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Spring is now only days away and during this time of year love is in the air. As the school rhyme goes, "First comes love, then comes marriage." If you are considering marriage there are five important issues you should discuss with your significant other before "taking the plunge." Having a strong understanding of where each of you stand on these issues will help lay the foundation for a fruitful, loving, and committed relationship. Take the time to talk through the following issues with each other over a quiet dinner, a peaceful walk, or a relaxing evening at home:

1. What is marriage?

Asking each other this simple question can nip many marital problems in the bud before they arise. Having a healthy understanding of each other's thoughts on marriage will identify any differences and promote deeper discussion into each other's views. Ask each other: What is marriage? What is the purpose of marriage? What does a healthy marriage look like? What roles does a husband fill? A wife? What responsibilities will each of you handle in the relationship?

2. Understanding Family.

Having a thorough knowledge of each other's family of origin is important in understanding where you and your spouse come from, the type of environment in which you grew up, and may identify possible areas of conflict in your own relationship. I recommend filling out a genogram (a schematic of family relationships) on each family and discussing it with each other and a counselor. Your views on children and parenting are also important. Do you want to have children? How many do you want to have? How will you discipline your children? How will you educate them?

3. Communication and Conflict Resolution.

It is well known that healthy communication is vital to a healthy marriage. In order to communicate well, you must understand how each of you communicates. Gary Chapman, author of The Five Love Languages, offers a very helpful online assessment that can help you determine your "love language." Visit it here: www.5lovelanguages.com/assessments/love.

Equally important is how you work together to resolve the conflicts that will inevitably arise in marriage. Resolving conflict in a healthy and respectful manner will work wonders for your marriage. Learn each other's style of conflict resolution and you can improve on your own weakness and understand each other's strengths. Consider going to a professional counselor to take a personality test such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) or Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI). These tools can help you better understand your communication and conflict resolution styles.

4. Money.

How a couple handles money is the source of a majority of the problems in a marriage. It is important, therefore, to sit down and discuss with each other how to manage the family income. A couple's first priority should be to sit down together and write out a family budget. There are many helpful tools available on writing family budgets. I find Dave Ramsey's books to be very helpful, particularly Financial Peace University and Total Money Makeover. Ask each other these questions: How much will we save each month? How much will we spend? How much will we give away? Where can we cut back? Where can we spend a little more?

5. Sex.

Communicating about sex is central to maintaining an intimate relationship with your spouse. A helpful resource for married couples is Dr. Doug Rosenau's book A Celebration of Sex. He has also published versions for newlyweds and for couples over 50. Discuss these questions: What is the purpose of sex? What are your expectations? What is your sexual history? Knowing each other in such a profound and intimate way requires total transparency and trust. Communicating about sex before-hand will open the doors to true passion.

Discussing these five topics openly and honestly with each other will help each of you determine whether or not you are prepared for marriage. Having these discussions will also most likely result in a stronger bond between the two of you and a more unified front on where your relationship is headed. If you find it too daunting to tackle these issues alone visit a Chaplain or other clergy member, a Marriage and Family Therapist, or a Licensed Professional Counselor. These relationship professionals can help lead and guide your discussion on these topics. Contact your Chaplain's Office, the local Warfighter and Family Support Center, or visit www.militaryonesource.mil to find out how to get a hold of one of these professionals.

Marriage is a wonderful gift of God and our love for one another should be a reflection of His love for us. Openly communicating on these topics before-hand will help us to love each other as He loves us and will help prepare us for a healthy start to a beautiful relationship. Here's to a wonderfully committed marriage!

Chaplain Jonathan M. Craig,

LTJG, CHC, USN