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A packet of premarital counsel

Jacob Ninan

1. Introduction

Hello, John and Ann. I am glad to hear that you are planning to get married. That is one of the greatest adventures in life. Why do I call it an adventure? It's because married life has lots of thrills, surprises and challenges. Of course it will also have its share of sorrows, troubles and setbacks. But they are the challenges. The good thing is that the two of you will be together in it all. As they say, sorrows are halved when shared, and joys are doubled.

You love each other! Fine. But how well do you know each other? Quite well? That's good. But let me tell you it will take a lifetime to really get to know each other. And it won't even happen automatically. You have to make an effort to observe each other, listen to each other and communicate to each other. We'll talk about this more as we go on.

You know, before we go for a job we get trained for it and that's how we get qualified for it. After we join we also get on-the-job training. But what about something as demanding as marriage? Most people go into marriage without any training at all! We think that once we get married we will be able to 'live ever after happily', as we have read in fairy tales! Our training may be only what we have seen from our parents. But times have changed, and also the experiences of both spouses may be different! Our aim in going through a premarital programme is to at least prepare the couple for what lies ahead, warn them about possible dangers, and give them some tips about handling different situations.

Have you heard the light bulb joke about counsellors? Here goes. How many counsellors do you need to change a light bulb? Only one. But it may take long, it may be expensive, and the light bulb has to want to change! I hope you got the point!

2. The marriage vows

Very soon you are going to stand before God, your loved ones and friends, and make vows to each other. You are going to tell each other that you will stick with each other till death takes one of you away. Have you thought about what that means? John and Ann, this means that you are making a lifetime commitment to each other. You are not even thinking at the back of your mind that if there is some problem you can always get a divorce. God hates divorce. What will you do, John, if after a few years of marriage you find that you don't like something about Ann? Call it quits, and look for someone else? No way! "Till death does us part!" "In sickness or in health, in poverty or in wealth, in good times or in bad!" If you don't mean it, you shouldn't promise it to each other and God.

It is all the more reason to think and pray much about whom you are going to marry, because once you get married you have to stop looking around. There is no trial marriage for a Christian and anyone else who wants to enjoy a good marriage. Unless there is this kind of a permanent commitment to each other, you won't really make a serious effort to stick with each other when problems come. Believe me, problems will come up in every marriage. Now you may think that you two are just made for each other and nothing can separate you. Did you know that when you are courting each other both of you are putting on your best front? What about when you are married and you let your hair down, figuratively speaking? What would you do when you get under pressure? Don't you think that misunderstandings, foolish words and bad moods might come up once in a while? Not to worry. They will come up. But when you are committed to each other for life, you will be able to find ways to deal with such things and become a better husband and wife.

3. Understanding God's plan for marriage

Why did God start the idea of marriage at all? Many people get married for the wrong reasons, or just because everybody gets married! But the reason why God created Eve was that it was not good for Adam to be alone (same way for Eve too). None of us is complete in ourselves. We need someone to relate to. Marriage is the most intimate relationship a man or woman can have, where they are open with each other, share everything together, plan and carry out activities together, raise up children together and enjoy seeing them grow, face challenges together, grow in wisdom together, etc. So the marriage partner becomes the best companion in the whole world. It is to enjoy this type of a companionship that we get married.

We know that God is the Designer and Creator, and that He is the One who started the concept of marriage. After He created man and woman and brought them together in the first marriage ceremony which He Himself conducted, He also blessed them. This shows that it is His goal that marriage should be a blessed relationship. He also wants husbands and wives to become one. This is to come into a harmony where they work together as a single unit, understanding each other and taking advantage of each other's complementary strengths. You can't come into this kind of a life automatically. You've got to work on it to come to it and to maintain it. That is why it is important to pay close attention to what God has given in His word, the Bible, as instructions for a happy and successful marriage. Let us look at some of the important ones.

