K-State Research and Extension News
June 09, 2014
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Before You Say ‘I Do’



Wedding season is upon us, and a relationship expert explains the many questions couples need to consider before making a trip down the aisle.

MANHATTAN, Kan. – Dress bought and tux rented? Check. Cake? Check. Flowers and decorations? Check. Honeymoon booked? Check. You’re ready for the wedding, but are you ready for the marriage?

Each year in the United States, just more than 2 million couples get married, which comes out to about 6,200 weddings each day, according to The Wedding Report. June, August, May, July, September and October are the most popular months to tie the knot.

K-State Research and Extension family systems specialist Charlotte Shoup Olsen said it’s important for couples get to know each other well and realize that a marriage is a lifelong commitment that takes more preparation than planning the wedding itself. Getting ready for the marriage means effectively communicating and discussing important items such as finances, children, hopes, dreams and expectations.

“Sometimes we get so involved in wedding preparations, that takes away all our time and attention at the same time the nurturing of this relationship needs to occur,” she said. “Paying attention to each other helps create a relationship that will survive over time.”

Communication and picking up on cues

Often times couples think they know each other well just from being with each other, having a good time and going out a lot, Olsen said, but there’s additional things couples need to think about. A lot boils down to communication.

Finding out more about the other person by asking questions or just being closely observant of words and body language is essential. Communication, she said, allows couples to pick up on personal cues:

“How does this person like to observe special days, such as holidays or birthdays? When does he or she like to be silly, let go and have fun? What are the person’s daily household habits? How does he or she prefer to eat meals? What is this person’s take on time—being early, right on time or strolling in late? What does the person like to do for leisure?”

Sometimes when they ask these questions, couples will find that they think differently on certain things, Olsen said. Also observe how the other person reacts to certain situations and how you interact with each other’s families. Absorbing all of these things about the other person can help you decide what you can and can’t live with.

“Getting into discussions about how to deal with this is important,” she said. “For instance, maybe you eat meals together, and you note that it’s always in front of the TV, or there’s always texting. You prefer to sit down across the table from each other and avoid other distractions. This is a good conversation to have. Often times we do have to compromise.”

As couples communicate, they learn how to create an emotional connection, Olsen said, which is vital to a marriage. When two people are attracted to each other, there’s an emotional connection, but a deeper emotional connection happens through words or behavior.

“One instance might be to say, ‘I really appreciated you being with my family this last Mother’s Day,’” she said. “Often times we forget to say those things, but that’s an emotional connection you’re making with the other person to show something you appreciated.”

Relationships will have difficulties and conflict, Olsen said, as it’s natural for two people from two different backgrounds to disagree sometimes. But, couples should learn to handle disagreements respectfully.

“(Disagree) in gentle ways using soft start-ups, meaning you don’t come in yelling at that other person and don’t pull in all of the baggage from when you started dating,” she said. “Always be respectful, even if you disagree.”

Also, couples should make sure they are supportive of one another when problems arise and pick up on cues that might insinuate a person isn’t responsive or doesn’t seem as cheerful as normal.

“Over time, you work at the language you can use to try to get to what is happening with that other person,” Olsen said. “Ask if everything’s ok, and that person might reply that it is ok. You learn to continue to be supportive, not push that person to answer your question, not demand the other person comes forth immediately, but you open the door. You make the connection that says, ‘I care about you. I want you to be happy, and I want the best for you.’”

Stereotypically, men are sometimes said to be more closed off in relationships compared to women, but Olsen said when it comes to relationships, there should be no gender-based stereotypes. Openness depends on the individual, and anyone can shut down. It all depends on the person’s background, personality and life experiences.

Spending a good amount of time together helps people get to know each other, she said, although the amount of time it takes to truly get to know each other before marriage is different for different couples.

Focusing on important issues

Children, finances, where to live, and goals and expectations individually and as a couple are some of the common issues that should be discussed before the wedding, Olsen said.

“If one person does (want children) and the other doesn’t, that’s a serious topic of conversation,” she said. “Perhaps one is assuming the other. If a person said he or she wanted a lot of children, to the other person that might mean three. To the one who said it, it meant five, six or more. Just discuss that so you’re on the same wavelength.”

Finances are a huge and tough issue, Olsen said. A person shouldn’t be surprised once the wedding band is on that unrealized debt came with marrying the other person. That needs to come out as two people come together, plan a marriage and share finances.

When it comes to finances, she said, answer these questions with the other person:

“How will the big-ticket items be paid for in the future? What will those big-ticket items be? Do you plan to buy a house, and if so, how will you prepare for that? Do you plan to take a vacation every year, such as go on a cruise? Who will pay the everyday bills?

Money drives families, Olsen said, and how people make financial decisions is often determined by how those decisions were made in their own families and how they made those decisions living on their own. The other person might have different expectations, so couples have to figure out how to mesh two different ways into one.

For couples planning for marriage, Olsen said there are online tests that can help couples get to know one another better and determine if they’re ready for a lifelong commitment. Also, many communities provide guided pre-marital programs that help couples open up and have those important conversations.

A publication authored by Olsen that focuses on enhancing relationships is available online through the K-State Research and Extension Bookstore. 

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K-State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well-being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K-State campus, Manhattan.

Story by: Katie Allen
katielynn@ksu.edu
K-State Research & Extension News

Charlotte Shoup Olsen – colsen@ksu.edu or 785-532-1948