Marriage Prep 101

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Marriage Prep 101
Marriage Mania: What's Your Deadline?
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 The Wedding

Marriage Prep 101

From the burning questions you should ask each other before you walk down the aisle, to the jitters and cold feet, here’s a crash course in building a marriage that can last a lifetime.

Dan T. and his bride-to-be have a wedding to plan, with hundreds of decisions that need to be made leading up to the big day. More important than the floral centerpieces and the DJ’s playlist, however, they also have big decisions to make about the marriage: How many kids will they have? Will they both work? How will they come to terms on the differences in their religious beliefs?

“We want to dig through the big issues,” says Dan, from Albany, N.Y. “We know where we each stand on some of the them, and while we don’t agree 100% on everything, we still know that our relationship is built on something solid.”

Dan and his betrothed are making all the right moves, with a focus on building a marriage that will last by working through some of life’s big-ticket items. But all couples aren’t as pragmatic, and intentionally or not, they ignore the writing on the wall, leading to a bad case of wedding fever that turns from the jitters into cold feet and then a nasty bout of the marriage blues.

How do you make a marriage that will last until death do you part? From the jitters to cold feet, to the burning questions you should ask each other and come to terms on before you walk down the aisle, experts give WebMD a crash course in building a marriage that will last a lifetime.

Life’s Big Questions

“The personal ads where they say, ‘I like to take long walks on the beach,’ those things are minor,” says Louanne Cole Weston, PhD, a marriage and family therapist. “It’s life philosophies that matter in a marriage.”

What’s on the checklist of life a couple should talk through before the wedding bells start to toll? Here are your pre-wedding topics for discussion:

Kids. “When it comes to kids, it’s more than do you want them or not?” says Susan Piver, author of the New York Times best seller, Hard Questions: 100 Essential Questions to Ask Before You Say “I Do.” “You need to ask how many kids you each want. When in your life will you have them? How will you raise them? You can be 100% different on everything else on this list, but if you’re off on kids, that’s when things get difficult.”

Money. “Don’t wait until you are standing at the altar to tell each other how much money you do or don’t have,” says Piver. “Money is the issue that is hardest to talk about, and it’s the one that seems to create the most conflict as a relationship progresses. Ask each other things like how much, but also are you going to create one account, keep separate accounts, how will you save, and how will you spend?”

Religion. “Even if two people were brought up in the same spiritual tradition, there are still questions to ask,” says Piver. “Which holidays are we going to celebrate? Where will we celebrate them, and how? It’s important to know what is important to the other person and what is non-negotiable.”

Sex. “Make sure your sexuality is copacetic,” says Weston, who specializes in sex therapy. “Be specific with each other and discuss what you can and cannot tolerate, and be clear on what your bottom-line expectations are around sex.”

If you dig your way through these issues with your betrothed and find you don’t see eye-to-eye on everything, don’t panic -- disagreeing is not a recipe for divorce.

“Sometimes there are differences that are sizeable in these area, and that’s OK -- you don’t want to marry your clone,” says Weston. “You just have to balance between how much you alter your life and how much your spouse alters his or hers, or you just agree to disagree.”

Still, explains Weston, it’s important that your individual differences are well understood, and ideally, those differences should come out of the closet well before the down payment is made on a ring.

“People should know where the person they are dating stands on these topics before there is a proposal,” says Weston. “While it doesn’t always happen that way, knowing where you each stand on these issues before you even consider marriage is ideal.”

But better late than never, explains Weston. Even for June brides who are steps away from saying “I do,” getting through these issues now with their husbands-to-be is far better than putting them off until after the honeymoon.

From Jitters to Cold Feet

You’ve made it through your pre-wedding discussion checklist, and it’s time to move on to the menu and the floral selections. The problem is, you still can’t shake a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach and it’s not the stuffed mushroom hors d'oeuvres you spent the afternoon sampling, it’s the jitters.

“Everyone experiences jitters to some degree,” says Allison Moir-Smith, author of Emotionally Engaged: A Bride’s Guide to Surviving the “Happiest” Time of Her Life. “You are going through a major shift in your identity, and the jitters are a result of that.”

The jitters, explains Moir-Smith, can be a healthy part of your transition into married life, helping you to look inside yourself and grow.

“It’s important for brides and grooms to know that the jitters are OK,” Moir-Smith tells WebMD. “You know how to be single, or to be a son or a daughter, and now the jitters are a way for you to self-evaluate and change as you figure out how you are going to be as a husband or a wife.”

