You are about to enter into an odd contract. Congratulations! Whether it’ll be big or small, packed with guests or at City Hall, putting it all together took strategy, planning, and compromise.
Despite all of the time and energy you spent getting down the aisle, the overall odds your first marriage will happily carry you through to forever are about the same as winning a coin flip.
Why leave it all to chance? Before taking your vows, take a break and think about what you want from your marriage. Consider the possibility you’ll lose the proverbial coin flip. Divorce happens every day. Thinking about it before you marry isn’t going to set you up for failure.
Facing the possibility of it happening will wake you up. It’ll motivate you into taking steps to prevent it. And if despite all you do, it still happens, you’ll minimize the potential for negative impacts.
Three Things You Must Tackle Before Saying, “I Do”
What follows is advice no one else will give you before your wedding. Not much of it is nice, and it’s not supposed to be.
But if you finish reading and feel a little like you did on the playground when that mean kid told you Santa wasn’t real, try to remember that:
A) That mean kid was right, and
B) You were wiser for knowing the truth.
There, now that we got that out of the way, here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me before my wedding.
1. Appreciate your marriage by working on it.
You have without a doubt heard over and over not take your marriage for granted, to put your marriage first, and that marriage takes work. You and your partner are two different people.
A marriage is like Venice. It’s held up by rotting poles and is guaranteed to sink unless the supports receive CONSTANT maintenance.
Your soon-to-be bride and you are two different people. Fate, commonality, your brain’s’ inner workings, and pure chemistry brought you to this moment. After your wedding, you will both continue to grow and change as individuals, so work at growing in the same direction.
Assess your relationship both when together and when you’re apart. Detect small conflicts and areas of weakness. Strengthen them by making changes where you need to. It’s maintenance.
Just like you:
- Change your car’s oil regularly, replace your home’s air filter
- Replace your home’s air filter on a monthly basis, and
- Show up at the doctor’s office for checkups on occasion
So, too, you must regularly tend to the state of your marriage. Ignoring problems of any size will make them worse. Time won’t fix your issues. Only you can.
The “Gray-Divorce” rate (divorces of those over 50 years old) is on a rapid rise lately. Why? Because these couples failed at growing and changing together. Then after spending decades with their heads down, they suddenly looked up and realized they knew nothing about each other.
If you forget everything else in this article, remember this: Always assume your marriage is headed for failure unless you work to fix it.
2. Plan for the worst.
Efforts that you both make to prepare now for the possibility of divorce will strengthen your marriage.
Imagine for a moment what your life would look like if your marriage were to end. You and she would live, work, and live your lives apart. If kids are in your future plans, there will be custody considerations, schedules, and the potential for child support. Think about what you would want in that situation.
Here’s how it would play out:
- Let’s say you work 60+ hours a week, and your wife will stay home with the kids.
- The possibility of you being awarded primary custody in divorce court is pretty darn close to zero.
- Her chances will be very good, along with the likelihood that you would pay significant child support and alimony for some length of time (in some states, forever).
If that’s not what you want, then you have to establish a different rhythm in your household.
Encourage a dual-income household. Not only will both of you have the ability to support yourselves independently in the event of a divorce, but independence also fuels positive self-worth and appreciation that can support a healthy marriage.
The outcomes of divorce, particularly custody, are driven by the patterns in a marriage. For example, if you want an equitable outcome, each spouse needs to contribute in an equitable way prior to the divorce. This includes working, and also child and home care.
You’ll find these efforts will bring you closer together while also helping shape the outcome of a potential divorce.
3. Talk It out Before Your Wedding.
By now, you’ve thought about it, you’ve pictured it, and you’ve accepted the possibility of divorce. If despite all of that you think it can’t or won’t happen to you, Google divorce and statistics in your state. It’s not a pretty picture.
Now that you know it can happen to your marriage, talk about it with your soon-to-be bride. You may have discussed it before but likely blew it off because divorce is what happens to other people, not the two of you, right?
There’s no time for that lax attitude anymore. Get serious have a real conversation about the hard stuff.
Have you discussed your individual visions for your marriage? If you haven’t, make a list.
Address the big stuff, like:
- Where you’ll spend the holidays
- Retirement plans
Lay out your financial situations. The number one argument in marriage, and in divorce, is money. Map out how your incomes will be managed.
Will you have joint or separate bank accounts? Joining them may feel more unified, but you will have to discuss all major purchases. If you’ll bank separately, neither party will have to ask permission, provided they are staying within budget.
Sometimes one spouse dominates the finances, paying all bills and running the household’s budget. It’s a simple method. But it doesn’t build independence in your marriage.
Along those same lines, if you own all the accounts, loans, and utilities, she isn’t building up any positive credit history.
Divorces draw lines to divide property, custody, and alimony. Discuss the assets you’ll take into the marriage and how a potential divorce will affect their division.
Compare your views on parenting and raising kids and the roles each of you will play. If one of you is stuck on a stay-at-home parent idea while the other envisions two working parents, you’ll need to resolve those differences before tying the knot.
Write down your plan for your marriage. It could be a formal, prenuptial agreement covering the plans for finances, or something basic outlining your discussions, goals, and resolutions.
If you find yourselves writing about assets you’re bringing with you, take the time to get some legal advice and a formal, prenuptial agreement drawn up, especially if you live in a community property state.
You guys are in love now, so your differences and compromises right now will be easy.
Isn’t it odd that we spend loads of time and energy planning out every detail of a wedding but almost none on planning for the marriage?
Treasure the time leading up to your wedding day. The details may bug you, but the event will be special. Even looking back, most divorced couples were happy once at their wedding.
Give the same level of attention, or really more, to planning out your marriage, not just the first day.
Too many men have walked down that road ahead of you, done what was right for their family, and now find themselves waiting every other weekend in a parking lot to get a few hours with their kids.
If that isn’t your vision, then start down the road eyes wide open. Understand what you want, appreciate your relationship and work at it. Avoid prolonged behavior that could put you at a disadvantage later.
Above all, never take your marriage for granted!