Andre Javier and Melissa Barry of the District are planning a June wedding. They will have the ceremony at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart in Northwest and the reception at a hotel near Dupont Circle. About 200
friends and relatives are expected to be with them on that day.
Mr. Javier, 28, and Miss Barry, 31, have big plans for after the wedding, too. They have put careful and time-consuming thought into their marriage. Their preparation has included attending the Catholic Church’s Engaged Encounter weekend as well as two private retreats during which they discussed their hopes and dreams for a long life together.
They have discussed how they will communicate if conflict arises and how they will incorporate traditions and values from their families of origin. They have talked about where they will live, how they will contribute to the community and whether or not to have children.
“We went into [marriage preparation] very open,” Mr. Javier says. “It has equipped us with more tools for marriage. We have learned about life as a couple, about how when something happens we shouldn’t think, ‘Something is wrong with our marriage.’ We’re learning how to transform conflict into something greater.”
Preparing for marriage — and not just a wedding — is important in ensuring husband and wife are on the same page when it comes to the next 50 years or so, says Greg Kuhlman, a psychologist who with his wife, Patricia Schell Kuhlman, runs the nationwide workshop Marriage Success Training.
Putting some sort of discussion, whether formal training or an informal question-and-answer session, on the “to do” list will mean more in the end than what kind of veil the bride wore or what songs the band played.
“When couples are engaged, it is a happy, positive time,” Mr. Kuhlman says. “That is the time when they are least likely to think about difficulties. But it is also the best time to have these discussions — when you have a positive emotional override.”
The path to planning a happy marriage can go through a church, where attendance at such a workshop is often required for couples to be married by the clergy. It also can go through nonsectarian classes such as Mr. Kuhlman’s, in which couples work on communications skills. There also are informal books and questionnaires that couples can pursue on their own.
In several states, including Maryland, couples can earn a marriage license discount if they take a premarital counseling class.
No matter how they go about it, preparation of some type gets couples thinking and talking.
“The more attention paid to marriage, the better,” says Janet Lathan, who with her husband, Jim, counsels couples for Engaged Encounter in the Washington Diocese.
Questions are at the heart of any marriage preparation. By asking plenty of them ahead of time, couples can see where they agree, see where they differ and prepare to compromise.
“The most common misconception is that because you love someone, you will naturally love your life together,” says Susan Piver, who parlayed her own relationship issues into a book, “The Hard Questions: 100 Essential Questions to Ask Before You Say ‘I Do’”
“I was 37 and planning on getting married,” says Ms. Piver, who has been married five years. “I had had good relationships in the past, but I wasn’t in them anymore. I started thinking about past relationships that had failed, and how they had nothing to do with love. It had to do with life together.”
Ms. Piver, who lives in Boston, says some questions are the most important to ask. Those are not to be confused with the most difficult questions to ask one another.
Among the most important: Children.
“You are talking about someone else’s life here,” she says. “You need to be on the same page, because at some point, you can’t change your mind.”
Among the most difficult: Money. Pool the bank accounts or keep them separate? Spend or save? How each of you views money can reflect a lot, Ms. Piver says.
“If you are 22, it is not so hard an issue,” she says. “If you are in a second marriage, though, it gets very intense.”
Ms. Piver says her own views about money taught her a lot.
“I thought we should keep our money separate,” she says. “Both of us had businesses. Duncan, my fiance, felt the opposite. To him, money was a symbol of commitment.”
In the end, Ms. Piver changed her mind.
“It was the right decision,” she says.
Corey Donaldson, author of the book “Don’t You Dare Get Married Until You Read This! The Book of Questions for Couples,” also used his own experience when writing his book of 500 questions. Neither Ms. Piver nor Mr. Donaldson offer answers; that is up to the couples to figure out.
Mr. Donaldson is from Australia, and his wife of seven years is American. They found themselves asking questions of each other after their three-year long-distance romance was headed toward marriage.
“We didn’t know what would come next,” he says. “We had a lot of friends and family who had gotten divorced, even after less than a year. We didn’t want to go through that.”
Mr. Donaldson, who interviewed 1,500 married persons while researching his book, says that if engaged couples were more assertive in asking relevant questions, they could prepare more thoroughly for what the future holds.
“One of the big things I found is that the majority of divorce cases, the issues existed before the wedding,” he says. “They said the issue was there, but they were thinking about the wedding.”
Mr. Donaldson has questions that are both general (“What kind of a marriage will we have?”) and very specific (“Will it bother you if I use the bathroom while leaving the door open?”) in his book.
“I believe everyone has the potential to get divorced,” he says. “It is a matter of laying out the issue and compromising.”
However, some issues should be considered deal breakers. Infidelity, for instance, Mr. Kuhlman says.
“Most affairs occur within the first two years of a marriage,” he says.
Discussing boundaries that might lead to an affair is also necessary, Ms. Kuhlman says. Is it OK to flirt at work? To exchange e-mail with old girlfriends? These are all things to work out upfront, she says.
“Don’t expect to quit being attracted to others,” Ms. Kuhlman says. “You need to discuss those boundaries.”
Substance abuse can be another deal breaker, she says, if someone has a problem and is not willing to acknowledge it.
