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Opinion: Failing to prepare for life’s most important journey could be your biggest mistake

The fact of the matter is that many of us sleepwalk into intimate relationships: we need to have open and mature discussions before committing.

Image: Dennis Skley via Flickr

IT CONTINUES TO baffle me why people who hardly know each other go ahead and marry each other, hoping it will all work out.

Similarly, some of those who choose to cohabit somehow can convince themselves that, because they have not tied the knot officially, they are somehow immune to the travails of intimate relationships.

The decision to live together, married or not, is a serious one. Even more serious are the breakdown of the family unit and the impact of that breakdown for the adults and children. The latest census reveals that there are 629,116 family units in Ireland. However, 22.4% of that number is lone parent families with children under 20. Not all lone parents are alone because of a relationship breakdown but I would suspect, based on our client base, many are.

Sleepwalking into intimate relationships

The fact of the matter is that many of us sleepwalk into intimate relationships. A lot of us believe that we have that special relationship and we feel that the statistics don’t and won’t apply to us. However, it can affect all us at some point across our relationship.

For example the ‘dual career commuter family’ syndrome is causing huge strain. The time lost from family life just to get to and from work is fracturing many lives. For a lot of us commuting to and from work is debilitating, mentally and physically. When I work with couples in therapy, I reinforce that there are 168 hours in the week.

We then work out where those 168 hours go; work, commuting, household duties etc, I would say 100% of the couples are shocked at the real lack of time they have left for each other.

Money, sex and children

In my experience there are three main issues that arise prior to couples getting married; money, sex and children.

Our attitude to financial matters and how we handle this touchy subject can cause massive problems within our relationship. Who is going to control the level of spending? Are you a saver or a spender? Will you have separate bank accounts or a joint bank account? There is no one right answer and you must talk about what you are going to do.

Many couples will see having a joint account as proof of their trust in each other. You will be aghast when I say they will both want to check on what the other is spending, but that can happen when the money gets tight, hence the saying; ‘When money gets tight love flies out the window’. Getting married is about commitment but more importantly it is about trust. Lose that trust and you lose everything, so financial issues lie at the centre of a couple’s life. By tackling these issues ‘head on’ and being open and transparent we will avoid problems later on.

We need to get over our shyness

Every person is a sexual being. Our attitudes to sex can determine to a large extent whether our relationship will succeed or not. There are almost as many attitudes to sex as there are stars in the sky. Couples prior to marriage generally have a good sexual relationship. If they do not have a good sexual relationship, they think that getting married will improve matters; it will not.

This is why we need to get over our shyness and talk this issue out as soon as possible which is still not easy for most couples. We may not be sexually compatible. One may have a higher sex drive than the other. If that is so, what is the couple going to do about that? It won’t go away. When – not if – there are financial problems along the way and communication breaks down this could impact on the intimate relationship of the couple. The ‘sex issue’ for some reason is hardly ever discussed in any great detail. It seems to come way down the list of priorities when planning the future.

Preparing for marriage is about preparing for change

The other question is ‘Why do you want children’? More importantly where are you going to get the money to bring them up? How will you parent? What style of parenting will you use? Will it be based on your parent’s style or different? We have here two people brought up in two different ways, with two different histories and trying to merge those two styles together in a seamless fashion.

Couples answer these questions in a general way, assuming all will go along nicely as they love each other and they are nice responsible people. Maybe they are but preparing for marriage is about preparing for change. The more flexible the couple the better chances of success. Raising children is expensive, exhausting and increasingly difficult. To keep bringing in the money we need work, and that is in short supply – especially well-paid work. Couples must tackle this issue about ‘starting a family’ now. If one or both of them lost their jobs are they prepared to emigrate?

Unfortunately most of us now are running to stand still. When we look round we think that everybody else is doing ‘it’ better than we are. They are not! They are struggling just like us. With all the pressures we face it inevitably affects our intimate relationships. Too often, a bit like our health, if we seem OK we don’t take much notice of these issues. It is only when problems occur that we panic and want someone to fix things quickly.

Gaining any tools to help you on your relationship journey like a marriage preparation course will come in useful at some point. Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. Don’t do that – prepare to succeed.

Tony Moore is a counsellor for Relationships Ireland. Relationships Ireland is a not-for-profit organisation that offers confidential relationship counselling. It also offer 1-on-1 Marriage Preparation Courses. For more information or to book a consultation you can contact 1890 380 380, email info@relationshipsireland.com or visit www.relationshipsireland.com.

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