“I wish I’d known that before I started” is something we’ve all thought on occasion as we think of things that would have saved us time and grief. Most married couples, likewise, can list things they wished they’d known before they said “I do.” Linda and Charlie Bloom have a long list from their marriage: “101 Things I Wish I Knew When I Got Married.”
The Blooms explain that they’re both relationship therapists but what they wished they knew before they married didn’t come from graduate school courses. Instead it came from “the scars and wounds that they experienced, endured, and subsequently learned and recovered from.”
Here are the first three of their pearls of wisdom. When they got married they wish they’d known …
“Great relationships don’t just happen; they are created.” Forget finding your “soul mate” and that “all you need is love.” Creating strong marriages starts with couples having compatible values and shared interests that bring them together. But every couple also has significant differences that need to be reconciled. The process of learning to accept, respect, then appreciate these differences is how creating great relationships takes place.
The Blooms explain that couples help this process when they intentionally take steps to build bonds of affection. Through commitment and consciously choosing to give “sincere acts of consideration, generosity, and kindness on a daily basis” you establish a storehouse of goodwill. Regular hugs, giving sincere compliments and offering a helping hand will get you through your differences and disappointments and bring joy to your relationship.
“Vulnerability can be disarming.” The Blooms warn that “arguments don’t end when one person overpowers another.” One spouse might believe he or she has won through treats or insults, counter attacks, defensiveness or avoidance, but the win is temporary and comes at a high price: the “loss of trust, goodwill, caring, and respect.”
Instead, the Blooms suggest that “we need to do what we desire most to avoid – find the courage to be vulnerable.” We want to respond angrily, “You never listen!” or “You always have to be right!” But they suggest something softer: “I really want us to understand each other. It’s so painful for me when we don’t connect.” This type of response helps create “a safe climate for your mutual love and tenderness to blossom.”
“If your job gets your best energy, your marriage will wither.” Stephen Covey, Ph.D., once commented that he never knew anyone on their deathbed who expressed regret at not having spent more time at work. Instead, the single greatest regret was not spending more time with family and friends. Sadly, we often take for granted the things we value the most.
There can only be one top priority in our lives. Working to support the family is necessary. But if you make work a priority over your marriage, you’ll likely have deep regrets when all is said and done.
Many couples struggle to find the right balance. While there’s no magic formula, the worst problems develop when one person decides how much time to spend on the job and ignores the feelings of his or her spouse. Balancing time spent on the job and time at home with the spouse and family should be discussed honestly. What works will depend on the individual needs of each marriage and the status of the family bank account.
Marriage is meant to be fun, but it also takes a concerted effort by two people willing to be open and vulnerable to each other, who make their relationship their No. 1 priority. The result of doing this is a stronger marriage and more fun.