While the jitters are relatively normal, one step up on the ladder of wedding anxiety are cold feet -- a phrase that sends chills down the spines of pending brides and grooms everywhere. How do you tell the difference between the jitters and cold feet?

“One sign is that you are really picking your fiancé apart and are hypercritical of him or her all the time,” says Moir-Smith. “While you might not be ready to call the wedding off, having cold feet means it’s time to do some emotional work around getting married.”

Therapy and some serious one-on-one time with your spouse-to-be are both smart choices; sifting through your thoughts and concerns is the only way to make it to the altar in one piece. But if still doesn’t feel right, calling it off can be the right decision, even if it’s last-minute.

“If you’re going to call off a wedding, the sooner the better,” says Moir-Smith. “It’s far better to call off a wedding than get divorced, and while it will be painful, everyone will be better off in the long run.”

Marriage Tips

Whether it’s surviving the hard discussions on kids, religion, and money, or getting through the jitters and overcoming cold feet, experts give WebMD some seemingly simple but powerful tips on making a marriage work that every couple should keep in mind:

Start at the beginning. “Brides and grooms expect themselves to know how to be married to each other,” says Moir-Smith. “But they should allow themselves to be a beginner at being married and not compare themselves to their parents who have been married for 30 years.”

Love your spouse and your life. “There is a big difference between loving someone and making a life together you both love,” says Piver. “One without the other is no good.”

Look before you leap. “Always date for one year before you make a proposal before marriage,” says Weston. “You need to see how the other person behaves 365 days of the year -- birthdays, deaths, Thanksgiving, etc. You learn how they treat these events and treat you before, during, and after they occur. Give relationship a full four seasons before you think about marriage.”

Don’t forget the checklist of life. “A wedding may last a weekend, but a marriage may last you a lifetime,” says Weston. “Give issues like kids, religion, money, and sex proportional attention before you get married.”
Source: Heather Hatfield,

Marriage Mania: What's Your Deadline?

Returning home to Birmingham, Alabama, after grad school last year, Satina Richardson was determined to "work on her personal life," and by that she really meant "find a husband." Obsessed with wearing that white dress within one year's time, Satina began her very own "Operation: Matrimony." Since there were no hot prospects on her horizon, the then 29-year-old opted to date a jerk she'd long been avoiding -- just for the sake of dating someone. Not surprisingly, the relationship was a disaster from day one, yet she still hung in there waiting for him to propose. And did he? Yep. He proposed to the woman he'd been seeing behind Satina's back.

Why did a smart woman like Satina do something as stupid as wasting time with someone so wrong for her? Well, while her philosophy may seem old-fashioned, what she did is more common than you'd think. And who knows? It might even sound familiar to you (ahem). Regardless, there are five particularly noteworthy motives behind marriage mania -- and some very important do's and don'ts.

1. Need-a-Man Syndrome. Mary Jo Fay, author of When Your Perfect Partner Goes Perfectly Wrong (, consults with many middle-aged women who have found themselves in difficult relationships. "Many married because they felt they needed a man. They were so desperate to be taken care of that they jumped directly from their parents' home into marriage -- or from one relationship to another." Fay adds, "If neediness is your driving force, you should stop and remember that your parents may have taken great care of you, but being parented by their partner leaves many women in an unhealthy situation."


2. Life Scripts: Many women set very specific, age-based timetables to achieve certain goals as to how they think their lives should run. Research conducted by Dr. James Houran, chief psychologist for the online relationship service, shows that overall, women are as fearful of commitment as men, but that "life scripts," subconscious or not, apply a different kind of pressure.

When she was a child, Nicole Marquez set a deadline to meet her mate. "I wanted to be married at 19, which then moved up to 25, and I wanted kids by 21, which got pushed back to 28." The Arizona public relations account coordinator is now 26, and there is still no ring on her finger. But with a successful career and a strong network of friends, she's doing great! With some maturity and perspective, Nicole has made the decision that she'd rather not get married at all than rush into the wrong relationship -- and she's acknowledged that she has less control over her path than she originally thought.

3. Tick Tock The biological clock still factors into why many young women want to race down the aisle. Fixated on having her first child by age 30, 23-year-old Sarah Branch, an art director in Seattle, simultaneously signed up with five different online personals sites. With over three million people engaging in Internet dating each month, 75 percent of which are seeking a permanent relationship, Sarah has a lot of company. While she hasn't found love yet, her goal is to meet at least 10 men a month. "Lots of times it's a chore to drag myself to the date. Truthfully, I'd rather be with a friend or alone than hook up with another stranger. But then the image of baby booties pops into my mind, and I'm out the door."

