4. How will we handle extended family?
When two people come together, they are bringing with them a lifetime of culture, traditions, and ways of life. For example, one person may come from a loud, large, and emotive family accustomed to high-energy dinners and vacations. Their partner might have been raised in a quiet, calm home where members kept their opinions and feelings to themselves. Once married, which aspects of each of your respective cultures will you incorporate into your home? Discussing this prior to their wedding can help couples avoid countless arguments and frustrations later and enables them to approach future issues as a united team.
But perhaps the biggest question couples need to discuss is how they’ll deal with in-law relationships. We’ve all heard stories of the overbearing mother-in-law or verbally abusive father-in-law and the decades of marital discourse both create. Couples can avoid years of pain and relational damage by holding open, honest, and proactive conversations regarding everyone in the families they’re marrying into.
For example, Jonathan* comes from a highly dysfunctional home where family members are controlled by manipulation, threats, and emotional abuse. Initially, he didn’t realize how harmful his home environment was, so his girlfriend brought this to his attention. She shared her discomfort with the situation and her concerns for their future, and together they discussed ways to guard their peace and protect their relationship. Though these conversations weren’t easy or quick, they allowed Jonathan and his girlfriend to become proactive rather than reactive and move toward increased health.
Pre-marital counseling, where both individuals can share honestly and receive input from a non-biased third party, can be especially helpful for numerous reasons. First, the counselor acts as a buffer, ensuring conversations remain productive. Second, we all suffer from self-deception and faulty perceptions and need insight from someone who’s not so closely involved.
Those who grew up in dysfunctional homes have a tendency to normalize damaging behaviors. As a result, we may not see a problem that, overtime, could create intense difficulties for our marriage. We might even discount or minimize our partner’s concerns. The converse can also be true. Perhaps a boyfriend worries about certain behaviors in his girlfriend that are more different than harmful. A trained counselor will be able to listen, discern, and guide the couple toward optimal health.
Uniting two diverse individuals with unique backgrounds, desires, and viewpoints is challenging. This is, in part, why so many couples struggle during their first year of marriage.
Many marriages have disintegrated due to disagreements regarding religion, finances, parenting, and extended family, but that doesn’t have to be the case. We can avoid a great deal of unnecessary conflict, and the relational damage that often follows, by discussing potential areas of contention before they become an issue and while we have some emotional distance.
Couples who’ve engaged in such hard conversations prior to saying their vows will be much more apt to experience peace, increased trust, and relational intimacy as they steadily merge their lives into the type of marriage God desires.
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