Of all the things having a substantial and lasting impact on the life you have, your life satisfaction and personal happiness, two things stand out for their towering influence: career choice and marriage. And it would be quite commonsensical to understand it. Think of it- a typical career requires us to devote at least half of our working hours to it and brings a whole set of people around you who impact you in multifarious, important ways. From this viewpoint, a marriage is even more impactful than a career choice even as you choose to spend the rest of your time with a spouse, who is definitely going to bring a great many significant influences on you and your life. But in a sense, a marriage is a far more crucial decision as you can easily leave your company without many obligations but certainly not a spouse without incurring huge financial, emotional and psychological costs.
Of late, the trend of pre-marriage counselling is catching on in India. I can vouch for it from my experience as a counsellor as well. And I would call it a welcome trend as it can save you much heartburn later. In fact, it would not be far-fetched to say that a rise in the trend of pre-marriage counselling should automatically lead to a corresponding fall in marital counselling cases and divorces.
Remember The Beatles’ song “All you need is love?” while your parents had advised, “Marry someone whose values are similar to yours.” And your local priest says, “Marry someone who is a believer!” All these are well-meaning pieces of wisdom, but none of them is complete by itself. That’s because getting married is much beyond a combination of love, values and religious faith. That’s why before deciding to take the marital plunge, it’s imperative to give it a deep thought and examine it from all possible angles so that you take such a momentous decision judiciously. Research says that at least 75 per cent of the marital counselling cases could have been avoided if the couples had better communicated their expectations before getting married.
Researchers have identified many indicators of marital satisfaction that fall into three groups:
Predictors of marital satisfaction
- Extroversion 2. Flexibility
- Self-esteem 4. Interpersonal skills (like empathy and assertiveness)
Predictors of marital discord
- Inability to cope with stress 2. Pre-set beliefs like “People are like that only.”
- Excessive: Impulsiveness, Anger, Depression, Irritability, and Anxiety
One of the most fundamental questions you need to ask yourself and the other person before getting married. Are you marrying
- just because your friends are doing so?
- due to parental/ societal pressures?
- because you believe you are about to cross the generally accepted age for marriage?
- because you would like to share your life with someone else?
If the reason is a or b or c, give it a second thought. Contrary to common perception, there is nothing like a societally approved age for marriage. Of course, the biological clock doesn’t respect anything, but then, everyone may not like to have babies. Remember, if your answer is d, you are going to let someone into every smallest aspect of your life and so, very careful thought is in order before you burn your bridges.
How Important is Your Career?
For some, a job is just a job but for others, it may mean the world and be a source of identity and purpose. Be clear about it – it might keep you tied to a certain area or never let your settle in one place for long. It may also imply that you may never earn much, or always have unpredictable work hours.
You need to be clear about your job as in a marriage, you may need to move, stop working for a while or become the main breadwinner. So it’s really important that both of you are clear about the position your job enjoys. You need to discuss the work environment, schedules, etc. to keep aware of the demands of each other’s jobs. Marital misunderstandings start happening as work-life balance creates insecurities or trust problems. So it’s better to know about it before getting married.
What About Respective Families?
For many couples, family obligations change after marriage. Do you or your partner have family traditions/commitments you observe regularly? How do you or your spouse fit into them? You need to consider how much each other’s families will be part of your daily life – will your new mother-in-law look after childcare, will your father expect to move in with you?
It’s important while sharing life that everyone feels heard and that you make time for yourselves as a couple and for the blended family.
Though people avoid talking about these things, health matters need critical attention before getting married. The couple needs to discuss blood groups, previous treatments, stress issues and mental health history as they are going to impact your overall life. Of course, having a spouse with long term health or mental health issues can cause a disturbance. If any such medical problem is hidden, it can lead to a bigger mess later. Sometimes, such problems can affect sex life, which is again messier. So, it’s essential to discuss all health matters before getting married.
It’s crucial to discuss this with your partner-to-be. Whether and when you want kids or not – discuss beforehand. You wouldn’t like to have surprises after the wedding. If your partner has a different opinion about kids, it may create disturbance in your life. So, it’s better to be prepared before getting married.
If you belong to different castes, religions, communities, or nationalities, it’s important to discuss the issue. Of course, love does not know any religion but things change post-marriage. Do not let your religion become the reason for any clashes after marriage. Talk about whether you will practise the same religion you professed earlier or your spouse’s and how you are going to celebrate religious festivals.
Ideally, each one’s food choices need to be respected. You may be a vegetarian or even a vegan but your girl may be a hard-core “animal-lover”. Eating habits may seem trivial, but they can be potential trouble-makers, especially in India, where people are quite sensitive about their faith. Evolving a solution is up to you but better to discuss beforehand.
This one is a MUST. You must talk about the money you two will be making and how you will divide the expenses between yourselves. A very common point of contention in a marriage is the priority list of spending. Your partner may be a travel buff and may not mind-blowing up lakhs of rupees on that annual vacation but you may be more of a home-bird. Besides, you also need to talk about investment plans. Trust me, clarity about financial matters levees lesser scope for marital troubles..
Not everyone may be on the same page on this one. But telling the new partner about your past relationships can be risky as each one has a different thought process. Of course, having clarity beforehand is very important. Moreover, if your partner gets to know about your past from elsewhere, it would create bigger problems. To avoid these possibilities, you can talk about them with your new partner before getting married.
It may look trivial, but trust me, it deserves to be discussed. Would you be happy to share details of your life on social media? Are there certain things you’d like to keep private? I have seen many marriages break up just on this pretext. So, it’s better to discuss.
Talking these things out beforehand can help you have a smooth marital ride. In the backdrop of a rising divorce rate in India, it is imperative to discuss all these things before marriage so that you don’t have to deal with misunderstandings and insecurities later.
Q 1: Is there only one right person for me to marry?
A: Oh, no! Were it the case, people won’t remarry after the death of a spouse.
Q 2: Do I need to feel totally competent as a spouse before I marry?
A: No! You should feel competent to be a spouse, though a little anxiety is okay.
Q 3: Is love a sufficient reason to marry someone?
A: Absolutely no! Just being attracted to someone and having a passionate feeling of love is NOT reason enough for you to marry that person. Falling in love is easy but leading a life together is a very different ballgame. Several other factors (like those discussed above) are equally important to a happy married life.
Q 4: Does preparing for a marriage happen naturally?
A: No way! This is the myth of naturalism. In reality, you need to consciously prepare for marriage. It is a learned response, based on acquiring sound information and its assessment.
Q 5: I attach a lot of importance to good human qualities like forgiveness, empathy and kindness. Should I look for these traits in a future spouse?
A: You can try too! Though a matter of fact, finding such a person may take some effort and even if you can find him/ her, the person may lack certain other desirable things. Ultimately, you need to strike a balance as people are not factory-made to order and come in all shapes, sizes and colours.
Q 6: Several of my friends have had terrible marriages and therefore I have become fearful of the idea of marriage itself. Please advise.
A: I can completely understand your predicament. But please don’t let it cloud your judgment. Take your time, know the prospective spouse thoroughly and if you feel like spending the rest of your life with him/ her, do consider it. After all, despite millions of road accidents happening annually, people haven’t stopped using roads. Good luck!