3.1. Faithfulness

Adultery is a serious sin for married people. This can begin with our eyes, go on to our thoughts and finally end up in action. Jesus made it clear that it is not just physical adultery that is a sin, but that even if we looked at someone of the opposite sex with desire it would amount to adultery in the heart. When you give your heart to each other, you won't give your thoughts to anyone else. Faithfulness towards each other is of utmost importance if your marriage is to be a happy one.

You are going to be tempted, for sure. You will see many things around you that provoke you to get interested in someone of the opposite gender. This becomes extra strong if you have become unhappy with each other over anything. But don't give in to these thoughts. Nip them off just as they come up. Fear to sin against God and against each other. I'll tell you one secret. One way to proof yourself against this is to constantly work for strengthening your own marriage relationship.

3.2. Cleaving to each other.

Cleaving is an old word which means clinging on to each other no matter what. When Adam and Eve got married, God told them to leave their parents and to cleave to each other. They didn't even have parents! So this was a general instruction being given to all married couples. (By the way, 'man' is used there in a generic sense referring to men and women.) John and Ann, after you get married, Ann must be the most important person in the world for you John, and John must be the most important person in the world for you Ann. Especially not your parents or friends! You will certainly honour your parents as long as they are there, and help in taking care of them. But your priority number one is your spouse. Not even your children when they come.

3.3. Loving each other.

Right now you think there is no need to tell you about this! But what would happen once this euphoric fascination with each other gets confronted by something you don't like in your partner? How will you continue in love? Let me help you. Don't think of love as a nice feeling. The essence of real love is to sincerely wish the best for the other. Even when you don't like something that your partner has said or done, you can still wish to do only good things for him or her, can't you? 'Wishing' is not so difficult, is it? But when you think positively like that, you can also take action in that direction.

Can you think of something which is very essential if you have to be able to love without ceasing? You need to be quick to apologise and to forgive each other! We all make mistakes, and do many things wrong. So really it is not all that humiliating to say that we were wrong, and to apologise. But it is needed, if we have to keep the communication channels open. As far as forgiveness is concerned, don't even wait for the other to apologise, but forgive from the heart. This simply means that we are not going to hold that wrong against them but release them and wish the best for them.

4. Designed for special roles

You know that a husband and wife have different roles in marriage. Not just physically. But before I proceed, Ann, will you just put out your hand and arm straight? Are they straight? Isn't there a slant between your upper arm and forearm? It was designed like that to help you to carry babies more easily! John's arm is straight. You poor guy will have a tougher time carrying babies sideways! And what about the famous hourglass figure that ladies have? Actually that helps them to carry babies on their hips. John, if you try to imitate them you will find that the baby slips down your side! I am not telling you John, not to help Ann to carry babies when she needs help. I'm just pointing out that husbands and wives are designed for different roles.

A man's traditional role is to be a provider for the family and a woman's role is to bring up children and take care of the home. These are what they are best suited for, physiologically and psychologically. I know that now a days there is a lot of mixing of these roles, with more and more women taking up the additional role of providers. But as a result life has become highly stressful for these ladies, not only physically but also emotionally. What happens commonly is that they try to do well in their jobs, and, without intending to do so, compromise in their relationship with their husbands and children. Even though this brings in more cash, the resulting conflicts in marriage, and the deprivation suffered by the children may be too costly a price to pay. I am not denying the fact that sometimes economic survival may depend on the mother going for work. Those are special situations for which one may seek God for grace. But there are many cases where the mothers have the option to choose to give priority for the family. John and Ann, this is a subject which you need to discuss between both of you and decide what approach you need to take.

You say everyone is doing it, and that's the way of life now. That's right. Expenses are going up, and any small increase in income would be welcome. Also, after John goes for work what will Ann do the whole day? These are all true. But before you decide, just think of the other factors too.

Just imagine that both of you are coming back from work in the evening, tired and stressed out because of problems at work. You are both looking for a time to rest and get over the stress. What John would like to do, as a man, is to be able to drink some coffee and go through the newspaper or watch sports on the TV. But what Ann, as a woman, would like to do is to share with John about everything that happened at work. These are natural expectations for men and women. But here you are, with both of you not being able to get the relaxation you want. As a result there can be flare-ups, accusations and stand-offs. After a few experiences like this both of you decide to leave each other alone and nurse your wounds by yourselves. Will this small factor become the beginning of a serious estrangement that can come later?

