8 Conversations To Have Before You Say ‘I Do’

Antique wedding car with just married sign

Couples are just trying to get it right. Stay connected. Approach their relationship with effort and intention. Create the conversations. Build and maintain a happy relationship.

But we all know that happily ever after doesn’t happen for everyone.

As a marriage therapist, I see a lot of couples.  A lot. A lot of heartbreak. A lot of sadness. Often – eventually – a lot of happiness and smiles. I see them thinking, feeling that “yes, we are going to make it.” Those are the moments that as a therapist I hang on to. Embrace. Run towards.

Although many of the couples I work with are married, some are not. Those couples see me for premarital counseling. Those same couples want to do what it takes to ensure that before they take the proverbial ‘walk down the aisle’, they are on the same page and those small pesky issues don’t become bigger issues that wreak havoc and end their relationship.

Regardless of your opinion about marital/premarital counseling, I am not here to change your mind.

What I  do want to say is that there is significant long term benefit for couples to take the time to engage in these necessary conversations before they get married rather than waiting (like MANY do) until they are married, years pass, and discord and strife takes over a once happy couple…

1.) Money. We all have a relationship with money. What’s yours? How do you view money? Are you a spender or a saver? If you have disposable income, how do you spend it? Do you think you should have separate or joint accounts, or both? Does one of you make more money than the other? If so, how will you share the expenses? What about big purchases? Do you have a budget? How are/will the costs of the home being paid? What about going out? Who takes on that expense? Do you get a bonus at work? What will you do with that money? Talking about money can be a step towards preventing financial infidelity.

2.) Sex. Yep. We HAVE to talk about sex. Sex is an integral and health component of a relationship. Its the barometer of the relationship. Did you talk about sex in your household growing up? Was it taboo? Does religion play a part in your sexual life? What does sex mean to you? How often do you like to have sex? Do you have expectations about sex?  Do you both feel comfortable and safe talking your needs with each other? Why or why not? How does your partner respond when you talk about your sexual needs? Is he/she offended? Does he/she feel threatened?

3.) Extended family. What are the differences in your family of origin? Do your families get along? How significant are the differences? How similar are they? For example, do you come from a family of yellers? Was it hard to express yourself? Did people talk over you? (This often goes to communication styles) What are your family traditions? Do you have any? Will there be a conflict between the traditions – especially around holiday time?

4.) Values. Do you have similar or different values? Honesty? Integrity? Family? Work? Religion? Lifestyle? Are you on the same page? Do you argue about them now? If there are differences, are they difficult to resolve? How important are your values?  Is there room for compromise?

5.) Lifestyle. What is your lifestyle like? What are the similarities vs. the differences? How big are they? Is one active and one a couch potato? How do you view your down time? What about your use of social media? What are the boundaries? How do you spend your time away from work? What are the expectations regarding time together vs time apart?

6.) Communication styles. Are you a distancer or a pursuer? Do you lean in towards conflict (this is not about being confrontative – big difference) or go running for the hills and avoid conflict. John Gottman believes that the tendency of men to withdraw and women to pursue is wired into our physiology and reflects a basic gender difference and notes that this pattern is extremely common and is a major contributor to marital breakdown. Problems with communication is the number one complaint expressed by couples.

7.) Work demands/balance. How important is your work to you? Are you able to balance both work and home demands? How do you do it? Do you worry that once married, this will change? Does your partner understand/support your work – especially if its overly demanding on your time? Do you discuss the importance of time apart vs time together? Does that worry you? Do you have your own friends and interests outside of the relationship?

8.) Children. Do you want children? How many? What are your parenting styles? Are they similar? How will you reconcile the differences in how you were raised and how you wish to parent if this exists? Do you plan to parent how your parents raised you? What would having a family look like? Who will stay home? Will you both need to work? What about time away from the children? What are your thoughts about how you will go about nurturing the relationship once children arrive on the scene.

Obviously, this listed isn’t inclusive, but it does give you a start.

Are you ready to walk down the aisle, but still feel that you have unresolved issues? Do these questions make you ponder your relationship and whether or not you are making the right decision?

Answering yes to any of those questions might indicate that premarital counseling should be considered.

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Want more info: 

A Case for Premarital Counseling

Finding Your Way Back From Financial Infidelity

3 Harmful Communication Patterns in Relationships

8 Ways to ‘Cure’ the Holiday Hangover (and tackle the winter blahs!)

Following a 4 mile run this past Sunday (well actually 3.8 but doesn’t 4 sound so much better?? so close!) in warm weather (for January), our endorphins were pumping and all that energy resulted in a positive mood and prompted us to finally take down our Christmas tree – the tree that has been sitting “naked” for the past couple of days. That same tree, mind you, once taken down, often symbolizes the end of another holiday season.

Our "before" Christmas tree

Our “before” Christmas tree

On the heels of Halloween ending and cooler days and nights prevail, our lives move at rapid speed. Hallmark is all over the holiday season like “white on rice”, which for them begins when Halloween decorations go on sale at 50% off! Maybe even before (ugh!!)

Holiday time is consistent with (over) spending on gifts, attending parties, decorations, excitement as well as dread, the energy with sometimes equal amounts of drama and tension, an abundance of FOOD, and holiday cheer. It’s the time of year that elevates and changes a person’s mood (both good and bad) but can result in “crashing” with a holiday hangover come January 2nd. The bills that promptly arrive in the mail certainly don’t help the situation.

Which begs the question. What can top all that excitement over the last two months when ol’ man winter brings us short and cold days with inclement weather, dark mornings and evenings, no breaks until mid February (unless you are lucky enough to get MLK day off), and little to no sunshine?

