Over the next few weeks thousands of weddings, both of heterosexual and same sex couples, will be taking place up and down the country. The summer has been the most popular time to get married for many decades and with the British weather, that’s unlikely to change.
But what has changed is how people view their wedding day. Until around the 1970’s what was widely held to be the norm was that marriage provided the gateway to the whole experience of living together and sharing a single home. But the large majority of couples today have already been living together for some years before they tie the knot. So what is it that they see themselves doing? In my experience, most couples feel they have reached a point where they can take the risk of declaring to themselves and to others that they wish to be married. Of course other factors can be in play. They may want to provide what they see as a more secure base to have children. Sometimes too there is a hope that marriage will resolve problems in a relationship that already exist. But for most, getting married is a statement that their relationship is now sufficiently permanent to celebrate and give ongoing stability to.
They also think that the ceremony itself won’t make any difference to their day-to-day relationship and are often surprised to find tensions and difficulties surfacing. The reasons for this are often complex. For some making the public commitment proves to be profoundly unsettling, triggering memories and unconscious feelings of their own family experiences. The net result is that they are taken aback that at the point when they announce stability they feel de-stablised.
Therapy offers a place to talk through expectations, to explore and understand what might have been triggered and to work through these disappointments. This gives couples the opportunity they need to confront the reality that there is no end point to growth in a relationship but they will need to continue to work together on it throughout their lives.
Couples can begin to explore possible difficulties by talking through:
• Expectations of what marriage means
• How that is different in your mind – or not – from cohabiting
• What your experience was as a child of your parent’s marriage
• How would you like yours to be similar or different