You probably feel a rollercoaster whirlwind of emotions if you’re newly engaged or married. You may be overwhelmingly thrilled, shocked that it’s finally happening, and even pinching yourself to make sure it’s real. Besides all these euphoric emotions, feeling some fear is completely normal. In fact, most people do. You might be worried about the future after growing up in a generation whose parents divorced at the highest rates in history. You may be apprehensive about the finality of marriage and the magnitude of the commitment you’re making. You may second-guess yourself, your partner, and their readiness for marriage, even though you know you have built a strong foundation and share great love and trust. All these fears and many more are typical, natural, and even to be expected. Below we’re going to explore some of the biggest fears in marriage. We’ll also share expert advice on addressing and coping with these fears.
Fear of Divorce
During quiet moments, do you sometimes hear a little voice in the back of your mind whispering, “what if it doesn’t work out?” Actually, it’s not a bad thing to be aware of the possibility that your marriage could end one day. It is often those who feel invincible who find themselves unprepared and in unsavory situations. It can and does happen that one or both people in a couple are so sure of their relationship that they stop investing because they take it for granted.
Fear of divorce only becomes a problem when it starts to get in the way of marital happiness or prevent a couple from taking the next step in their union. As a matter of fact, many committed couples choose not to marry specifically because they are afraid of divorce. Although divorce rates are currently falling, the USA still has the third-highest divorce rate in the world. Additionally, the generations marrying now (millennials and Gen Z) grew up seeing their parents getting divorced, and they’re very cognizant of the fact that marriages don’t always stand the test of time.
However, fear of divorce should not stop you from getting married–that is, if you are indeed ready and if you do truly want a lifetime commitment with your current partner. One way to move forward with the relationship while covering all your bases in case of divorce is to get a prenup. The process of drafting a prenup forces you to think through and plan for what will happen if the marriage doesn’t work out. Many couples find that writing a prenup helps put their minds at ease, quiets that nagging little ‘what if’ voice, and allows them to worry less about the possibility of divorce.
Having a prenup may also decrease the likelihood of divorce ever happening in the first place because it opens up super in-depth communication about a range of tricky topics (*cough* *cough* mostly related to money); it can equalize power dynamics by putting spouses with different financial situations on more even ground. It decreases the stress of the unknown by providing a contingency plan. All of these things make marriage more resilient.
Fear of Ending Up Like One’s Parents
Maybe your parents have/had an unhappy marriage. Maybe their relationship is one of constant bickering. Maybe they don’t appear to truly understand each other, or perhaps they even got divorced. Whatever the situation, many millennials and gen X-ers have unfortunately witnessed toxic or dysfunctional dynamics in their parents’ marriages. With examples like that, it’s only fair that adult children would be apprehensive about getting married themselves.
If you’re worried about having your relationship end up like your parents’ relationship, one of the most powerful ways to stop this from happening is through awareness. This means self-awareness alongside an awareness of the dynamics that exist(ed) in your parents’ relationship. Although cultivating awareness may seem simple, there is more to it than meets the eye.
Among the most potent tools for cultivating self-awareness is therapy. It’s not just mentally ill people who go to therapy; therapy is useful for anyone who aims to shed light on their blind spots and develop a fuller understanding of themselves, their patterns and intrinsic motivations, and the people around them. You can tell a therapist that your main aim is to stop your relationship from ending up like your parents, and they will work with you to analyze, understand, and gain some control over any of your own negative relational tendencies that you may have inherited from your parents. You might also try couples therapy together with your partner in order to become a stronger couple by doing this work together. (There are many different styles available; here’s some info on the A to Z of couple’s therapy).
While self-awareness is extremely helpful, you might also try gently asking your parents for more details about their relationship. Depending on how open your family is to talking about relationship dynamics, asking them about this might require a fair amount of chutzpah, but the knowledge you gain might yield some a-ha moments (“Oh my gosh, I do that too!”) and help you contextualize some of your innate assumptions about what marriage and relationships should or shouldn’t look like. If you’re apprehensive about talking to your parents about their relationship, you might ask a sibling for their observations, as well. A robust combination of introspection, therapy, and the courage to have uncomfortable conversations with family can help ensure that your marriage will be your own creation rather than a result of blind familial conditioning.
Fear of Falling Out of Love
This is one of the most hard-hitting of all marital fears, simply because pop culture is saturated with stories, memes, and jokes about stereotypical old married couples between whom the spark has all but been extinguished. This stereotype is not without truth; many couples are dismayed to look back after a number of years and discover that their partner no longer excites them and that the love they feel (if it’s still there at all) is strictly platonic.