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Well, when saddled up against all flurry and excitement, people to see and places to go, the answer would probably be, not much.

But perspective is everything. So is attitude.

Why not consider these 8 ways to curb your holiday hangover, make the polar vortex days of winter feel a little less cold, a little more fun, and hopefully enriching – sans a Bloody Mary!

1. Create a Happiness Jar. This creative idea was created by Elizabeth Gilbert. In essence, grab a scrap of paper and write down upon it the happiest moment of that day. Put a date on it, fold it up and stick it in the jar. That’s it! The result can be enormous — not only the pleasure of finding a good moment in each day (for even the horrible days have one least-bad moment) but the lasting benefits of recording that moment forever. Try it! I have started my own.

2. Sunshine on my shoulders. (Who, besides me, just thought of the John Denver song?) A small amount of sunshine exposure without sunscreen for about 20-25 minutes can increase serotonin and improve your mood. The warmth on our face makes us feel good, good to be alive!
young sporty woman runing and jumping on meadow

3. Plan a short trip. This could involve a weekend jaunt somewhere or part of the weekend. It could even include a day trip. A trip to a museum, a historical place, or a short drive to an unknown place. We have started to plan a couple of short weekend trips in the next few months. There is fun in just the excitement of planning and looking forward to something. We all need something to look forward to, both short and long term plans that keep us motivated, lift our mood, and help us through those long, cold days of winter.

4. Mindfulness. Be. In.The. Moment. Appreciate the quiet. Curl up and read a book. Practice gratitude for all the things you have. Be kind to yourself.

5. The inside job. Who doesn’t have a project (or 10) that they have been putting off? I dare say so few of us. Certainly not me. Make a commitment to yourself to tackle some of your inside projects that have been on hold. I have decided to get my pictures in order – you know the old fashioned kind! The kind you put in a photo album that is in your living room that you can look through together or when you have company. Not everything we do today has to be digital.  A feeling of accomplishment will wash over you!

6. Give back.  We all know that helping others, helps ourselves. It doesn’t have to be intensive, overly time consuming, or occur only during the holidays when demand is higher. Its the time in between the holidays, even if its just a few hours a month. It can make a world of difference in someone’s life. It not only encourages altruism but we feel good when we can pay it forward. It also helps create gratitude in our own life.

7. Start a hobby. I don’t know about you, but this year I have decided to use some of my time outside of work doing something fun. Join a book club, take up dance, learn a new language, or start a new activity/exercise. Since moving to NYC, I have been cranking out some serious work hours and have not had the time (or if I did, I didn’t use the time to add a hobby to my lifestyle). That is changing! If one hobby doesn’t work out, try another one. There are plenty out there.

8. Seek help. However, sometimes doing any of these suggestions feels arduous and difficult and could be the case if you are one of the 12 million people who struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Psychotherapy, light therapy, exercise, medication, and diet changes have all been proven as effective treatments for SAD. For others, Major Depression, a serious mental illness (and not simply the blues), can significantly affect a person’s ability to partake in any of these activities. Psychotherapy and/or medication among other resources can be of help. Get the help you need.

Before you know it, we will be looking at winter in our rear view mirror – and looking at this instead!

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Goal Setting in 2015: 10 Questions to Ask Yourself

New Year 2015

Whether we like it or not, a new year is right around the corner. Literally. The months that consume a year have been chiseled down to mere hours. Time continues to elapse. Quickly. Especially as we age.

A new year causes us to reflect, ponder, contemplate, change, and be introspective. Despite knowing that we can make changes any time in our life, there is something about the celebration of the new year that makes it much more real, tangible, giving it deeper meaning and significance. Yet, it’s this deeper meaning and significance that creates the space for pressure to exist.

Which of course, begs the question.

How will 2015 be different than 2014?

But, let’s be honest. That specific question is a very small piece of the bigger puzzle. To answer that proverbial question, several other questions – equally important – take center stage as we ring in a new year full of hope, promise, and the possibility of change.

10 (plus) questions to ask AND answer for the coming year:

1.) What didn’t I accomplish in 2014 that I thought I would? Why didn’t I? Do I want to move this goal into the next year or decide that that particular goal for myself has changed its importance, relevance, and significance?

2.) What prevents me from taking the necessary steps to achieve my goals? What are the feelings that arise when I think about the goals that I have set for myself?

3.) What are my triggers? What are the steps I need to take and plan for to prevent me from being sidelined by these triggers?

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4.) What are my apprehensions about achieving my goals and dreams? Fear of failure? Fear of success?

5.) Will my success create a higher bar? If so, how do I feel and think about that? Will that make me run away and ignore the goal and move forward and achieve the goal?

6.) Are my goal(s) realistic or lofty? Why do I think this way?

7.) Is there anyone that would try to prevent me from achieving my goals and making changes for the new year? If so, who are these people and how will I prevent this from happening?

8.) Can I visualize my goals? (Being able to visualize a goal helps us that much more to achieving it). When I visualize this goal being accomplished what kind of feelings arise? Will these feelings propel me to run or stay the course?

9.) Beyond myself, do I have the resources available to help me achieve my goals or am I on my own?

10.) How bad do I really want it? How much “skin” do I have in the game? How vested am I in making these changes and reaching my goals? Am I invested enough so when people and other triggers come up, I can work through them and get to my end game?

Let’s not forget that making changes for the coming year is not just about creating a list of resolutions. It’s about about asking yourself the necessary questions so you have greater success at achieving your goals.

So, as I answer those questions myself, I ask you the same – how will 2015 be different for you?

Happy New Year! Be the game changer in your life! Make it GRAND!!

Kristin 

Kristen headshots 2012