Top five questions couples should ask themselves – and each other – before getting married.

1. Do you have a firm sense of who you are as an individual? Does your partner have an equally mature understanding of who he is?

Marriage is more than a chance to share the bills and bed! Successful marriage involves a complex process where two individuals come together and share themselves with the other in order to reap the many benefits of being in a real, loving, committed relationship. You can’t fully give of yourself to your mate if you don’t know what you have to offer. You’ll never be capable of revealing your deepest self – and therefore achieve true intimacy- if you don’t know who you are to begin with! If you don’t have your own life together – get it together first before you bring someone else into it. If you have unresolved issues – deal with them before they become yours together.

2. Are you joining together in marriage in order to give to your partner out of the abundance of your “fullness” and health (interdependent) or because you need the other person to fulfill your needs (dependent)?

Unfortunately, I would say that the vast majority of marriages, and nearly all new marriages, fall into the latter category. At first glance, clichés like “I’m nothing without you” or “you complete me” sound appropriate, and even romantic when conveyed in sappy love songs or movies. But they portray an immature relationship where one person is broken (and eventually less attractive to the maturing mate) without having their needs met by the other person. A full and healthy marriage is defined by two people who are capable of taking care of their own needs, controlling their own emotions, and fulfilling their own sense of completion – so much so that they have an abundance to share with their partner. These are the marriages that movies used to be written about!

3. How do you view conflict in a relationship?

As a terrible thing that means we’re doomed and should be avoided at all costs? As a fun and typical way to spend a Friday night?! Hopefully, its as a normal, natural, and even necessary reality that occurs when two separate, distinct individuals come together and, often for the first time, are forced to negotiate, change, and compromise in order to share their home, life, and dreams with another individual. Ultimately, this conflict is what makes us stronger, more mature individuals. Learn to do it well!

4. Do you share a common set of beliefs and values?

Compatibility is very important in any relationship, but let’s face it – you have already found each other, become attracted, and committed to each other to the point of becoming engaged. You are obviously compatible in many ways! As stated above, you will have to learn together to navigate the process of cooperating, adapting and growing as you deal with the ways that you are different from each other. In fact, these are often the reasons you were attracted to each other in the first place and, if not managed properly, could be the very same things that drive you apart! Learning to communicate, resolve differences, and just plain get along will come, often through a process where each of you changes some, learns new skills, drops old habits. Our beliefs system and values, however, are very close to our hearts and we are often less willing to compromise them. Be sure that you are committing to someone with whom you share a common belief system and never assume that this one will just change over time.

5.  Spend time “Mapping the Minefield”!

You know the Big Issues: Money, children, in-laws, hobbies, social lives, career decisions, religious practices, sex, the toothpaste. Work these issues through well before your wedding date and make sure that you at least have some basic understanding and common ground. If you have to, have the fight now instead of pretending that it will never come up! Then, commit to working together for the benefit of your relationship. And remember: In the scheme of things, how you determine the common parenting style you plan to employ with your future teenagers is exponentially more important than the color of the flowers what will be trampled by the end of the reception! Believe it or not, your mother would even rather you put off your wedding while you figure these things out than have you sleeping on her couch in six months!

…And PLEEEEESE – seek pre-marital counseling with a trusted therapist or clergy before you tie the knot!

Originally published in Shore Bride Magazine-Spring 2008.

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Kevin DeKam, MA, LLPC
Kevin DeKam is a Limited Licensed Professional Counselor who has been working with individuals and families for over a decade and with the Fountain Hill Center since 2006. Trained and oriented in family systems, his practice is largely focused on relationship issues. He also provides individual counseling to children, adolescents and adults on a variety of personal issues and he offers
some court-related services.
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