Before marriage, engaged couples usually have a few expectations about their day-to-day roles. Who will manage the money? Who should initiate romance? What will the arrangements be if or when children arrive? Who will be responsible for housework, laundry and such?
If someone warned you before marriage or in its early stages about some real tension-causing issues most couples face, you may have dismissed any such idea. You probably thought your relationship was different than any other.
After the wedding, things do change, but not always the way anyone thinks it will. When conflict arises, some couples may even question whether they have what it takes to keep the marriage afloat. Add unmet expectations, misunderstandings and hurt feelings to the mix and things can get messy. What can couples do when this happens?
“Though people are trained from an early age to analyze problems and create solutions, we must be careful to remember that marriage is a relationship to be nurtured, not a project to complete or a problem to be solved,” says Dr. Gary Chapman, relationship counselor and author of The Five Love Languages.
Chapman wants couples to understand that love is not the only foundation for marriage. “The tingles,” as he calls it, is that early-stage feeling of euphoric love which only lasts for about two years. When that feeling is gone, couples enter the stage of marriage where they must intentionally nurture their love and grow together as a couple. Additionally, they must be prepared for common stumbling blocks that occur.
Chapman offers some guidance to help all couples intentionally move toward a healthy, long-lasting marriage.
Understand that allegiances change after marriage, even as you are marrying into a family. When two people become one, they become each other’s priority. Let the in-laws know this as you make your own decisions together, but honor them in the process. And in-laws – it’s best not to give advice unless someone asks you.
Learn your mate’s love language and speak it often. If you don’t know if their love language is gifts, physical touch, acts of service, quality time or words of affirmation, watch them around others or listen to their complaints and their requests for some clues. Complaining about something or asking for something repeatedly can usually indicate what they need from you.
Realize that all couples have conflict and struggle with selfishness. Make sure you understand what you expect from each other, before marriage if possible. Be a good listener. Try to understand your mate when you disagree, then affirm what your mate says and share with one another. Don't try to prove you are right and he/she is wrong. The relationship loses when one person has to win. “Two people arguing goes downhill fast,” Chapman says, “But two listeners build each other up.”
According to Chapman, two selfish, demanding people cannot have a good marriage. It takes time to master the art of loving each other well and learn how to give each other pleasure in a relationship. In the end, the most satisfied couples make an effort to serve each other, not themselves.