Just say you have small kids whom you have sent off to school somehow in the morning. They have come home before you. There is no one there to guide and train them regarding the different aspects of life and behaviour. All the training they get will be from the TV or neighbourhood kids. You think you have given them everything when you have bought them nice clothes, food and expensive toys. And then you are surprised when they become teenagers and feel you don't understand them! Isn't there much to think about?

5. The issue of authority

God is a God of order, and He has designed everything to function in peaceful harmony. He has also created laws of nature and behaviour so that when we live according to them we can enjoy this harmony. He has placed a certain order of authority in a family for its harmonious functioning. He has placed Jesus Christ as the Head of the family, the husband to act as head over the wife and both father and mother to exercise authority over the children.

Many women don't like this because they have misunderstood what it implies. They think this means that they have to virtually become slaves to their husbands, with no role other than to submit! But the Bible makes it clear that men and women are equal in the sight of God. The issue here is not one of superiority or inferiority. It is a matter of keeping order in the home. It means that the husband has the overall responsibility over the family and he is the one who has to provide the leadership and direction. In this his wife is his support, and a good husband will value the suggestions and opinions of his wife. They will work together as a team. The husband has been specifically instructed to love his wife just as Christ loves the church and gave Himself for it, and there is no question of his lording it over his wife.

When the husband and wife work together in harmony, there is a good environment for the children to grow up in. It is a sad fact of life that the children suffer immeasurable emotional damage when they see their parents divided, and many of them end up scarred for life. It is important that you both seek to remain in harmony. Whenever you have disagreements, do talk things over between yourselves, away from the children.

6. Understanding each other

Apart from understanding God's plans for marriage, the next most important thing is to understand each other. What happens usually is that we all think (perhaps we are not aware of this) that everybody should think and behave like us. So it happens that after the first phase of trying to please the spouse, both of them begin to change the spouse to his or her ways. This does not succeed, and then frustration gives way to quarrels and accusations. How can this happen to two people who start life together madly in love with each other? It is basically a matter of ignorance of the differences in the way each spouse thinks, behaves and communicates. Many factors contribute to these differences, such as gender, family background, personality traits, etc. What is very important is to recognise that your spouse is very different from you, and that you need to learn to accept your partner as he or she is, and then adjust your attitude and approach towards him or her.

6.1. Families of origin

John and Ann, how much do you know about each other's families? You are going to start a family of your own, and you are invariably going to bring in a lot of psychological baggage from your families of origin. Apart from certain personality traits which you have inherited from your parents and grandparents, who you are and how you behave today have been formed by the 'training' you have received at home while growing up from a baby to an adult. So you can understand that John's training has been very different from yours, Ann.

Dr. Eric Berne, who formulated a form of psychotherapy known as Transactional Analysis, has created a model of human behaviour which is very revealing about why we behave the way we do, and how other people behave the way they do. Let's take a quick look at that.

Dr. Berne says that each of us has three 'ego states' called 'Parent', 'Adult' and 'Child'. At any moment we would be behaving in any of three states, and we could switch from one to another rapidly, of course without being aware of it. The 'Adult' behaviour is how it should be. This is like an unbiased computer which analyses all the inputs it has received in the past - what we have picked up while growing up, what we have learned from our past failures and successes, what we have seen and heard from other people, what we have heard from God and His word - and then makes a rational decision about what we should say or do. The 'Adult' is always learning and improving his decisions. The 'Child' represents what we have learned when we were children, and the 'Child' behaviour comes in when we automatically behave in the way we used to behave when we were children. We must realise that when we were children we were living practically dominated by our feelings because our reasoning capacity was still under development. So as a 'Child' we respond to our feelings in the same way that we used to when we were children, for example, by sulking, throwing tantrums, etc. Then there is the 'Parent' behaviour. When we were children, our parents were like gods to us, knowing everything and doing everything right! (We suddenly woke up when we became teenagers, didn't we?) We have all picked up behaviour patterns from our parents (or other people who were crucial in our childhood development) by way of imitation, whether they are good or bad. When we automatically behave now like the way our parents behaved, it is called the 'Parent' behaviour.

