According to a 1999 US nationwide survey of 21, 501 married couples using the ENRICH marital inventories, the top 5 strengths of happy marriages, in the order of importance are:
- Couple Flexibility (ability to make changes in roles and leadership when necessary),
- Couple Closeness (togetherness and emotional connection),
- Personality Compatibility and
These factors are mostly affected by our upbringing and experience in the families in which we grew up. However, if one or both partners has a strained relationship with parents or siblings or unresolved past issues with them, premarital counselling is a vital step to learning how to have a balanced approach in the above aspects. Otherwise, despite your best intentions, you may find yourself behaving exactly the same as your parents or the extreme opposite, neither of which may be healthy for your family life.
Prior to the marriage, there are 10 crucial areas that you need to take time to discuss with your partner to reach a mutual understanding. In an arranged marriage, it is possible that you will not get the opportunity to discuss all these areas before the wedding itself. In such situations, you could make it a priority to discuss and clarify these aspects within the first couple of months after marriage.
- Personality: Reflect and discuss aspects such as how comfortable are you sharing your feelings and letting others know what you want? How do you react when you are upset or irritated? Would you want to deal with a problem head on or just let time take care of it?
- Commitment: What would be your approach if the marriage was in trouble? What would make it difficult for you to remain in the marriage? What would keep you in the marriage despite unresolved problems?
- Priorities/Goals: What would be most difficult to live without? Who is it that you cannot bear to disappoint? Who/what gives you the greatest motivation to go after your dreams? What are the goals you hope to achieve for yourself as an individual and as a couple? If there are areas where your personal and family goals clash, how would you deal with it?
- Role of a husband and wife: Compare your expectations for the responsibilities each of you will undertake in the home and outside. What areas do you expect a husband to take care of? What areas do you expect a wife to take care of? Is it going to be mutual sharing of all responsibilities as needed or will each person be assigned certain fixed areas?
- Finances: Who will handle the money accounts and decisions at home? Will both partners contribute to finances or is one expected to be the breadwinner? What about any financial commitment to family etc that will have to be maintained after marriage? Is the partner expected to contribute to this commitment as well?
- Children/Parenting: How many children? Is one parent expected to take care of most of the childcare responsibilities or will there be mutual sharing as needed? Will both parents continue working after the children arrive?
- Spiritual beliefs: Will both spouses follow same spiritual beliefs or are each free to follow their own? Whose spiritual beliefs will be taught to the children? Are there particular spiritual or religious customs or rituals that are important for you that you want your spouse to participate in?
- Family and Friends: Will you be staying with either spouse's family? What are each family's expectations of you as an adult married child or in-law? Can each spouse's friends call/visit? How do you like to spend time with your friends and how often? Will you be spending time as a couple with friends or will you also have individual time with your friends? How would you interact with friends of the opposite sex after marriage?
- Leisure Activities: How will you spend time after work or on weekends? How important is it for you to share leisure activities as a couple or to have time to pursue your individual interests? Is it important for you to have your family involved regularly with you and your spouse in outings, trips, weekend activities etc?
- Sexual Relationship: It is advisable that each partner consult a medical doctor to clarify your questions about sex and family planning, and discuss with each other any concerns you might have.
Working through your areas of disagreement in the above areas with an unbiased professional can help prevent many roadblocks to satisfaction after marriage. Equipping yourself with the skills needed to communicate and resolve your conflicts effectively as well as clarifying expectations for the marriage in advance can ensure that you and your partner will be able to take the challenges of life in stride and make the most of your life together.