Have you ever dreamt about the joy, nay, the ecstasy of a blissful romantic wedding? You can all but smell the delicate rose petals, hand-strewn along the aisle that you and Mr. or Miss Right float down on your way to the altar. You dreamily gaze into your spouse’s eyes as you say, “I do.” Then, you hear someone say, “You may now kiss the bride,” and it is off into the sunset for the two of you.
I think many of us have had a dream like that, but if you are single, please allow me to shed a little light on the reality that awaits you. My goal is not to steal your joy, but to help you know that which awaits you and your beloved. If you have already said those two words, use the information to help strengthen and solidify your marriage.
After speaking those two precious words of commitment, “I do,” your dream will begin to morph. The two of you are now in a small raft heading into class III rapids. Rapids are not necessarily bad, in fact, they can be quite exhilarating, but as the Boy Scouts say, be prepared.
Don’t get me wrong…the honeymoon period is great, but life soon returns to eating, sleeping, waking, bill paying, grocery shopping, cooking, laundering, housekeeping, and other assorted mundane tasks that you did when you were single. Yet, every time you turn around, you see that person, and you realize that s/he is not going away.
As the adage, “location, location, location” suggests for business success, “communication, communication, communication” is essential for post honeymoon success (Newby, 2010). The wedding you dreamt about is gone, and now, you have a marriage. If that marriage is going to last longer than your honeymoon, then you and your spouse have some work to do. Like anything else in life that you want to succeed, e.g. a garden, schoolwork, fitness, or a budget, you must be disciplined and committed. Your marriage will succeed to the degree to which you emotionally engage with your spouse. Hint: as you emotionally engage with your spouse, the physical relationship continues to improve.
Below are a few communication strategies that might help you and your spouse to engage with each other (Wiley, 2007):
- Active Listening– Get physically involved in conversations. Put down your device and focus on what the most important person in the world is trying to tell you. Listen for the emotion your beloved is communicating, and comment on that. “Sounds like that situation was frustrating for you.” Resist the urge to develop your response or think about something unrelated.
- “I” messages– statements that tell how you feel, when you feel that way, and why. “I” messages are a wonderful problem-solving strategy. “I feel frustrated when you get up from dinner and watch your sports program, because I think you expect me to clean up after you.”
- Avoid “You” messages, and using “always” or “never.” For example, “You never help clean up after dinner” or “You always leave me to clean up by myself.” Those statements are likely not true, and your spouse will feel attacked and disengage from the conversation.
- Choices– People would like to control their own destiny. Thus, they resist someone giving them orders. A way to overcome this is to give choices. Giving choices can help people to do things differently. For example, you could ask your spouse, “Would you like to wipe the counters, sweep the dining room, and take the trash out or would you like to wash the pots and load the dishwasher?” I hope that during your dating period you learned that your spouse would choose one of those options, rather than merely ignore you.
Good communication and emotional engagement are strategies that can help you and your spouse build a successful relationship. I am sure that you will have disagreements, but if both of you are committed to communicating well, then you will get through those disagreements while building a strong marriage.