Now you see how your families of origin have contributed to your behaviour now. This has two aspects. We can understand our own behaviour better, and act like an 'Adult' to change from automatic and unreasonable behaviour. Secondly we can be understanding towards our spouse when he or she behaves in an irrational manner without thinking. As you exchange stories about your childhood and your special experiences, you can understand each other better, and this will help you in moving towards better harmony.

6.2. Gender differences

When God created us as men and women, He created us differently in order for us to be able to fulfill our different roles. Even the designs of our brains are different! As men and women we are equally intelligent, but we think differently, respond differently to situations and people, speak differently and we have different approaches to dealing with problems. Due to this gender difference husbands and wives also have different expectations from marriage. It takes a lifetime for you to get to know each other well. But I hope the following information will start you off in that direction.

John, did you know that on an average men are 50% stronger physically than women? With that kind of strength you can protect, defend and provide for Ann. But you can also see that some husbands misuse this strength to abuse their wives. Ann, you may not know that you have, by design, a greater strength to endure pain, and to continue in perseverance in the face of hardship. You must have seen women taking care of their babies and husbands even when they themselves are sick, and sticking on to their husbands even in the face of abuse.

Another strength, Ann, is the ability to do many things together at the same time. A woman can be carrying a baby on her left side, feeding him from a bottle in the left hand, speaking to her friend through a mobile phone held between her face and right shoulder, and stirring up food on her stove in front of her! In between, she can talk to her husband about something he needs to get for her and then explain to her friend on the phone that she was talking to her husband! This is because of the way her brain is wired up! Her poor husband, on the contrary, wants the TV to be put off and everyone in the room to stop talking because he has to answer a phone call!

Nowhere is this gender difference seen more prominently than in the way men and women communicate. Many books have been written about it, and one book I'd suggest for you to read is "Men are from Mars, women are from Venus" by Dr. John Gray. John and Ann, this is one area which can be a cause of lots of misunderstanding, and so you need to pay close attention to this.

One of the most common complaints wives have against their husbands is that the husbands have no time to talk to them. Most husbands are shocked to hear this, because they can immediately point out the number of different occasions when they talked to their wives! The problem is that 'talking' means different things to both of them.

Men talk when they have some information to give or get. Once that is done, they have finished talking, and they don't see any further need to talk. Women talk in order to convey feelings and to connect with people. Information may get exchanged in the process, but that is not the primary goal. As a result, women may move from subject to subject rapidly (which may all appear to be very disconnected to men), because they are building a relationship with the person they are talking to. They are also expressing their feelings in order to get support from their listeners.

Because women are talking more about their feelings than facts, it can be very confusing to men. For example, when a wife tells her husband, "Honey, you never take me out anywhere", her husband can say, "What! What about last week when I took you out for dinner and the other time when we went for that music programme?" He may even wonder in his mind how this woman can be telling lies! But what the wife actually meant was, "Honey, I feel like you never take me out anywhere. I would very much like it if you would take me out somewhere now." Don't you think, John, this would take some time to get used to? What about you, Ann? Will you now be able to understand John's problem when he doesn't seem to catch on to what you are saying?

John, what would you do when you come across some problem? You would like to think about it and see how it can be solved. You don't like anyone to disturb you while you are busy sorting out things in your mind. Right? Do you know what Ann would do if she saw you sitting somewhere in a thoughtful mood? She would come and talk to you and ask you what you are worried about. She is doing what she would like someone to do when she has a problem! But John wants to be left alone! Then Ann thinks you don't love her! John, a woman's response to problems is to talk about it to someone. While she is talking, she may express different ideas about what she would like to do. A man may think she is actually planning to do it, and step in with his own comments. But she is just trying out ideas to see what they feel like. A man may try to help her by giving her quick solutions, and he can't understand why she ignores the solutions and goes on with the problems! But she is looking for solutions through the process of enacting different scenarios in her mind!

