forms of self harm
- Lying, deception, shaming, blaming
I think you get the point that these are all negative and unhealthy responses under normal circumstances. They are also learned behaviors that can be unlearned when the realization of their destructive potential settles in. As I have stated in an earlier post, sometimes “our feelings haven’t caught up with our reality”. Usually this is a good thing. We are most likely safer and more powerful than we were as a child. Or at least we have more control or options regarding our circumstances and can make decisions based on reality.
Probably none of our parents did everything optimally. Most of them did their best based on their history and experience in the families they grew up in, or the education they picked up along the way. Each new generation has the opportunity to learn from the successes or failures of the previous generations and grow accordingly. The process often requires facing some grief and entering into a fearless self examination. Some people may come down off pedestals during our exploration, perhaps even ourselves. If you are a seeker after truth you will understand the value of this and proceed with the reassurance that God is with you in this journey.
Psalm 139:23 (NLT) Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.