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3 Ways to Improve Relational Communication Before Marriage

*This is a guest post, written by Katie Taylor. See her bio at the end of this article.*

“Well, things will change when we get married.”
“Maybe he'll start to change when we live together.”
“She won’t be so bossy or controlling when we get married.”
“It'll just be different when we're married.”


In a world full of social media, most people only show the highlight reel of marriage. The late night arguments, the days where you barely want to even hear your partner's voice, or the fear that you've made a big mistake are not often post-worthy messages. Here's the unfortunate truth- marriage isn’t always going to be rainbows, butterflies, and beautifully manicured photos. There are going to be hard days, hard conversations, and really hard seasons that the two of you will have to work through. But don’t be discouraged - there are going to be really special, beautiful, and life-giving moments as well! The point is not that marriage isn’t supposed to be a wonderful mingling of two souls (because it absolutely is), but the point is that creating a healthy marriage doesn’t start on your wedding day... it starts long before. 

Couples who engage in premarital conversations enter into a marriage more equipped, prepared, and have stored up in their minds information that will come in handy down the road. The sooner you can begin putting these concepts into practice, the sooner you will begin to realize that marriage (and relationships in general) requires work. 

In doing research, there are 3 steps that I'm going to run through with you in order to begin practicing the conversation now. Hopefully these steps will be practical, beneficial, and make you feel less alone or crazy for the way that your relationship sometimes is. In no way are these all that you need to maintain a healthy marriage, but they are a few steps that can start the conversation.


1. Become More Emotionally Intelligent

Dr. John Gottman (2007) argues that “happily married couples aren’t smarter, richer, or more psychologically astute than others. But in their day-to-day lives, they have hit upon a dynamic that keeps their negative thoughts and feelings about each other (which all couples have) from overwhelming their positive ones.” Gottman challenges couples to practice having an attitude of positivity that trumps negativity. You are not the only one who sometimes has negative feelings towards your significant other - but what if for every one negative thought you had about your partner you looked at three reasons you fell in love with them in the first place? 

One Negative Thought
“I am a little upset because I wish that I had come home to cleaned dishes.”

Three Positive Thoughts
“They are working really hard at work to help support our family.”
“The way that they are unbelievably patient with me when I am overwhelmed makes me feel comforted.”
“They never make me question if I am loved by reminding me throughout the day that they love me.”

Having positive thoughts like this will help redirect your attention not so much to what you wish they had done - but to what you are so grateful for about them! Gottman (2015) says that “the more emotionally intelligent a couple - the better they are able to understand, honor, and respect each other and their marriage - the more likely that they will indeed live happily ever after...as simple as it sounds, developing this ability can keep husband and wife on the positive side of the divorce odds.”



2. Experience vs. Expectation

Do you ever go into a situation with an idea in your head about what you are expecting? Then, just like the situation above, you are let down and disappointed with the outcome? It is important to let go of unrealistic expectations, and to have conversations with your partner about future expectations. As mentioned before, our society is so inflated with what a “picture perfect” and “ideal” romantic relationship looks like. It looks like a tidy house and perfectly posed photos, it looks like smiles and no tears, and it looks like a partner who never irritates or argues with you - and that is what our internal framework is beginning to be based off of. We watch televisions shows that give us (I’m sorry to tell you but...) an unrealistic view of life and love. Therefore, expectations need to be talked about in advance. Who is going to do the laundry around the house? Who is going to do the cooking? Who will pick the kids up? Will you have kids? Will you have a shared bank account or will you have your own?

These are questions that needto be talked about prior to marriage - because as harsh as it sounds, the answers most likely will not change after you get married. If you enter into a marriage expecting that you will have kids and your partner knows that they do not want children, this could cause an incredible amount of tension and disappointment. You could have resentment for them not wanting children, but if you do have kids and they didn’t want them, your partner could have resentment towards you for that decision as well. If you assume and expect for your partner to cook every night but they would rather do the dishes or mow the lawn, so they slack in the cooking department, your expectations do not match up with your experience. The reality of it is that a difference in experience and expectation creates a gap in your relationships, and this gap can lead to frustration.

This frustration can be explained by the Expectancy Violation Theory. Judee Burgoon explains this as “what people expect to do in interpersonal interactions. Expectations are enduring cognitions about the behavior anticipated of others.” Burgoon explains that the “more a violation departs from the expected pattern, the larger effect.” There will be some moments that our expectations are unmet, but they will not be as detrimental as others. These unmet expectations could eventually lead to boil over into a never-ending fight between yourself and your partner. 

In order to avoid having a gap between expectation and experience the size of the Grand Canyon, conversation is crucial. Tell one another what you are thinking - your partner cannot read your mind whether you wish they could or not. Have open, honest, and mutual conversation about what your expectations are, and hopefully that will help bridge the gap between expectation and experience. This will be crucial to maintain life-long. This is not a one time conversation, but is something that should be practiced for the duration of your relationship. The more open you are with one another, the more you will be able to work together and not against each other. 





3. Being a Team

I recently heard a woman who has been married for 32 years say “marriage shows your true self. The ring on your and your partner's finger is a reminder saying ‘now that I know who you are, I still choose you.’” At this point in the article, we all know that marriage is going to be bumpy sometimes - but we also know that it is a commitment. This means you can’t run. This means problems won’t solve themselves, and you will need to hash out your conflict in a constructive way. This means you are a team. 

I grew up an athlete and being a team player was something that always was drilled into my brain. Team first. Help one another. Cheer one another on. Communicate. When all of these are done, you will not only have more fun, but you will actually perform better as well. This is the same case in marriage - when you put your partner first, help one another, cheer each other on, and communicate - you will have more funand your marriage will be able to work more successfully. Dr. Kristy Koser (PhD, LPC, LPCC) says that everyone gets “stuck” in their relationships - but those who are able to have a team dynamic and a secure relationship are able to get “unstuck” quicker, more effectively, and will get stuck less often. Laurie Puhn (2010) discusses this topic in her book “Fight Less, Love More” and gives couples practical steps towards being more cohesive as a team. One piece of advice that Puhn gives couples is the tip to being one another’s biggest cheerleader.  She says that “while most jobs can be done by any number of people, if you allow the job of being a loving, caring, appreciative cheerleader for your husband, wife, or partner fall to someone else, your relationship will most definitely suffer.”

The role of “head cheerleader” to your partner should be one of the jobs and roles that you take most seriously in your life. This means appreciate the little things they do, as well as the big ones. It means listening listening and encouraging. It means not running away from conflict, but moving towards it so that growth can come out of it. It means looking at the ring on your finger and always reminding yourself and your partner “I choose you. I choose this team. I choose us. Forever.” 

Through being emotionally intelligent, discussing expectations, and always choosing to be a team player, my hope is that you will begin to see the positive impacts from all three of these tips form in your relationship before marriage even begins! If you are already married, they are still practical action steps to take that might begin to ease tension and bring more life back into your relationship! 




References

Burgoon, J. K. (2015). Expectancy violations theory. The International Encyclopedia of Interpersonal Communicationhttps://doi.org/10.1002/9781118540190.wbeic102

Gottman, J. M., & Silver, N Nan Silver. Why Marriages Succeed or Fail: and How You Can              Make Yours Last. Bloomsbury Pub., 2007.

Puhn, L. (2010). Fight Less, Love More: 5-Minute Conversations to Change Your Relationship                    without Blowing Up or Giving In. Rodale.


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