John, have you noticed how women just take one look at someone and decide, "I don't like him"? You think, "How can she do that without knowing anything about him?" But the fact is that women are good at noticing many details that men are totally oblivious to. Something shifty in that man's eyes or something phony in his voice may have registered in their mind instantly, because they are sensitive to such things. So, John, if you are planning to make a business deal with a man and Ann has some misgivings about him, pay attention. At least discuss it with her.

Dr. Willard F. Harley Jr. has written a book called "His needs, her needs" in which he describes what men and women are generally looking for in marriage. His idea is that if both the spouses make efforts to provide what the other spouse is looking for, they will both be happy, and there will be no temptation to look around for someone else.

Dr. Harley lists five things each for men and women. The things men look for in marriage are: 1) Sex, 2) Recreational companionship, 3) A good looking wife, 4) Domestic support, and 5) Admiration. Ann, let me just say for now that sex is a strong need for a man. We'll talk more about it later. The second thing is support for his hobbies and special interests. If John likes music or a game of tennis, you should take interest in it just as you would do for a son who is taking part in such an activity in school. What commonly happens is that wives keep finding fault with their husbands for wasting their time with such activities and think that their husbands don't love them. But the more they complain, the more the husbands would like to get away to these things that give them pleasure! A third point to remember, Ann, is that it is necessary to dress well and take care about your appearance, even after you are married. Remember, one of the things that attracted John to you is your looks! You can't afford to become sloppy after marriage! The fourth point is that because of the traditional roles, and since a man is usually outside his house for his work, he expects his wife to take care of the things at home. I am sure John will pitch in to help you at home, Ann, especially if he notices that you are struggling. But don't let career or hobbies make you neglect the home. The last point is a well known male characteristic, to preen himself before the female to get her admiration. John will feel pretty lousy if instead of giving him words of admiration, you give him a barrage of critical words!

The five things women look for in marriage are: 1) Affection, 2) Conversation, 3) Transparency, 4) Financial security, and 5) Family support. You know, John, women are very insecure by themselves, and they are always looking for someone to take care of them. Feeling affectionate is not enough, John, you will have to demonstrate it to Ann. No, sex is not the only way to show affection. You will have to keep telling her how you love her, and demonstrate it by little hugs and kisses, giving her gifts, taking her out, calling her from wherever you are, words of appreciation, etc. If you do this consciously, you will have Ann eating out of your hands! It is not enough to tell her about your love once (information exchange!). Secondly, John, you must give Ann the opportunity to talk to you. It is enough, as a minimum, even if you just listen to her, provided it is an active listening, with close attention to what she is saying and responding in between with acknowledgment sounds or questions. Don't give her solutions immediately! Give her time to express what is on her mind. Ask questions if you don't understand what she is saying, but in a supportive way. Thirdly, please remember, John, that ladies tend to be insecure, and so please don't add to their insecurity by being secretive in your ways. Let Ann feel assured of your love by telling her where you are, what you are doing, when you will come home, what is holding you up, what your plans are, who your friends are, etc. Wives, whose husbands are not very communicative in this way may become suspicious about what their husbands are doing. Fourthly, let Ann know what you are doing with your money, and about the provisions you are making for her so that she can feel secure. Finally, John, be a team member with Ann in taking care of the children, their games, their schooling, etc., so that she doesn't feel it is a burden on her. Some men think that it is all the wife's responsibility, and blame them when the generation gap has built up, not realising that Daddy wasn't around when the children needed him.

