Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Fatherly Advice To The Newlyweds

December 18, 1995

Our third daughter Tassa called and announced her engagement to be married at the end of the year. We are thrilled for her despite the short lead time we had to get ready.

We have every confidence in her and her choice for a husband. It took a while for the two of them to come to the same conclusion simultaneously. Oh, the agony of making one of the most important decisions of their lives! Courtship, for all its romance and excitement, has its pain and doubt as young lovers learn to trust their own feelings, renounce their freedoms and make commitments that are serious and sacred.

In the past, I've written a column on the type of young men I hoped my daughters would marry. I've also written timely marriage advice columns for two other daughters and their future husbands. Tassa and Geoff, file this away for a rainy day.

1. Build and keep alive the memories of your courtship and early marriage. Remember the awe and admiration that first attracted you to each other. You wanted someone special because you are special. You have experienced the exhilaration and wonder of falling in love, the excitement of sexual attraction, the easy conversations, the soul sharing, the adventures and the gifts of love.

Your blind idealization of each other will sustain you when you become acquainted with the reality of your loved one's weaknesses and imperfections. Keep the story of your courtship alive. Keep alive the image of whom you once were and how it all began so your radiant love and bright memories will cushion your disappointment and anger when your partner falls short.

You need double vision. One vision sees and remembers the reservoir of love and goodness that was there from the start. The other vision sees your partner in cold reality. Be willing to confront truth, work for change and give honest feedback so that your relationship can grow and improve.

I am a romantic. Your mother loves this part of me - and occasionally finds it troublesome. I am ready for adventures and she provides the steady rock of reality so that we are sensible. It is a pleasant balance.

For our honeymoon, we drove through Mexico and Central America. We dyed our hair blonde and were burnt to toast at Mazatlan. We climbed ruins and volcanoes, stood under waterfalls, walked on deserted beaches and took jungle boat trips. We got robbed, got sick, got bit by sand fleas and punctured an oil pan to name a few of our adversities.

We made it to the United States border at Nogales with $2.00 and a gasoline credit card. We were so broke that we went to Lake Tahoe and camped for two weeks until our apartment was ready. These are memories that still warm us.

Make your honeymoon last as long as possible. Make vivid memories for the days when you will need them.

2. Leave us behind and together form a new identity - a marriage. Tassa, you have been an independent soul so you won't have much trouble. Your marriage needs your full investment and loyalty. We won't obligate you or place heavy demands on you. We will expect certain family connections but they won't be unreasonable. We will be there for you if you ever need our support.

Take the "I" of emancipated young adult life and shift to the joint "we" of marriage. Put a "we" around your marriage and protect it as a separate entity. You are individuals within a marriage, not two separate people who live side-by-side and share common interests. That is a business partner.

Some of your early clashes will be over learning to sacrifice your individual wants and desires to give attention and nurturance to the marriage. What might be best for you might not be best for the marriage. It will take a conscious effort to love, show empathy, share, yield and identify with each other.

The other side of the coin is to allow for and accept differences, privacy and autonomy. As you and Geoff change and grow, you'll need to fine tune your marriage to meet each others' individual needs and changing priorities.

3. Create a safe haven for the expression of difference, anger and conflict. How you handle conflict is crucial to the satisfaction you'll have in your marriage. Two strong people with definite ideas, expectations and histories are going to collide. Establish a safety zone for tolerating the expression of strong emotion without having it threaten your commitment to the marriage.

Don't withdraw and nurse grudges. Be willing to talk through your difficulties. Don't explode in anger and say harsh and cruel things that wound the soul. Learn the art of respectful disagreement. Be willing to disengage if emotions are too high and then come back to the issue within a mutually agreed upon time frame.

Even at the height of your dismay and emotional storms, modulate your anger and behavior so you don't endanger your sense of connectedness. Be the first to reach out with overtures of love and reconciliation.

Tassa and Geoff, there is more to say and not enough room to say it all. We love you and wish you the best. Drive off into the sunset. We did.