By Liz Higgins, LMFTA
Life experiences, family dynamics, and the influence of society generate many ideas of what a marriage should look like, especially when it comes to wedding planning and handling conflict. What people often forget is that the wedding itself is a symbol of something much greater: a marriage.
Young couples are often thrown off when conflict arises during the wedding-planning process. Isn’t this supposed to be the “honeymoon” phase of the relationship? It certainly can be. But sometimes, people choose to completely deny and avoid any premarital conflict in order to “keep the peace” and convince themselves that they have found the “perfect” partner.
The reality is that tension and stress (hello, wedding planning) will often become the fertile ground for conflict and your differences to emerge. It’s essential to have a grasp on what some of the damaging myths are that our world continues to hold about conflict, and what that means for your relationship.
Here are five of the most common myths about conflict in premarital relationships.
Myth 1: If you’re fighting before you’re married, it won’t last.
It’s normal to feel a little insecure about your relationship after a fight, especially in the beginning of a relationship. Emotions are flooding your body and you’re uncertain about where things stand. A common myth I see in my premarital practice is that fighting means you “aren’t compatible” and your marriage is doomed to divorce before it’s even begun. Allowing conflict to lead you to question your relationship is, often, jumping to irrational conclusions.
According to Dr. Ellyn Bader of The Couples Institute, relationships move through many developmental phases over time. It is not uncommon to experience conflict and a discrepancy in thoughts, feelings, and needs as you establish yourselves as a couple and as individuals within your relationship.
Dr. Gottman says that conflict is an opportunity to learn how to love each other better over time, to understand your partner more deeply, and to encourage them to continue growing as an individual with their own feelings and opinions.
Myth 2: What you’re fighting about is what you’re fighting about.
That may not make sense at first read, but hear me out. There’s a point here. The number one thing couples fight about, according to Dr. Gottman, is nothing. Arguments between premarital couples about who to invite to the wedding, how much to spend, one partner not helping enough with the wedding planning, or where to go on the honeymoon are usually about something deeper.
Couples often fight to feel understood, validated, and supported by their partner. They may fight for control if one or both partners are feeling overwhelmed or insecure. If you notice that you and your partner seem to have difficulty addressing certain topics without it turning into a fight, explore your unspoken dreams, needs, and emotions. You may realize that the surface problem has a much deeper meaning than you think.
Myth 3: You should resolve every argument and never go to bed angry.
In his post on 12 myths about relationships, Dr. John Gottman states that “some conflicts are deal breakers and, for those issues, compromise can be very difficult. It’s important to understand your non-negotiables when it comes to conflict. What are you willing to give up?”
A healthy marriage requires interdependence, a balance of assertive self-expression paired with an ability to selflessly consider your partner’s needs. This also calls for an understanding that it may take some sacrifice on your end to meet their needs (and vice versa). Learning to balance the me-ness with the we-ness of your relationship is lifelong work that you will only improve on if you allow yourself to be influenced by your partner.
Some of the sensitive topics you face require time to find compromise on. While I encourage couples in my practice to respect one another during conflict, going to bed angry isn’t going to curse your relationship. Sometimes, you will need distance to understand your own thoughts and emotions. That’s fine, as long as you’re able to commit to coming back to your partner with a curiosity for their perspective. For some couples, this means actually scheduling a time and place to revisit the conversation.
Myth 4: Your family will always support your marriage during conflict.
Unfortunately, this is never a guarantee. It is a normal tendency for families to take “sides” with their family member in times of stress and conflict. Your task as a couple is to truly become a couple and establish boundaries that will ensure the security of your relationship, above all else. This is one of the biggest challenges for young couples.
This myth speaks to the importance of checking your expectations and setting specific boundaries with family members regarding your personal business as a couple.
Here are a few examples of healthy boundaries:
- We will not share our conflicts with other family members unless we have first discussed this with one another.
- We will not share details about our finances with either sets of parents.
- If a parent(s) says they will only give us money for the wedding if they get to make specific decisions/requests, we agree to first consult each other about it before accepting the money.
Myth 5: People are less likely to betray their partner when they are engaged.
Wedding planning will naturally lead to times of heightened stressed. When people become stressed, they (consciously and unconsciously) seek ways to cope with that stress. This happens in healthy and unhealthy ways. Engaged individuals often think of themselves as “immune” to infidelity, but what many people fail to realize is that there are many forms of betrayal.
Think of this in terms of “how would your partner feel about your behavior if they were watching?” Do you talk to other people about your relationship issues? Do you start drinking more and more to forget about the pressure you feel from the in-laws? Are you secretly spending more time watching porn because your partner has become sexually/intimately unavailable due to their own stress?
Again, heightened stress can lead to all sorts of unhealthy coping mechanisms that, if unknown by your partner, might leave them feeling emotionally betrayed. Check in with yourself and make sure you are managing your own stress in healthy ways. Prioritize time to spend together as a couple, with no wedding planning involved!
Now that we’ve debunked a few myths on premarital conflict, what would you add to the list? Comment below.
This article was originally published on The Gottman Relationship Blog.
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