On the occasion of my wife and my 46th wedding anniversary, I’ve chosen to write about this topic which I feel is an extremely important one. The basis for my remarks is taken from over fifty years of my working with couples around their marital and family issues, some of which have been through the painful process of separation and divorce. Many couples who were able to salvage their marriages were not so deep into the negativity that usually surrounds such problems and were able to “mend fences” as it were.
When a couple first meet, there is an aura of excitement that tends to prevail that acts like a North wind pushing them to become more involved. The reasons might be sexual, common interests, an ease of conversation, meeting new people, sharing thoughts, ideas and feelings, just enjoying being together or all of the above. As they progress down that road, a greater sense of involvement might occur which, in turn, moves into discussion of a commitment to one another with each partner essentially promising not to see any other people with a promise of exclusivity. It is during this period that the couple should be getting to know each other … their habits, strengths and weaknesses, idiosyncrasies, fears, etc. Perhaps the most important aspect is to come to know about the other partner’s family of origin … the family in which they grew up … in order to understand the life and style that prevailed since “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” This is not to say that an individual becoming independent from their family cannot change but they certainly are affected by the life experiences that they’ve encountered previous to that period of independence as well as encounters they have had in their adult years. Of course bitter divorces or abusive relationships must be viewed as being very serious considerations that need to be explored. Sometimes, it is necessary to seek professional help in order that whatever scars that remain affecting the individual or the new couple might be resolved for the sake of creating a healthy, new relationship.
Of course, it is paramount that both partners be honest and forthright with one another during this process of “getting to know you” since withholding, I have found, most certainly will result in problems … probably major problems … later on. Another important aspect that needs to be brought into this process is that of understanding what previous relationships consisted of including how the relationship started, their longevity, how the relationship ended and why as well as that person’s adjustment to the breakup. Should any of the answers to these points raise “red flags,” those feelings should be trusted and expressed in order to work through the issues that might arise. In other words, this period of self and other awareness should be maintained as a very high priority in determining whether the present relationship should proceed any further.
Notice that I have not talked about “love.” Of course that is an important factor but feelings of love and passion, although very pleasant and beautiful aspects of a new relationship, can cloud reality which will later on emerge … sometimes to the regret of both parties. I am not recommending that the approach in coming to know each other should be a sterile, surgical process but I do stress the importance of the process as often times being hidden from both partners resulting in nasty results that affect them and their children later on. I have lived through those very difficult times with many couples and I can clearly attest to the fact that they leave indelibly permanent scars on all concerned.
OK so now the couple has gone through what I call the “initiation phase” and the courting leading to a formal engagement might then occur. This period is usually resplendent with a good deal of celebration leading up to “setting the date” for marriage. It is usually a very stressful period despite the positive aspects surrounding the excitement because of the myriad of things that need to be planned and executed. It isn’t unusual for this period to end up with a number of arguments and even a decision to “call everything off” because of the stress entailed. It is also during this period that the important elements of a relationship are placed on the back burner in deference to all of the planning and work that needs to be accomplished. In other words, there can be many dangers involved despite the excitement that is being experienced.
You may have noted that in the beginning of this piece, I did not refer to the couple’s involvement as a “relationship.” The reason for this was that all of the elements that need to go into the making of a relationship … a true relationship … need to be inserted for it to be called a relationship. That is why I took such great pains in describing the elements. Now, I did not mean to infer that the beginnings of a relationship are nothing but a “fact finding mission” because there are many beautiful and memory-lasting episodes that accompany the early stages and even into the stress period leading to marriage. I need not get into those since I am sure that the reader can recollect what they are in their personal relationships. In fact, it is those beautiful times and memories that are an essential part of the “glue” that hold a relationship together and enable both partners to realize that the “downs” in a relationship are offset by the “ups.”
However, when the marriage occurs there is, of course, the “honeymoon period” where the couple is experiencing feelings akin to bliss. Outfitting that first apartment, buying the “starter home” and becoming domesticated and having the first child are all exciting and wonderful events that might be encountered. But as much as these periods in the early stages of marriage may be welcomed, they are usually accompanied by a great deal of stress. The stress of working to pay the bills, finding that a budget is necessary to survive and of the responsibility of becoming a home owner and parent … are all part of the “package.” What happens in a slow but consistent manner is that the qualities that went into the building of the relationship begin to take on a secondary importance. In effect, the relationship begins to be put on hold. This is not an immediate or sudden process or even one that is necessarily associated with stressful occurrences. In fact, those kinds of occurrences can bring couple/family closer together if the ingredients of a healthy relationship and family are intact. If not, the relationships begin to unravel … conflict begins with irreconcilable differences taking hold. It is only for those healthy individuals that are aware of this process that the negative effects can be avoided. The keys here are awareness and communication.
I want to repeat that if the ingredients of a healthy relationship are an essential part of a marriage, the relationship does not only prosper and grow but it becomes stronger. I cannot count how many times I’ve said to a couple with whom I’ve worked “the two of you are unbeatable.” The strength of the union during the tough times adds to the mix of the beauty of the relationship. And so, the problem with marriage is that it becomes only a “marriage” and the relationship aspect fades into the background. Marriage is a civil/legal/religious process that identifies or “puts a stamp” on the relationship but is not the relationship itself. If the relationship is lost in the process of being married, the marriage is sure to suffer and possibly end. The early steps contained in this piece are essential in order for that not to occur. It’s great to be married but even greater to have a solid, strong, loving and enduring relationship.
Both as a consultant and author, Charles Bonasera’s story-telling have motivated people to change patterns and resolve problems in their lives. All of his books contain valuable, practical lessons that people can easily apply to bettering and managing their lifestyles. He has also written a myriad of articles which can be found on his website at www.charlesmbonasera.com.