Husband & Wife
● By Style
I receive at least one call a week from a newly engaged couple looking to start premarital counseling.
What many of them don’t realize is that they are starting the process rather late. Couples who start counseling prior to being engaged are in a far better position to make healthier and more informed decisions, compared to those who do it as an afterthought. In honor of all the newly engaged couples this year, I decided to focus on a few of the most common conflicts I see almost every year in premarital counseling.
Q: My fiancée can’t stand my mother, but I want so bad for them to get along. What do I do?
Bob: Significant conflict between your fiancée and mother can be very stressful and potentially destructive to your relationship. However, with maturity and mutual respect, this may merely be a bump in the road. It will be difficult, but you need to accept the fact the two women in your life don’t get along. You can’t change them, or fix things. This is a common problem and while sometimes it is merely differences in personality, there are usually deeper issues that, if left to simmer for years, WILL impact your marriage. Your relationship with each of them is separate, but your primary responsibility is to the marriage, not your parents; so if taking sides is unavoidable, choose your spouse. Doing less than this may eventually lead to the death of your marriage.
Q: My fiancé and I are both in our 40s and are established with houses of our own. How do we bring everything together once we’re married?
Bob: I encourage couples to understand how money and individual property are very symbolic in a marriage. Over the years, I have observed many couples that, by keeping their monies separate, are very often playing out a greater dynamic issue in their marriage. In many ways they live separate lives, have little accountability to each other, and frequently aren’t able to fully trust each other. Many of these couples lack the security usually enjoyed by couples that are “all in.” As you work out the logistics of bringing two lives together financially, it is possible that your situation has unique circumstances warranting unique solutions, such as separate accounts; however, be very intentional about doing so in a way that puts the marriage first.
Q: While I admit I’m not the tidiest housekeeper, my fiancé is obsessive about keeping a clean house. I’m comfortable in my “mess,” but it’s causing a lot of conflict. How do we find a middle ground where we’re both satisfied?
Bob: Many men, whose housekeeping expectations have not been met, internalize their disappointments as their spouse not caring about their feelings or what is important to them. While it wouldn’t be healthy for him to expect you to be just like his mother, nor for you to try to be, being willing to make realistic adjustments tells him you are listening and you really do care about what is important to him. This issue is usually part personality and part expectations from childhood. These expectations need to be balanced between what is “ideal” (usually based on childhood experiences), with the reality of personality differences, current lifestyle, and sex roles within your relationship. Work out a new agreement together with realistic expectations – including things he can do to help you with the process.
Q: I am getting married in three months and am feeling a lot of anxiety about my credit card debt I have been hiding from my fiancée. I know I can’t continue to hide this from her, what do I do?
Bob: It may be tempting to continue hiding difficult-to-confront issues, but doing so will harm the relationship. When people marry, it is important for the integrity of the relationship that they do so fully through free will. If you enter into this marriage before disclosing the debt to your fiancée, you are in essence taking away her free will. It boils down to the point that you won’t be whom she thinks she is marrying, since she wouldn’t have the choice NOT to marry you if the debt were a “deal killer.” I strongly recommend telling your fiancée about your debt, today if possible. While there are no guarantees, it is an essential first step to rebuilding trust and respecting her.
MORE Q&A with Therapist Bob
Q: My new husband and I are talking about having a baby together. He is outraged because he says a child will hamper his ability to travel for his job, but I can’t stand the thought of never being a mother. How can we both be happy?
Bob: Couples often get together during a time in their lives when they are focused on goals for success in the workplace; or for other reasons they decide having children is not important to them. However, down the road, it’s very common for many to change their minds about becoming a parent. For the spouse that still doesn’t want to have a child, it can feel like a betrayal or “breach of contract” when the other partner seemingly just changes their mind. Couples need to understand the reality that people change their minds, and their priorities shift as they mature. It is important for couples to acknowledge and respect the agreements they made together early in the relationship, as well as have understanding and empathy for changes that usually do happen. Whether you specifically addressed children prior to marriage or not, now would be a good time to reassess all your changing expectations and priorities as your relationship matures.