The good news? None of this has to happen. In fact, it’s probably healthy to fear it a little bit because that means you’re aware of the possibility that it could happen and therefore are better positioned to prevent it. There are many, many ways to nurture and tend to your marriage so that this won’t happen. The same methods can be used to change course in case your relationship ever does begin to feel stale. One of the ways for couples to maintain or resurrect that ‘in love’ feeling is to keep updating their love maps of one another. Love maps? Say what now? Allow us to explain.
When you get to know someone new, you begin creating a mental map of who they are as a person. That map includes things like likes and dislikes, pet peeves, quirks, sense of humor, goals, and values, knowledge about their family, dietary preferences, and much more. Between romantic partners, this mental schema is called a ‘love map.’ The more detailed your love map of your partner is, the better.
Many couples make extremely detailed love maps of one another’s personalities when they first get together. It’s a big part of what happens when you’re falling in love with someone–all that comes naturally; you ask big, open questions that penetrate to the core of one another’s being. However, over time, people tend to assume that they already know one another. They have their love map of their partner, they know it, and they think they can proudly navigate it like the back of their hand. And that’s great! However, there’s one major flaw in this way of relating: People change over time. A lot. When spending a lot of time with someone, it’s easy not to truly notice and honor the little (or big) ways in which they’re changing over time. In other words, it’s all too easy to forget to update a love map.
However, just like software, love maps need constant updates to keep up with a person’s evolution. Not updating them is a major contributor to couples falling out of love. We, humans, need novelty; it’s a major part of our psychological health. It’s the same with relationship health–if we don’t have novelty, things start to feel stagnant. And guess what breeds novelty? Proactively updating love maps. This can be done by continuing to occasionally ask one’s partner the big questions that are usually discussed in the dating phase. It can also be done by making it a point to notice, point out, and honor changes, even the small ones.
Another way to keep the sparks alive is to regularly do ‘new and exciting‘ things together as a couple. This, too, is tied to our need for novelty. What constitutes ‘new and exciting’ will vary by person, so it’s important for each couple to take time to discover and decide together what that means for them specifically–not what it means for their best friends or their siblings.
Yep, it’s possible and completely valid to fear stress. More specifically, married couples sometimes fear the effect stress could have on their relationships. They’re not wrong to worry; stress can indeed have a negative effect on relationships via several different avenues.
For one thing, some people have a tendency to bottle up their stress and not express the fact that they’re having a hard time, which can make it difficult for their partners to understand what’s going on and support them. One might be able to detect that something is off but feel powerless to help because their partner isn’t letting them in on what’s happening. It might even cause miscommunications in that one person’s stress leads them to act out or withdraw, and since the other person doesn’t understand what’s happening, they may react more defensively than if they knew how stressed their partner was feeling.
For another thing, there’s evidence that stress is contagious. That’s right–romantic partners can ‘catch’ one another’s stress. Ever had an argument that almost explosively spiraled out of control so quickly that neither of you was sure what even happened? One person may have been really stressed, and the other might have caught their stress and responded in kind, triggering a feedback loop wherein both of you were feeding off the other’s stress, causing the argument to escalate.
Given the fact that modern-day living usually involves its fair share of stress, all this might sound pretty dismal. Luckily, stress does not have to have such a negative effect on relationships. It can even be beneficial. Instead of bottling up stress in order to appear strong or try to protect one another, partners should normalize sharing their difficulties, being open to receiving support, and supporting one another through stressful time periods. Doing so can make the relationship stronger. Rather than seeing stress as a threat to the relationship, couples can try seeing it as a challenge that they can have the resources to overcome if they face it together as a team.
Some other ways couples can successfully handle stress are as follows:
- Listen before offering solutions, and check whether the other person is asking for solutions at that time or simply wanting for you to be present with what they’re feeling.
- Have a 30-second hug. It releases feel-good hormones that can help alleviate stress, even just a little bit.
- Ask each other how you can help and how you can make the other person’s day better or smoother. If this sounds cheesy to you, make it your own by asking it in your own words.
Money, money, money…it has the power to help us build a stable life for ourselves, take us around the world, or free us from the need to spend our days working. On the other hand, its lack has the ability to disempower by keeping us locked into dead-end jobs and into endless cycles of bills that seem to pile up faster than we can pay them. For better or for worse, issues related to money also have the power to make or break a marriage.
Growing up, most people are fed a romantic image of love and marriage: You fall in love, get married, build a life together, and live happily ever after. It’s a lovely image, and it’s not exactly wrong, either. The problem is that it isn’t complete. Modern-day conceptions of marriage tend to focus on romance and butterflies and exclude the financial partnership aspect of marriage. However, marriage is a financial contract. Therefore, financial compatibility is directly tied to marital success.