6.3. Temperamental differences

Have you noticed that even in the same family the children are different in their behaviour? While the environment has a major role to play in the development of the children, there are certain traits we are born with, which we have inherited from our parents and grandparents, in different combinations. There are extroverts and introverts, dominating and meek persons, analytical but slow to make decisions, creative but getting into depression, quick to make decisions but unwilling to change, not easily shaken by anything but not willing to take any decision, makes everyone laugh but cannot lead anyone, born leader but not able to control anger, etc. People are so different from one another. Psychologists have tried to classify our temperaments into different groups. What they have seen is that while people have different prominent characteristics, they also have several other traits in different proportions. This is, of course, to be expected when traits get dispersed through different generations. The end result is that each of us has several strengths of character and also weaknesses. But what is important for us to know in marriage is to recognise our own temperamental build as also that of our spouse. As it happens often, our spouse may be weak in an area where we are strong. But we must also realise that our spouse may be strong in our weak areas! This is how a husband and wife can together make a great team!

The secret is to stop trying to fit our spouses into our mould, but to recognise that they are the way they are. Perhaps they may change a little bit. But we can't keep waiting for that to happen, get upset with them and ruin our happiness in the meantime. We can change our attitude and approach towards them. This will make it easier for all of us!

7. Communications

Communication is the link between the spouses. If this breaks down, all other processes of marriage will break down. A breakdown in other areas will finally lead to a breakdown in communications. So you see that it is vital to keep the communication channels open even when there are difficulties in different areas.

Communications between husband and wife should be more than functional. By 'functional' I mean, "Is dinner ready?", "Please pass the salt", "Will you pick up some bread on the way home?", etc. There has to be an exchange of experiences, ideas, feelings, concerns, worries, etc., and the couple has to understand each other better to the extent that you can almost predict what the other person would do in a given situation. This will enable smooth discussions on decisions to be taken and avoid developing a distance between them. This will become crucial especially in times such as when your children enter the teenage years.

Many couples have a wrong idea of forgiveness, and remain silent when they get hurt. The result is that these hurts go underground where they fester and cause misunderstandings and quarrels later on. If you don't tell your partner that you were hurt by what he or she did, how do you expect him or her to know it, and how do you expect to avoid this happpening again?

Of course, the goal of communications is to build the relationship and to ensure smooth functioning in every way. We can't do that through accusation, blaming, fixing the blame, etc. Even when we have to communicate our hurt to our spouse, isn't it better to say, "Honey, I was hurt when you said that", rather than, "Why did you say that?"

A major part of communications is listening. It doesn't help if, in the middle of an argument, you are just waiting for your partner to finish talking so that you can put in your rebuttal which you have been forming all the time while your spouse was talking! Your aim, first of all, is to understand what he or she is saying. And if what he/she says makes sense, you have to change your position and go forward! It is not a battle of wits, but an attempt to build better understanding between two different people. Please remember this very important lesson.

Did you know that when a person speaks, only about 7% of the meaning is conveyed through words? 53% goes through body posture and 40% through the tone and pitch of the voice. If we really want to understand what the other person is saying, we have to listen with both our ears and our eyes! And what about listening to what has not been said, what has been left out? Written communication is so very limited in conveying feelings. One last thing, John. Remember that women are better communicators by design, and so you have to work harder on this!

8. Sexual relationship

I told you earlier when we were talking about gender differences that we will talk about sexual relationship later. This is an area that causes lots of problems in marriage, again mostly due to lack of understanding on both sides. There are several physiological and psychological differences between men and women in the area of sexual desires and sexual function. If both partners take these into consideration and act with understanding, this relation can be a most enjoyable experience compared to the frustration and misery it means to many people.

The media makes out as if sexual relationship is the primary thing in marriage. This is NOT true. Enjoying a lifetime of close companionship that goes through good and bad times together is the blessing of marriage. Sexual intercourse is a physically and emotionally enjoyable expression of that relationship.

Some people have a foolish concept that sex is sinful, especially some religious people. Some others are of the view that sex is to be aimed only at conceiving children, or that deriving any pleasure out of it is wrong. What do you think, John and Ann? Remember that God blessed Adam and Eve before they had sinned, and told them to be fruitful and to multiply. If they hadn't sinned, how would they have multiplied? Sexual relationship is something God planned for men and women when He created them male and female, and part of His blessing is in the pleasure that couples get in that relationship. There is nothing sinful there, unless it is carried out outside of marriage.

