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Getting married? Here's what every couple should do to prepare themselves

Marriage counsellor Dr Ray O’Neill tells us how to avoid the pitfalls of being in a long-term relationship.

Dr Ray O'Neill

OUR CULTURE DICTATES marriage as the ultimate destination of every ‘real’ relationship.

In a mire of panicked bridezillas, table arrangements, and weekend Vegas stags, everyone is rushing to get married.

But though we may expect the highs and lows of a wedding, we speak very little about the pressures, demands and lulls of being married.

RTÉ’s new television series ‘Then Comes Marriage’ will connect relationship therapist Allison Keating and myself with three different couples in each of six episodes to explore marriage after the white dress.

Before you sign any legal document, you should always read the small print. Before you make those beautiful romantic vows, maybe it’s worth considering what you’re actually signing up for.

For richer or poorer

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Blame feminism, modernisation or evolution but the days of men (grudgingly) handing over money to a put-upon wife are over. Contemporary western couples tend to have their ‘own’ money.

With this financial independence comes an unwillingness to share, as what is ‘mine’ gets prioritised over what might be considered ‘theirs’, never mind ‘ours’. People like the idea of pooling their resources, but not the reality.

Before you tie the knot, speak about each other’s incomes and expenses knowing that the first conversation is rarely the full truth. Set short-term common financial goals, such as saving for a holiday, to assess your capacities for financial engagement.

It is important to be aware of spending habits and establish saving commitments. It is perfectly okay to have separate bank accounts. But it is equally important to have a joint bank account exclusively for savings and spending on joint ventures and costs.

In sickness and in health

No one can understand the importance of patience until one of you is a patient. And if managing their man-flu or their monthly doctor visits is impossible now, what will it be like if they (and you) are dealing with cancer, serious injury or hospitalisation?

And these are just illnesses that evoke sympathy. What if they turn out to be an alcoholic, depressed, or have an STI?

It is all very well imagining your best Florence Nightingale dutiful wiping of brows, but wiping someone’s ass can be both the most humiliating and a deeply personal experience. This isn’t even considering the financial and social pressures of a partner being incapacitated due to illness.

As a couple, especially as a family, it is important to have a reliable financial safety net for when the going gets tough, no matter how healthy or active one might be.

I know so many couples that have, understandably, floundered on discovering there are real challenges to getting pregnant. Never mind the reality of struggling with a child, or children with learning difficulties, or illness.

Nothing prepares us for marriage’s worst challenges. Always hope for the best, but don’t expect life to be perfect.

To have and to hold

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Everyone is so sexy, beautiful and loved up on the wedding day and given that most couples either live together or have premarital sex, there’s rarely an issue in this area.

But again, we don’t talk about sex within a marriage or long-term relationships when sexy clothes and romantic dinners are replaced by sweatpants and microwaved curries. It is hard to feel sexy after arguing about the credit card bill while the baby is crying.

We associate sex far too much with ‘excitement’ and therefore danger, difference, and challenge, and rarely value the intimacy and familiarity that can make, or indeed break, a long-term couple.

Sex is where communication, fun, and intimacy can be expressed, explored, enjoyed. To put it on the long finger is to miss opportunities for connection and sharing. If you are too tired, it is worth asking when did sex become a ‘job’ or ‘task’.

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Sometimes the most important thing to do around sex in a long term relationship is to openly acknowledge its importance, presence or absence. The worst thing is to pretend it isn’t an issue. Both you and your partner are desirable people deserving of love, fun, and sexiness.

To clean and to cook

Hang on; this isn’t a vow?

But is a presumption. Most couples, especially the males, have little experience of housework – thank you, Irish mammy! Men can too often presume they are doing housework by bringing their plate to the sink.

Have conversations (plural) about housework. Regardless of how it is divided, such divisions should be openly said and acknowledged before it divides you.

‘Til death do us part

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Relationships take work, effort, time and commitment. Anyone can fall in love; it happens in Copper Face Jacks every night.

The real challenge lies in finding the right person to be with and stay married to. Most separating couples complain that the other person changed, but all too often the reality is they stayed the same, it’s just that your patience broke after too many problems built up over time.

There are people that we love, and people that we marry. It is foolish to confuse the two. The only way to enjoy the ride is to be with someone who is willing to take on the challenges with you, especially when you are both over the hill.

Dr Ray O’Neill is a psychoanalytic psychotherapist based in Dublin and West Cork working with individuals and couples. He will be one of the counsellors on RTÉ’s ‘Then Comes Marriage‘ which is currently looking for participants. He can be reached through his website

About the author:

Dr Ray O'Neill

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