4. Community and Family Relationship expert April Masini ( points out, "Societal pressure to conform and to marry is real. Many conservative people feel it and create dating deadlines [for themselves] to adhere to that conformity."

These days Sandra Montenegro calls Miami, Florida, home. However, the 33-year-old single account executive actually hails from Columbia, Brazil, where the pressure to find a husband is so painfully intense that, after the "ancient" age of 30, being divorced is considered better than never having been married at all. Sandra says, "People sort of think there's something wrong with you if you are still single." Even though she's lived in the United States for 13 years, her family is still pushing her to become someone's Mrs. But Sandra has yet to melt under the must-marry heat. "I guess I've got a strong will," she says.

5. Money

Masini says, "Financial pressure to marry someone who will take care of them still exists for some women." The dating pro adds, "This can be something they've always felt, or something they've come to feel as their careers may or may not have worked out the way they expected."

Patty Henderson, a 38-year-old single mother in New York City, married for money at a young age, and she quickly became the stuff statistics are made of. Divorce is highest for women between the ages of 25 and 29 -- and a new study reports that nearly a quarter of newlyweds consider filing for divorce within the first two years of marriage. Patty now works double-duty to support her child. "My ex, who comes from a rich family, stopped paying child support years ago." Studying at night to get her college degree, she insists, "I am raising my daughter to make sure she can always take care of herself. And when she marries, to make sure she does it for love."

Dating Deadline Do's and Don'ts


Realize You've Got the Right Idea

Dr. Houran says, "Dating deadlines can be positive, depending on what's motivating them." It's okay to set a deadline that pushes you to work toward your goals, as long as you aren't -- pardon the pun -- married to completing your goal by an inflexible date.

Know What You Want

Masini says, "There is no shortcut for doing your homework. How do you want to live your life? With whom? Where? It's only after you know the answers to these questions that you can stop wasting your time dating the wrong men and succeed at your goal."

Respect Your Guy's Goals, Too

If you're with a Mr. Right who ultimately wants marriage but doesn't want to be forced to the altar, relax. Eleven months ago Nicole met the one. But he's not in a hurry to set a date, and now neither is she. "It'll happen when we're ready, and we're having too much fun to worry about that yet anyway." Dating coach Suzanne Blake ( cautions, "It usually takes between nine months and a year-and-a-half for couples to build the type of intimacy and trust that is necessary for this life-changing decision." She adds, "Many women want to push up the deadline out of the fear that if they don't seal the deal, it won't happen." The truth is, it might not happen if you push too hard. Relationships develop organically -- on their own timetable.


Let Your "Deadlines" Run Your Life

Remember Satina Richardson hurling herself into the arms of Disaster Dan? That's a decision she never would have made had she not created that ironclad deadline. She says, "In retrospect, I was lucky he proposed to someone else. I'm much happier without him and have opted to enjoy my life instead of pressuring myself to get married in a certain timeframe. This is much better."

Beat Yourself Up

Say your deadline has passed and you're still single. Or, like Satina, say you're sticking with the wrong guy while praying that he'll turn out to be decent person deep down. Or, maybe you dated a nice guy who just wasn't the right one, and now you're upset at how much time you wasted. The fact is that these experiences aren't time wasters, they're learning tools. "It's called growth!" says Masini. She adds, "For some women there is no substitute for real life experience -- and mistakes -- when it comes to figuring out the kind of man they need. Pick yourself up and make a change for the better -- no matter where you are in your life."

Forget to Count Your Blessings

Nicole is thrilled, not sorry, that her initial deadline to marry by 19 and morph into mommyhood by 21 was derailed. "I thank my lucky stars things did not turn out that way because I now know there are a lot of fun, educational things I would have missed out on had I taken my original route. I also might have been stuck in a very unhappy relationship."

The Moral Is...

Believe "What's Meant to Be Will Be"

Author Mary Jo Fay explains, "Women who feel that they are fine human beings without a man, but would enjoy sharing their life with a man, have proven to have the strongest, healthiest and most satisfying relationships." And these women don't have firm deadlines. Sandra, whose family back in Columbia is desperate for her to marry, would like to meet someone, but she's in no hurry. "I left a relationship in the past that was going nowhere -- he never wanted kids. And I have no regrets. I'm proactive in the sense that I go to happy hours and parties." She says, "My belief is that, as long as you are open to meeting people, that special someone will arrive when you least expect him. Naturally. Just like it should be."
Source: By Sherry Amatenstein for iVillage

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The average cost of a wedding in American is around $28,000. - Dave Ramsey

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