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April 20, 2014

Aaron Shaner: Love is in the air: Thoughts on preparing for marriage this spring

Abraham Lincoln once said, “Give me six hours to cut down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax.” When we take time to carefully hone our tools and skills, that allows us to be more productive as we attack life’s challenges. Having sharp tools is not the only important element, you first need to have the right tools.

I always enjoy seeing my woodworking projects transform into beautiful pieces of furniture. Using effective tools allows the wood to be cut or shaped smoothly. Having the right gauges, saws or chisels makes for less guesswork and adjustment later. While learning this hobby, I have often heard my father-in-law say that the job is made easier when you have the right tools. The same careful preparation and equipping is also crucial to having a successful marriage.

Longer days, warmer temperatures, flowers in bloom. Spring is in the air — and with spring comes the sound of wedding bells and “I dos.” Maybe you or someone you know will be tying the knot this spring and you have witnessed the optimism and excitement that they have about the future.

Most people enter marriage with a glass is always full outlook on the future of their relationship. Scientists who do research on why people fall in love have long been interested in the romantic phenomena that fuels this type of optimism. When we fall head over heals for someone, we feel better about ourselves, are more confident about the future and are excusing of the faults in those to whom we’re attracted. This sense of love and optimism is literally changing one’s brain chemistry to such a level that it changes the way they see the world.

However, as you may know, these effects are not long lasting. Mortgage payments, student loans, new babies, stress at work and sexual difficulties can kill the fire quickly!

Many people in new marriages are surprised by the consequences these stressors have on their relationship. Being newly married is challenging at times, but those who are on the road to marriage this spring or summer are not without help. Seeking the aid of a good pre-marriage counselor can help couples sharpen their relationship tools and develop the skills needed to help their marriage last. As a clinician who works with both pre-marriage and marriage clients, here are some topics that I ask couples to talk through as they prepare for this new season of life.


Money management is the number one issue that people cite for stress in their marriage. Much of this stress can be reduced with proper habits and communication. Disclosing vital information to your future spouse about income, debts and other financial obligations can help you discover creative strategies for money management as you enter this new partnership. Also, discuss spending preferences such as for education and personal habits, and long-term financial goals.

Family of origin

Our family of origin instilled in all of us rules, many of which were unspoken, that we bring into our relationship which affect our future family. Ideas such as how your family spent free time, how they observed holidays and ways in which your parents used discipline are some examples of the “language of relationship” we bring to marriage. Being aware of these customs can help you and your spouse negotiate habits to keep and habits to modify or adjust.


Preparing for marriage deserves a conversation about sex that is more than just the birds and the bees talk. Like other family of origin issues, you have inherited a position on human sexuality that was influenced by your upbringing. In good ways and bad, knowledge about sex is pervasive in our culture, and still many new couples come to marriage with false or misguided information about the sexual aspect of a relationship. Personal insecurities that you are not willing to address will only be magnified in an intimate relationship. By honestly addressing these issues with a professional, you can better prepare yourself for a more fulfilling intimate relationship.


I have often told my clients, it takes two healthy individuals to have a healthy marriage. How well do you know your own personality, much less the personality of your future spouse? We often underestimate how our personality is going to have an effect on future relationships. Exploring this and other areas can help you be the best-equipped version of you in this new relationship.

Marriage is an exciting and wonderful journey that will allow you to grow as a person in ways you may not yet realize. However, the challenges in marriage that produce personal growth can trip us up if we aren’t prepared for them. Seeking the counsel of a good pre-marriage counselor can set you or your loved ones on the path towards a bright future.

Aaron Shaner is a licensed associate marriage and family therapist and licensed associate professional counselor of the Rapha House Counseling Center of ChristChurch Presbyterian. Shaner and other counselors can be reached at (706) 264-1920 or www.theraphahouse.org.

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