Though it is becoming very common now a days in the world, sex before marriage is sin. That kind of intimate relationship is reserved for the marriage relationship, as something that bonds the couple together and gives expression to their increasing oneness.

Now coming to the place of sex in marriage. Many wives complain that their husbands 'cannot think of anything else but sex' or that their husbands 'behave just like animals' when it comes to sex. Now, we need to understand this a little better. Men and women are different with respect to sexual desires and function. Though both men and women have sexual urges, it is much stronger in men. It is not that women don't enjoy sex, but the thing that excites them is a good emotional rapport with their husbands. Men can become excited starting with just a thought, something they see, a touch, etc. Hormones can be released by the body so quickly and then one thing after another happens, and men are ready for intercourse soon after the first provocation. It's very different for women. For them it has to do more with emotional relationship than physical factors. Unless the emotional relationship is fine, they have very little interest for sex. Even with a good relationship, it takes the wife longer time to become ready for intercourse, and that is why the husband has to be understanding enough to lead her gently towards it by verbal and physical expressions of affection. Even through the intercourse the husband has to be patient enough to keep pace with his wife and not to race through selfishly.

A loving husband will also be mindful of his wife's state of mind and physical condition before urging her towards sex. She will certainly love him more for that.

John and Ann, whatever issues you might have in this area, you both need to discuss things together frankly and arrive at an understanding.

9. Conflict resolution

The Bible says that it is inevitable that stumbling blocks should come. I say, whenever two people live together as husband and wife, there will be conflicts. Maybe you think I don't know you well, I don't know how much you love each other, etc. I do hope your conflicts don't take the form of physical violence or even shouting at each other! But misunderstandings, disagreements on different issues, not being able to bear with some behaviour on the other side, etc., are conflicts, aren't they? What should you do when such things happen?

Conflicts must be resolved. Is that a law? No. You can ignore the smaller issues which don't bother you seriously, because raising every issue for resolution can raise further conflicts! But things that have a potential to hurt you more should be resolved as soon as possible. Again, this doesn't mean that they must be resolved immediately. Isn't it better to wait till tempers have cooled down and both partners are ready to talk? (By the way, if you find that tempers are rising, one of you can give a signal indicating that you would like to continue later. But then don't leave it open indefinitely. Agree on a time when you will meet again to discuss the issue. Agree also on the signals!)

Talk things over, as I said earlier, with the goal of trying to understand your partner better, and not to prove that you are right. Be willing to apologise if you recognise your mistake, and to change your behaviour in the future. Take a walk together, go sit in the park or in a restaurant and talk things over. If you are not able to sort things out between the two of you, seek someone's help in whom you both have confidence, and who will keep your confidence.

If your issue is so serious that communications have broken down and you are no longer on talking terms (!), carry out the following method which psychologists use. Both of you sit on two chairs facing away from each other. Let one partner speak for five minutes whatever he or she thinks about the problem and let the other partner listen carefully without interruption. Like I said earlier, the second person should be trying to understand the first person and not trying to find a rebuttal. At the end of the five minutes, the first person stops, and the second person gets five minutes to give his/her remarks about what the first person said. Don't try to bring in new issues. Let this one get resolved first. Now it is the turn of the first person to listen. At the end of the second five minutes, the first person gets another five minutes to wind up, expressing the new understanding he/she has received during this session. The whole excercise can be repeated on the second day, if needed, with the second person taking the first turn.

10. In-laws and out-laws

The mother-in-law is the butt of many jokes, but relationship with in-laws is not a joke! In many cases this can wreck a marriage relationship if the couple does not reckon with the start of a new family unit which is different from their families of origin. It is very common for husbands and wives to refer to 'my family' and mean their family of origin. You remember, John and Ann, you are both to leave your father and mother and cleave to each other.

