Transition. What do you think of when you hear that word?
It means “change” of course. But it applies to the big shifts in your life, such as becoming engaged, married, or parents.
These major transitions usually trigger an array of feelings, such as joy, grief, and anxiety. But sometimes our friends, relatives, and the media tell us we should be feeling only the happiness. Then, unfortunately, relationship-undermining doubts can arise.
Sheryl Paul, one of my collaborators in creating All-in-One Marriage Prep: 75 Experts Share Tips and Wisdom to Help You Get Ready Now, and an expert in relationship transitions says, “The problem isn’t the feelings; it’s our interpretation of the feelings. For example, we know it’s normal to feel anxious about graduating from college or starting a new job, but culturally we don’t know that it’s normal to feel scared about getting married. We put so much pressure on engaged couples to feel joyous, that we don’t leave any room for the more difficult feelings to surface.”
One of the values in marriage preparation education lies in its ability to help couples talk about this significant transition and build their confidence with new knowledge and skills. Sheryl says the couple can “discuss the grief about letting go of being single, the fear of making a lifelong commitment, and the normal and healthy questions about love in a long-term relationship.” (Paul offers an excellent Conscious Weddings eCourse: “From Anxiety to Serenity”)
What about the transition into marriage?
If the couple hasn’t dealt with their anxiety, and they go into the marriage with it unexpressed or addressed, how can this affect the stability of the marriage?
Post-wedding depression can be common, says Paul, and sadly more affairs can result, partially because couples question whether they made a mistake.
Addressing the normalcy of the feelings related to such a big transition before marrying is good divorce prevention. Paul says, “It’s quite tragic that people end perfectly good marriages simply because they don’t understand that it’s normal to feel anxious, scared, confused, and sad around the transition.”
For couples who deal with the emotions and go confidently into marriage, and who are successful in establishing their marriage on a firm foundation, becoming parents can be the next major transition. Couples who are discussing whether to have a child can often experience concerns about the permanence of such a step, and it can cause questioning about the quality of their marriage. Conversations with other couples who went through this transition, or with a coach or counselor, can be beneficial. Parenting training courses can also help build knowledge, skills, and confidence.
Once parenthood occurs, then marriage strengthening steps such as regular dates, an occasional workshop, and time with other married parents can provide support in reducing anxiety.
Marriage is a constantly shifting experience, and couples benefit from time alone together and help from others. A strong marriage is a primary gift couples give their children.
When we experience any major change, especially transitioning to marriage or parenthood, we can feel as if our life is somewhat out of our control. Discerning the emotions that are happening, sharing them with appropriate people, and understanding and accepting them, all allow us to move forward with confidence.