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After what was hopefully at least a 2-year courtship, you now find yourself engaged. You’re excited and nervous as the big day approaches. You think you’ve got all the important questions asked and answered. Are the guests seated properly? Did we give the florist a deposit? Are all the relatives travel and lodging arrangements finalized? Has everything been done that needs to be done? While these are all important questions, many people fail to take the time to ask themselves key questions about how their life will change after they say “I do.” Here are five key questions to ask yourself before you say those two life-altering words.

1) How do I expect my life to change once I’m married? (Think it won’t? Yikes!).

Everyone enters into a marriage with expectations about how the marriage will satisfy his or her needs. Problems arise when these expectations go unmet and feelings of disappointment start to seep into the emotional connection between the couple. At lot of times, this is due to one partner expecting the emotional connection to intensify and the other expecting things to stay as they have been. Therefore, it is very important that you openly talk with your partner about what you expect from the relationship, emotionally, financially, physically, and how you view your future together playing out. Failure to do so may lead the two of you down a bitter path culminating in divorce.

2) How happy am I with our travels through the four seasons? (And, I’m not talking about a casual stroll through the lobby of a ritzy hotel!).

Well functioning relationships are able to survive difficult times and grow as the environment around them changes. Just as one needs to prepare for a harsh winter, a couple needs to devise a blueprint for how they are going to get through tough times. All couples experience situations that test their commitment to each other and their compatibility. This is why I wrote “at least a 2-year courtship” in the opening paragraph. When you first are dating, it’s like summer-peaceful, calm, exciting, and warm. Then winter comes and things often get harder. No longer is one focusing on being on his or her best behavior and ones “baggage” surfaces. If you haven’t experienced all four seasons of your partner to be, maybe you should push back the wedding date. If you have, what did you learn about yourself and your partner? Is your relationship going to be like living in Los Angeles where the change of seasons are hardly noticeable, or is it going to be like living in the Colorado Rockies? If the two of you are having wild emotional swings getting married isn’t the answer.

3) Why am I getting married? (Because that’s what I’m supposed to do?!)

Most of us know the fairy tale where the prince rescues the damsel in distress and they ride off into the sunset to a place called “Happily Ever After.” Many of us think, in some way, that there is truth to this insipid tale. It has been my experience that rescue missions usually end up with the rescuer getting his or her butt kicked, as the damsel is in distress due to her/his own choices, which can’t be fixed by the rescuer. In our modern world, both men and women attempt to rescue, just as both men and women can be a “damsel” in distress. Happily Ever After has a little known subtitle, “Just as long as you work your butt off and are not trying to save anybody or hope to be rescued from yourself.” Thus, make sure to answer this question as honestly as possible. And, ask your partner this question as well. If getting married has anything to do with living out a fairy tale, you may want to reevaluate the situation.

4) Have you fallen in love? (If the answer is “Yes,” have you gotten up?)

When asked why one is getting married, a common answer is “because I’ve fallen in love.” To me, the word “falling” is associated with painful things. I fell down, I fell off the chair, or I fell off a cliff, to name a few. Whoever first coined the phrase “falling in love” knew what s/he were talking about. This wise person knew that with love comes pain. Within every successful relationship there exists a healthy level of emotional pain that a couple uses to further grow their relationship. Part of making a relationship stand the test of time is to agree to work together to solve problems. Learning how to avoid hurting each other will lessen the chances that someone will tumble and fall, causing both to suffer. Don’t fall in love. Rather, build it together.

5) Who do I want to model my marriage after? (If it’s the paid assassins Mr. and Mrs. Smith, things might get rough for a while).

Are your parents still married (were they ever)? The relationship that our parents had affects us more than most of us want to admit. It is from their teachings and behaviors that we learned about how, or how not, partners are supposed to treat each other. If they were, and still are, great role models, ask them to tell you everything that they have learned about marriage. If they weren’t, still ask, but also seek out advice from someone whose marriage appears to be running smoothly (I say appear, as people are great on putting a positive face on what is really a relationship in trouble). In addition, I highly recommend premarital counseling. Working with a therapist prior to getting married may prevent you from having to go to therapy to try and save the relationship in the future.

Thus, having a well thought out and constructed blueprint for marriage is essential for the success of the relationship. Make sure to ask yourself and your partner as many questions as possible regarding expectations for the marriage. And remember, there is no substitute for hard work. So, get crackin’!

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