It is natural that you feel a strong attachment to the parents who have brought you up. There is nothing wrong with that. On their part they also feel strongly about their 'babies' and feel that they still have take care of them. But while children continue to honour their parents, and parents continue to love their children, both must be mature enough to realise that a new family unit is developing, and it must be allowed to grow up without interference. You can visit your parents, and they can visit you (for very short visits!). But recognise that your new family needs to have space to make your own decisions. You can listen to plenty of advice, but you must make it clear in subtle ways that you will make your own decisions. Remember, small surgical procedures can prevent irreparable damages that can come up later on. Small 'painful' interventions can prevent major blow-ups.

If you remember the Parent-Adult-Child model you will recognise that you would both have some idea of how marriage should be based on what you have seen in your parents. Ann, you may want John to be like your father, and John, you may want Ann to be like your mother (especially in her cooking!). Watch out. Don't make comparisons.

11. Financial management

Money management causes a lot of problems in modern marriages. This is especially so when both husband and wife are earning money. You both need to have an understanding about how the money is going to be spent, and who will decide. When I say, "Who will decide?" I am not implying that John should decide! While John has the overall responsibility of the home as its leader, if you are wise, John, you will also know how to delegate responsibilities! So discuss this out, and arrive at an acceptable arrangement.

While this is fine, both of you also must learn how to manage the expenditure wisely. It may be good, especially in the beginning, to keep a record of everything you spend, so that at the end of each month you can together review how the money has been spent and decide whether you need to cut down expenditure in certain areas, and whether you can afford to save more. Yes, savings are essential, to keep aside for future needs. Remember what the Bible teaches us to go and learn from ants? Savings.

Both of you are Christians, and you know how important it is to give, to God and His people, to demonstrate your gratitude to Him who has supplied you with everything good. Plan together, not only to save but also to give.

12. Children

Children coming into the family can be a great joy and blessing. They also bring additional stability to the marriage when the parents recognise their responsibility towards the children and moderate their own behaviour for the sake of the children. Look forward to having children, and don't regard them as a nuisance or a hindrance to your career as ungodly people do. Both of you have to take the responsibility for their nurture, discipline and development. This is another area where you have to talk together and come to an agreement, about the way you will discipline your children. You must be both supportive of each other in this, because children are clever enough to notice differences between the parents and play one parent against the other to get their way.

Something else that comes up in many marriages is that when children start coming, the parent's attention gets focussed on them even to the extent that the spouses become less important to them. This is not healthy at all for the marriage. Please remember that it is you both who have to stick together till death. Children will one day grow up and move on to start their own families. You should not cling on to them and create problems for them at that time. That is also the time when you will be alone together again! Also avoid showing partiality to any of the children because he/she is the eldest, youngest, so cute, more intelligent, etc. They are all your children, and all deserve full support from the parents.

13. Becoming one

Becoming one is a lifelong challenge and it needs focussed effort. You cannot become one with each other unless both of you are willing to give up some of your rights, desires, plans, preferences, pleasures, etc., for its sake. Basically this means, "Don't be selfish, but love one another." But it is worth it, because joys get multiplied and sorrows get divided when you become one. In the strange mathematics of relationship, 1+1 > 2. As you share your lives together with each other, the support, companionship, and understanding that you share with each other is really something that is not possible outside of marriage!

Sometimes couples ask this question about how much of the past life they should divulge to their partners. Certainly the more you get to know each other, the better and stronger the relationship can be. But in sharing the things of the past, especially some of the murkier details, we have to also consider about the capacity of the partner to handle them. We confess all our sins to God because we know He can take it, or handle it. But human beings are human after all, and not all will be able to bear the pressure of having such intimate knowledge. If one is foolish in sharing, it can backfire and the relationship can be spoiled.

At the same time, if there are things in your life that can affect your marriage relationship, such as physical defects, history of sickness, etc., it is better to be frank about it before marriage, so that the partner doesn't feel cheated after marriage.

So I wish you all the best for your married life. I wish, especially, that you would both determine to work on becoming more and more one with each other and making your marriage more and more enjoyable. This will also make it a blessing for the children and for generations to come. May the Lord be with you in a special way.

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