When I met the man who would become my husband, we quickly became the best of friends. It felt like the most natural thing in the world. Though we felt so close, we took time to discern our relationship and, at the right time, decided to move forward with a plan for marriage. At the time, we felt we knew everything there was to know about each other. That is, until we experienced a mind-blowing marriage retreat that opened our eyes.
Suddenly, we discovered there were significant things about the other we had never known or even thought about asking. By learning these things, we were able to be vulnerable and honest with each other in a way we hadn’t experienced before. During the retreat, we had four important discussions that helped us prepare to spend the rest of our lives together. The valuable information we took away from that experience has helped lay the foundation of our marriage. Our fidelity to each other and to Christ has become stronger than ever. Here’s what we learned.
Learning your communication styles
My husband is neurodivergent, meaning his thought processes and patterns of thinking differ from a typical person’s. To be specific, my husband has high-functioning autism (Asperger’s syndrome) and thinks through situations in an entirely different way than I do. People with ADHD, autism or dyslexia usually fall under this umbrella. On the opposite end, I am neurotypical, so I often assume my husband thinks the same way I do because the majority of people’s brains function like mine in terms of thought patterns, how I define words and how I ask questions. To give an example, if I ask my husband what he’s doing as a way to start a conversation, he will tell me exactly what he’s doing and carry on with whatever task is before him if he is busy. He understood my question literally even though I was casually wanting to make conversation.
Because our brains are wired differently, effective communication has come a really long way in our marriage. Everyone generally receives the same advice to always communicate, but no one ever talks about what it means to communicate. Before we attended the retreat, my communication skills admittedly were not the greatest. I came from a broken home where there was no concept of communication in a relationship, so I did not realize how essential healthy communication is with your partner.
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It turns out there are layers to communication. At the foundational level is your style of communication. These are identified as passive, passive-aggressive, aggressive and assertive. Understanding which category you and your significant other fall into can help navigate the waters during important talks.
Do you tend to internalize your emotions during a discussion and let your partner take the floor? If so, your communication style may be passive. Do you tend to dominate the conversation and catch yourself being a little critical? Then you might have an aggressive style of communication. If you often find yourself giving your partner the silent treatment while simultaneously telling them everything is fine, your style may be passive-aggressive. Are you able to make your needs known while also understanding your partner’s needs and communication style? In this case, you are probably an assertive communicator, which is the ideal mode of communication.
Once you and your partner have identified your styles of communication, it becomes easier to understand how you react in certain situations. Most importantly, it is essential for working together to be on the same page with healthy communication in your marriage. Take this quiz to learn what type of communication style you have.
Knowing your love languages
Each person has different ways they like to give and receive affection. For healthy relationships, it’s essential to understand how each of you feel loved and how you show love. What if your partner’s way of showing his love to you is by showering you with gifts, but your way of feeling loved is quality time? This could easily create a situation where both partners don’t feel appreciated if they don’t know or understand each other’s love language.
The five love languages are physical touch, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service and receiving gifts. My primary love language in both giving and receiving is physical touch while my spouse feels most loved by words of affirmation and shows his love by acts of service. However, before I understood our differences, it led to misunderstandings. When things were difficult, I wanted nothing more than to be comforted by a hug, but my partner would get up and start finishing projects. I would interpret it as him wanting to be far away from me when in reality he was trying to show his love by acts of service.
Understanding the different ways you both feel and receive love is essential to getting your needs met as well as meeting your partner’s needs. You can take the quiz to figure out your love language here.
Comparing your financial habits
You may or may not be surprised to learn that money is the leading cause for divorce, and 31% of couples argue about money every month. Some couples tend to have blowouts for reasons such as overspending, pinching too many pennies or making purchases without having discussions first. If your partner is a saver and you’re a spender, splurging on a cute top may seem small to you, but not to your significant other. It’s healthy to determine your spending habits and come up with a game plan together to keep your finances organized. Some helpful references may be a budget spreadsheet or having open discussions about finances, as well as exploring account options to suit your needs as a couple.
Catholic Compass Ministries is a Catholic organization dedicated to helping married couples obtain organized finances. Unexpected financial situations will come up in your marriage, inevitably. Catholic Compass has a free road map you can download as a guide for a great start to a financially successful marriage.
A great additional resource for financial success is Phil Lenahan’s book “7 Steps to Becoming Financially Free: A Catholic Guide to Managing Your Money.” Lenahan is a financial adviser, and his book offers tips on budgeting, saving and investing all from a Catholic perspective. Or, if you are specifically trying to pay off debt, check out “How to Attack Debt, Build Savings, and Change the World Through Generosity: A Catholic Guide to Managing Your Money” by Amanda and Jonathan Teixeira, the founders of WalletWin, a financial-success program and podcast that helps everyday Catholics get intentional with money.
Radiant newsletter subscribers get 25% off books like “How to Attack Debt, Build Savings, and Change the World Through Generosity.” Sign up now!
Balancing family origins and traditions
Did your family have a special tradition of opening Christmas gifts on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas Day? Did your family sit at the dinner table every day with no phones? These seemingly small behaviors are huge when you are starting a family with someone else, and you will want to know the small details about how your partner grew up ahead of time instead of stumbling into issues as they come up.
For example, my family never ate dinner at the kitchen table. My grandmother was a busy schoolteacher, so, during the week, we would grab fast-food, watch TV and eat in our bedrooms. Dinnertime at my spouse’s home was different, however. When he was growing up, family time at the dinner table was intimate, with no electronics. This could have easily resulted in a conflict about parenting had we not discussed it head-on.
If you really want to deepen your relationship and experience optimal communication with your partner, it’s important to discuss these things directly. My spouse and I realized we were blessed to experience such an informative marriage retreat. As a result, our marriage has taken root and blossomed. You, too, can lay the foundational seeds of your marriage by having these important discussions with your partner before marriage.