What do you know to be true for you?
The idea that a relationship between two people is all about their connection and chemistry is really not the whole story. The reality is that you bring your personality, values, goals, finances, religious beliefs, family and past relationship learning into your marriage. The more you understand yourself and your own specific combination of strengths and weaknesses, the more accurately you will begin the foundation of your long term relationship.
When it comes to healthy relationships, two halves do not make a whole. Two broken people with unresolved past relationship pain will bring a lot more pain and potential struggles into their marriage than two individuals who have committed themselves to a journey of knowing and working through their pasts and pitfalls. We are all human, and there are no perfect relationships. We probably all, to some degree or another, can see the “dysfunctional” that was present in our own families. And we all learn and develop our patterns, habits, preferences, even ways of communicating as a result of the learning we did through our life experiences. Whether we like it or not, we bring our past into our present and future. It would be impossible not to. Sometimes we learn strategies that were modeled to us; other times we learn to respond in a way counter to what we saw. And some of these things seem to come out of us instinctively, or with very little awareness because it is just “how we always have done it.” Just be aware that, for every instance of “this is how I am,” your spouse will also have and be entitled to their own “this is how I am” reaction that often times is very different from your own. This will always be the case, because we are different people. But having greater awareness of our own tendencies ahead of time better prepares us for these moments in our long term relationships (because no matter how much we do this ahead of time, there will always be more of these moments that come up!).
So how do we not become overwhelmed by what could be a never ending journey of self-discovery? If we have to really know ourselves before we enter into a marriage, will we ever be able to get married? The reality is this: our self discovery is a never ending journey, and one we can and will go on with our spouses. So in the meantime, focus on the big aspects or major pitfalls that you know are present in your life, or that others know are there. If you came from an abusive family, spend time looking at the messages you walked away with concerning marriage and family, and the patterns that seem to happen again and again in your relationships. Do you know that you have a problem with anger? Maybe you tend to lose your own identity anytime you enter a serious relationship. Consider working individually with a counselor on your own identity or past family and relationship issues (I’d love to meet with you if you are in the Atlanta area!). Any time you put into this process before you are in a serious relationship will save you time and effort once habits have already begun to be formed.
I am a big fan of personality assessments, and tests that measure where your strengths or interests lay. The results of tests like the Myers Briggs and Stregths Finder often provide us with valuable information concerning who we are and how we interpret the world around us. Consider investing the time and money to take some of these inventories, and then talk through your results with someone you feel comfortable with.
If you want to make more of an effort to get to know yourself better, here are some action steps:
1. Set aside a set portion of money towards self discovery.
Put this towards books, personality assessments, counseling sessions, a journal, conferences or even activities you want to try. Any investment you make in bettering yourself will be an investment in your future relationship.
2. Schedule time specifically devoted to this purpose.
Set appointments to spend on self discovery. If you just wait for the time to appear, it will not happen. Make it a priority by scheduling it and protecting that time.
Ask yourself questions like:
- What do I enjoy?
- What do I value?
- What are characteristics I see in myself?
- What are 5 of my strengths and weaknesses?
- What messages did I learn about marriage from the people in my life?
- What roles do I see myself performing in a marriage?
- What aspects of my family would I like to take into my future relationships and which aspects would I like to change?
- What are my dreams?
- What are my goals for the next year, 5 years, 10 years?
4. Take responsibility for what you find out.
Do not make excuses, rationalize, or blame others for the negative patterns you discover about yourself. We can not change what has happened to us, but we can change and remain in control of how we respond and move forward. Do yourself and your future partner a favor, and make the changes that are necessary.
5. Make a commitment to the life long journey of self discovery.
Do what you can now, but allow yourself to be in process. Any steps forward you take now are progress, even if you are not yet at your “end goal”. Do not allow the sometimes daunting task ahead to stop you from starting the process.
And don’t forget to enjoy and celebrate the journey! You are making the hard steps to choose love that lasts!