The institution of marriage has long been idealized in the United States, especially when compared to other developed nations in the world.
Here, getting married for the first time is a huge milestone in most people’s lives. Little girls dream about it. Mothers and fathers insist on it. The gay community lobbies for it. It is the norm within our society.
However, 40% - 50% of first-time marriages in the United States end in divorce. Clearly, most couples aren’t thinking about divorce when they are planning their wedding – but, given this statistic, they should. Divorce can be psychologically devastating. It can destroy your self-esteem. It can cripple you financially. It can negatively impact the wellbeing of your children. Choosing the right partner when it comes to marriage is the key to decreasing this statistic. Overall, fewer people would get married, but those marriages would have a far better chance of success.
Here are 7 things you need to know before taking the plunge so you can avoid divorce:
1. The Wedding Is Not The Goal
The goal is to create a fulfilling, sustainable marriage. The wedding is just the exciting beginning of (what is meant to be) a life-long partnership based on shared values and goals. Given the time, effort and money that goes into a wedding these days, it’s no surprise that it feels like a major accomplishment. And it is. However, the REAL accomplishment is in fulfilling your vows on a daily basis – “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part.” I know, I know. Making the wedding the goal is SO much easier. It is more immediate and you get to check the box afterward on your list of things to do before the age of 35. If you don’t shift your perspective on what is most important though, your odds of celebrating your 50th wedding anniversary are cut in half.
2. Invest More In The Honeymoon, Than The Wedding
There is a huge emphasis on weddings in our society. Weddings have become a major industry in their own right with the average wedding coming in around $30,000. And they typically take at least a year to plan. Family and friends are all involved in making this the celebration of your life. And there is huge emotional investment in a wedding. Everyone involved wants it to be just “perfect.” There is no such thing as perfect though. Social expectations around what a wedding “should be” often become more important than what it really is – a celebration of two people’s love and commitment to one another. In many ways, weddings are now more for the guests than the two people getting married. While celebration is important, the real celebration of the relationship occurs during the honeymoon as you begin to fulfill your vows of love, honor and respect. It is these first steps that set the stage for the rest of your married life. Honor that private time together as much as possible. It is rare to have such focused time together in our fast-paced society and it deserves to be cherished in its own right. This is where the real work of marriage begins.
3. What You Don’t Like About Your Partner Is Just As Important As What You Do Like
The old adage is true. Whatever you don’t like about your potential partner or their habits will only get worse after the wedding. Sweeping these little annoyances under the carpet in a pre-wedding glow of optimism will not serve you. Everyone knows that communication is one of the keys to a successful relationship. So, let’s be real and honest in acknowledging what we don’t like about each other before agreeing to a life-long commitment. No one is perfect. Really know your potential partner for who they are and not just what you would like them to be. If you can’t learn to love or, at best, accept those flaws about your partner, then you might want to re-think spending your life with them. Almost everyone I have coached going through a divorce can look back and identify the red flags that should have sent them running in the opposite direction. The seeds are planted here, but you need the courage to see them to make better decisions for yourself.
4. The Real You Is A Gift
No one is perfect – even you. Sharing your authentic self with your partner is a great gift and provides crucial information about whether your match will stand the test of time. So, no matter how embarrassing some of your personal habits might be, it is better to have them known by your partner now, rather than after you’re married. If this is the person you love – and who loves you just as much – there won’t be any negative judgment. And if there IS negative judgment, then this probably isn’t the right person for you. The person you decide to spend the rest of your life will love and appreciate everything about you, without any desire to change who you really are.
5. Shared Values Are Key to Successful Long-Term Relationships
Typical causes for divorce usually revolve around money, communication, and expectations – all superficial symptoms of misaligned values. Our values – like integrity, respect, family, love, achievement -- are immensely important. There are a few core values though, the ones that are most important, that determine how we view the world; how we think and act. And yet, when asked, very few people can name what their core values actually are, let alone what their partner’s might be. That’s the thing. Our values are unique to each of us and yet, even though we don’t acknowledge them, we assume that everyone shares our values – that they will think and act the way we do. That assumption causes huge misunderstandings and feelings of hurt and betrayal. When partners don’t know their values, they can’t know if they share the same outlook in life. And if they don’t share the same core values, they are potentially heading down two different paths in life.
6. Successful Marriages Take Work
Marriage is not easy. Love does not conquer all. The sheer act of living life can make us forget what is most important. Over time, partners can begin to take each other for granted. Major life transitions – such as having children, buying a house, changing jobs – test a relationship in ways you can’t imagine. While these transitions can be blessings, they ultimately change the dynamic of the relationship. It takes effort to avoid these relationship traps and adapt to life’s changes together. Be present with your partner. Be honest and sincere with each other to eliminate unfounded expectations and unrealistic assumptions that can lead to anger and resentment. Laugh together. Find appreciation and gratitude for each other every day.
7. Divorce Is Lonely and Expensive
It typically takes as much money and time to get divorced as it does to get married. And if you have children, it will be even more. The glory of marriage is in two people building a life together. Everything gets combined – income, assets, retirement funds, friends, furniture, etc. When that marriage breaks, everything gets divided. Divorce robs you of the income and lifestyle that you used to have. You will be with your children less. You will probably have to sell your house. Your retirement funds are depleted – from legal fees, as much as the division of assets – forcing you to work far longer than you had originally planned. And the friends you made as a couple are nowhere to be seen. All of a sudden you are behind the eight ball, older and single now, trying to re-build your life all by yourself. Marriage might not be easy, but divorce is downright hard.
Getting married is fabulous and exciting – but it is also a momentous decision that will impact your life forever. Be honest with yourself and choose your partner wisely.