The other day, a client told me that if she and her husband engaged in mediation before they got married, they would never have come to me to help them divorce. Her soon-to-be ex-husband agreed.
Many of the concerns that they both had about their relationship when they walked down the aisle were ultimately the reasons why they separated. These concerns had never been addressed during the marriage in any constructive way and some of them had ultimately been the reasons for their divorce.
I’m sure it wouldn’t surprise to you to know that I’ve heard this lament time and time again. Couples enter into relationships knowing, but never discussing, their concerns. Over time, these unspoken differences can become the impediment to a lasting relationship.
As part of my practice, I meet with folks who are planning to marry. My job is not to be their counselor, but to facilitate a frank, open discussion about their hopes, dreams and expectations for their marriage. Many religious groups offer retreats for this purpose; however, many couples are not interested in a religiously-based approach. They are simply interested in having a heartfelt discussion on their own that centers on issues that, if not addressed, may eventually lead to conflict and perhaps divorce later on.
The following is a list of the most common topics that my clients raise:
One of the more prevalent reasons for divorce is differing philosophies about money. Do both persons have similar views about saving and spending? How comfortable are they with carrying debt?
Do both individuals want children? If so, when? If both persons are of different faiths, how will the children be raised? Are there differences in parenting philosophies?
If both people have their own children, they will benefit from having a focused discussion about how to blend their families. Topics include how they have each raised their children as well as expectations for household rules and discipline. Also of great importance is an understanding of the relationship between each person and their ex-spouse or ex-partner, as well as how often the children will be transitioning between households.
What are each person’s expectations about working and contributing monetarily to the household? Will having children affect their career paths?
HEALTH AND FITNESS
Are there any health-related issues that must be discussed? Are there any expectations about a partner’s commitment to physical fitness?
We all have those “little annoying habits”. Believe it or not, in premarital mediation, we discuss such topics as how the dishwasher is loaded and how towels are folded. Although these topics can seem trivial, a conversation can save a couple from ongoing conflict later on. Marriage can be challenging enough without these small issues becoming the fodder of continuing conflict.
HOW PARTNERS HANDLE CONFLICT
Nothing gets the juices flowing more than a conversation about how a couple handles conflict! This is an essential discussion where both parties learn from one another their views about conflict. The process helps them to discuss healthy ways of resolving disputes.
One of the processes that I use in mediation is the Harvard Program on Negotiation’s model of “Interest Based Negotiation”, where both parties are called upon to explore each other’s interests and find mutually acceptable solutions. A benefit of mediation is that the process, itself, equips the couple with a set of tools that they can use to resolve conflict in a healthy manner.
Marriage is one of, if not the greatest, commitment that an individual can make. Gaining deeper insights into a beloved, prospective partner can only increase the odds of a successful marriage. Doesn’t it make sense to have these essential conversations beforehand?