Mr. Lathan, in talking about the Engaged Encounter workshops, says, “There is constant re-evaluation of the program, but basically, the questions couples ask one another have not changed a whole lot. The original inspiration for them is excellent.
“The key thing is to get the couples talking,” he says. “Where they branch off from there only they know.”
Dealing with differences
Even if you are set to marry your soul mate, there still will be differences, says Patrick Gannon, a San Francisco psychologist who runs a workshop called Marriage Prep 101 with his wife, Michelle, also a psychologist.
Often, planning a wedding can give insight into what kind of fundamental differences may arise during the marriage, he says.
“You can see early signs of conflict about money, family and division of labor come into play,” Mr. Gannon says. In other words, the surface issue might be about a florist, but the deeper issue is not valuing your mate’s opinion.
Mr. Gannon also points out that marriages go through stages. Being prepared for those stages will strengthen couples, he says.
After about three years, “the bloom is off the rose and you see the individual’s personality. The challenge is to bridge whatever differences there are,” Mr. Gannon says.
“Every marriage, by the third or fourth year, needs to reinvent itself to a much more mature partnership,” he says. “It takes real effort.”
In addition to asking questions and finding potential red flags, Mr. Gannon encourages couples to create a mission statement about what they expect their marriage to be. This way, they have a model to which to refer in everyday situations.
Miss Barry and Mr. Javier are writing a mission statement. They are developing a covenant on which to base their marriage.
“It is our statement of intent,” Miss Barry says. “It starts with our relationship with God, with one another and with the community. It acknowledges we are part of a greater community — our faith, our neighborhood and our earth.”
Mr. Javier and Miss Barry say know they are fortunate in that both their families are largely untouched by divorce.
“We’re lucky we have good role models,” Miss Barry says.
However, many of today’s young people about to get married come from divorced parents, Mr. Gannon says.
“People who have [experienced divorce] don’t have this ‘Pollyanna’ idea of marriage,” Mr. Gannon says. “It is very clear there are effects of growing up in a divorced family. Many of them have ideas of what went wrong in their parents’ marriage.”
With so many premarital resources available, young people can avoid the mistakes of the past, he says.
“Marriage preparation should be part of the wedding planning,” Mr. Gannon says. “It should be there right under catering.”
Prepared for the wedding but not necessarily the marriage? Here are some things to think about and discuss as your wedding approaches.
1. What will our home look like? Where will it be? What style will it be? What is the feeling you want to have when you walk into it?
2. Who will be responsible for keeping our home cared for and organized? Do we differ in our views of cleanliness and organization?
3. How much money do we earn together now. In five years? In 10 years?
4. What will our monthly expenses be? How much do we want to be able to spend?
5. What is our ultimate financial goal regarding annual income, and when do we expect to achieve it?
6. How much money should be in our savings accounts so we both feel “safe”?
7. Do we keep joint accounts or separate?
8. What kind of purchases do we need to discuss in advance? Who will keep the books and pay the bills?
9. What are each of our professional goals? How much time will we spend at work? What if one of us does not want to work anymore?
10. How ambitious am I? How ambitious are you? When, if ever, do we want to retire?
11. What if one of us is attracted to someone else?
12. Do we eat meals together? Which ones? Who prepares the meals, and who cleans up?
13. Is each of us happy with the other’s approach to health? Does either of us have concerns about substance abuse?
14. What do you like and dislike about your family of origin? What place will the other’s family play in our family life? How often will we visit and socialize with them?
15. Will we have children together? If so, when? How many? If we decide not to have children, are we both comfortable with that decision?
16. If necessary, will you consider adoption or infertility treatment?
17. How will our household change when we have children. Will one of us stay home or work a reduced schedule?
18. How will our children be disciplined? Will we limit exposure to TV and the Internet?
19. What are our religious backgrounds? What religion will our children be?
20. Do we celebrate religious holidays? Which ones? Together or separately?
Source: “The Hard Questions: 100 Essential Questions to Ask Before You Say ‘I Do,’” by Susan Piver, Penguin Group, 2004.
“The Hard Questions: 100 Essential Questions to Ask Before You Say ‘I Do,’” by Susan Piver, Penguin Group, 2004. This book has space for couples to answer and discuss questions relating to home, money, sex, family and spiritual life.
“Don’t You Dare Get Married Until You Read This! The Book of Questions for Couples,” by Corey Donaldson, Three Rivers Press, 2001. This book has serious and silly questions for couples to answer and discuss with each other.
The Coalition for Marriage, Couples and Family Education, 5310 Belt Road NW, Washington, DC 20015. Phone: 202/362-3332. Web site: www.smartmarriages.com. This organization, run by social worker and family therapist Diane Sollee, promotes marriage preparation and strengthening programs.
Marriage Prep 101 (www.marriageprep101.com), the site of psychologists Michelle and Patrick Gannon, offers advice, articles and workshop information for premarital training.
Psychologists Gregory and Patricia Kuhlman (www.stayhitched.com) run a skills-based marriage workshop. The next Washington workshop will be April 17.
Psychologist John Gottman, author of several books on making marriage work, has research data, articles and skills-based research information on his Web site (www.gottman.com).
Marriage Savers (www.marriagesavers.org), a ministry founded in 1996, works with local congregations to strengthen marriages. The group was founded by Michael J. McManus, a former free-lance columnist for Family Times, and his wife, Harriet.