When partners who are not innately financially compatible get married without having figured out how to successfully navigate their differences, guess what happens? Money becomes a constant source of tension in their marriages, putting strain on the relationship over the long term. However, the good news is that financial compatibility is frequently built rather than innate. Just because you earn, spend, or view money differently than your partner doesn’t mean your marriage is doomed to fail; there is a multitude of ways you can achieve financial compatibility despite starting from different places.
One approach that works well for many couples is to have an account for me, an account for you, and an account for us. Partners can decide together how much or what percentage of each of their income and assets to allocate to their personal accounts versus their joint accounts. However, couples should absolutely NOT pool all their money into a joint checking account, advises personal finance expert Suze Orman. And in fact, there are many benefits to having separate accounts. If you and your partner are still figuring out the financial side of your relationship, consider creating these three accounts and make sure you open an in-depth conversation about what proportion of each of your money should go into each of these accounts. Only you can decide this together; what works for one couple won’t work for another. When having conversations about this, it’s extremely important to state your preferences without holding back for fear of your partner’s reaction. Only then will you have enough information necessary to craft a system that serves you, your partner, and your relationship.
A big part of achieving financial compatibility is also being ready to compromise sometimes. You’re getting married, and you will definitely have to make some purchases together even if you decide to keep most of your money separate. If one of you prefers to spend more leniently and the other prefers a more frugal approach, the fact is that no matter your stance, you will absolutely have to let go of control a little bit in order to meet each other in the middle. As a plus, getting comfortable giving up some modicum of control is a pretty great personal growth practice.
Another great way to prevent a lot of future disputes and misunderstandings around money is to get a prenup. When you write your prenup, you’ll inevitably have to talk about money. In fact, the prenup process itself can open up all sorts of conversations about money matters you may have either not thought about or not discussed because they felt too taboo. A prenup helps you to put the financial rules of your relationship down in writing. This can act as an excellent jumping-off point to discuss your financial roles and expectations in marriage, as well. If you want to avoid uncomfortable and charged conversations farther down the road, it’s absolutely crucial to talk about these things before marriage–not just once, but on an ongoing basis. And because they have the capacity to improve communication and clear up misunderstandings or murky areas. See! Prenups are actually pretty romantic!
Another major fear in marriage is conflicts over child-rearing. Like the other fears listed above, this one is also legitimate. Although many couples plan their parenting styles in advance, they still find themselves feeling completely blindsided by the actual lived experience of becoming parents. What’s more, they may discover after the birth of their child(ren) that they don’t actually agree on everything when it comes to parenting. Their own attachment styles may impact their parenting styles in different ways, and they could find themselves clashing over things on which they didn’t expect to disagree.
Furthermore, there is a myriad of unexpected obstacles that can challenge parents. For example, they may experience conflict over deciding how to discipline a child who acts out more than they had expected or how to deal with a child who abuses drugs or alcohol. All of these things can, understandably, put pressure on a marriage–and that’s not even considering the fact that simply the stress of having children can decrease marital satisfaction.
Fortunately, conflicts or difficulties that arise as a result of child-rearing can absolutely be dealt with in ways that are nourishing for the marriage. Here, too, seeing a marriage and family therapist can be extremely helpful. Intentionally and regularly taking time together (without the kids) can also help make your relationship more resilient. Finally, remember that your partner should not be your only support, and treating them as such can put unnecessary pressure on them and on your marriage. Utilize your friends and family as parts of your support network, too.
Fears regarding divorce, ending up like one’s parents, falling out of love, stress, money problems, and kid problems are normal, understandable, and valid. Although you may never completely conquer these fears, you can keep them in check and use them as learning and growth opportunities by following the advice outlined above.
As aforementioned, getting a prenup before marriage can help mitigate many of these issues. Check out HelloPrenup, an online platform through which you can draft, negotiate, and edit your prenup–all from the comfort of your couch and at a fraction of the price of a traditional prenup. Here’s how it works.
Nicole Sheehey is the Head of Legal Content at HelloPrenup, and an Illinois licensed attorney. She has a wealth of knowledge and experience when it comes to prenuptial agreements. Nicole has Juris Doctor from John Marshall Law School. She has a deep understanding of the legal and financial implications of prenuptial agreements, and enjoys writing and collaborating with other attorneys on the nuances of the law. Nicole is passionate about helping couples locate the information they need when it comes to prenuptial agreements. You can reach Nicole here: [email protected]