5 Things Our Mothers Wished They Knew Before Getting Married

Until very recently, the thought of marriage scared me. I finally have hope that healthy marriages can and do exist in Black communities.

A beautiful young black bride and groom posing for portraits in a meadow on their wedding day

Chelsea Victoria/Stocksy

Growing up and up until very recently, the thought of marriage scared me. I didn’t see many healthy examples of marriages growing up, so it was hard to picture myself as a wife. But now, I’m at the age where many of my peers are getting married. I’ve worked on healing some of my inner child wounds lately and have reconsidered my views and expectations of marriage. This year, I’ve had quite a few conversations with various mother figures in my life about how they have been able to navigate their marriages. In doing so, I have come up with a list of things we should consider before deciding to tie the knot with potential partners.

Know about your new in-laws' financial habits and health.

Finances are often one of the major causes of failed marriages. High expectations, or a lack of planning, in financial matters can cause friction between married couples. Couples can combat this by openly communicating about each partner’s financial situation. It’s equally important to consider the financial stability of their extended family. I’ve learned in most African families, saying “I do” to your partner also means marrying their family too. Your in-laws become a part of your new family. You will be expected to support them in more ways than one.

“If you do not approve of your in-laws during the dating stage, it is unlikely to improve after marriage,” says Roselyn Kigen, a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Nairobi, Kenya. “Set clear boundaries and expectations with your partner about how much and how often you would be willing to offer financial support to your in-laws. Review these boundaries regularly as the marriage progresses. This will help to curb unrealistic expectations that often end in disappointment for both parties.”

Consider both of your genetic risks before starting a family.

There are many genetic and physical health conditions to keep in mind when you consider starting a family. But other unanticipated issues, like generational trauma and mental health issues, are passed down to children from their parents too. Knowing about your partners’ family trauma, health history, and hereditary mental health conditions like depression is crucial. Once couples are aware of their generational trauma, they can seek counseling to help them heal from their past family wounds.

Couples can better plan for the future, like whether they want to have children after they discuss health and family history. This helps them be more intentional about raising mentally stable and emotionally secure children in a healthy environment. I’ve witnessed firsthand that seeking counseling and mental health assistance is not common in African families and the larger Black community. Yet it is crucial for successful marriages.

Kigen says healing from generational and personal trauma is easiest when couples work through it together in counseling before marriage. “These sessions help to bring hidden past trauma to light and foster a healthier and more honest connection between the married couple,” she says.

Both parties should thoroughly explore physical and genetic conditions like various disabilities. It is best to be prepared for situations that could arise in the children before getting married. Surprises about genetic conditions may cause unwanted conflict later in the marriage if one of the children inherits these conditions.

It is common in Black communities and African culture to seek marriage advice from married friends or elders. But suppose you compare your relationship to others without fully understanding your partner’s needs. In that case, seeking outside advice can cause more conflict.

“Couples should consider going for medical examinations together before getting married to try and uncover some of these conditions that may arise later on in the marriage,” says Kigen.

Understand parenthood alters your relationship with yourself and your partner.

When one becomes a parent, they assume a new role and transform into new versions of themselves. Parents may find it easy to neglect their needs as their primary concern becomes tending to and caring for their children. Mothers and birthing parents may struggle with issues like postpartum depression, difficulties breastfeeding, and body image during the early stages. Fathers and non birthing parents may suffer from feeling useless and lacking control in the relationship. Parents must acknowledge these changes and work on tending to their own needs. 

They also need to feel fulfilled outside the role of a caregiver. Pursuing your interests and hobbies when you become a parent is important. Kigen emphasizes that marrying someone you enjoy spending time with is crucial. Still, it is also essential to pursue your interests. It is vital to our sense of self to keep our hobbies and continue doing things that make us happy even after marriage and parenthood.

It is also vital that they find time to date each other and work on loving each other as a couple. I’ve noticed it’s quite common for African parents to focus so much on being parents that they neglect their relationships.

“As a couple, make time for each other. Your family is deserving of it. Parents who love each other are one of the most excellent gifts you can offer your child, and it will make you and your spouse feel more valued,” Kigen says.

Marriage partnerships are not usually an equal give-and-take or 50/50.

Many couples make the mistake of assuming that healthy marriages require both parties to give and take in equal percentages of 50%. According to Michelle Obama, this couldn’t be further from reality. Every family has excellent qualities, but no two families are alike. Thus, one is usually superior to the other. Throughout the marriage, the proportion of how much each partner is giving and taking could change and evolve

It is crucial that the couple understands this and gives each other grace. It’s also vital that boundaries and expectations are continuously set with each other, as open and honest communication always helps in such situations.

“Healthy marriages require continuous effort. You cannot put your marriage on autopilot and expect it to be successful. Take your time to get to know your partner, and pay close attention to the details,” says Roselyn Kigen, licensed family therapist.

Understanding your partner’s love language is key.

People are different and have different preferences for how they show and experience love. Understanding your partner’s love language and knowing how they give and receive love makes it easier for each of you to feel cherished and valued, even if you show love differently. For example, if you are an "Acts of Service" person dating a "Words of Affirmation" person, your spouse may shower you with compliments every day, but you may not feel genuinely appreciated because they never volunteer to run errands or do the dishes.

Knowing how your partner displays love will help you appreciate the things they do for you, even if they may not necessarily be how you prefer to receive love. This will also help you display love as they desire, which may differ from how you usually choose to show love. 

Understanding your partners’ love language helps to improve the compassion between the two of you, fostering a healthier marriage. It is common in Black communities and African culture to seek marriage advice from married friends or elders. But suppose you compare your relationship to others without fully understanding your partner’s needs. In that case, seeking outside advice can cause more conflict.

“Do not blindly listen to other couples’ suggestions,” says Kigen. “You can go to your elders or a couple you like for anecdotes. But doing the same thing as another couple will not always work because all couples are very different.”

From gathering all these points, one thing was made clear to me. Marriage can be enjoyable, but it is not easy. It is a lovely commitment between two people who care enough about each other to get through tough times together. “Marriage is a personal daily choice to love and cherish your spouse. Some days will be fantastic, while others you would rather forget. There will be occasions when you question what happened to your love, and it is critical to remember what drew you together first,” Kigen shares. 

As I embark on a renewed dating journey, I have a new perspective on marriage. After these conversations, I finally have hope that healthy marriages can and do exist.

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