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Great Expectations for the Newly Engaged
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Now That You're EngagedNow That You're Engaged

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Great Expectations for the Newly Engaged

By Laura J. Bagby
Contributing Writer Have you noticed lately that love is in the air? If someone you know hasn't already tied the knot, you are guaranteed to hear about some couple's upcoming engagement in the near future. Or perhaps that engaged person is or will be you!

What better way to say you care than to offer that starry-eyed friend of yours a wonderful wedding resource? I have just the book. It's called Now That You're Engaged by H. Norman Wright.

Norm Wright has been married for 46 years, is a licensed marriage, family, and child therapist, and has written more than 70 books. He has both the personal and professional experience and also the biblical perspective necessary to help couples enjoy passionate and God-focused marriages.

Ever wondered, How do you deal with unrealistic expectations? How can you communicate and resolve conflicts effectively with your future spouse? What exactly is commitment, and what kinds of commitments are you going to be making in marriage? Should you even get married in the first place? Then consider reading Now That You're Engaged.

With so many of my own friends getting engaged and married and the hope that one day I will do the same, I jumped at the chance to interview Norm face to face. I found him to be articulate, kind, and wise. I learned a lot about what it means to be compatible and what it means to work on a marriage ahead of time so that a couple can reap a satisfying relationship. Join with me in this interview. You might be surprised what you will learn.

Laura J. Bagby: Why should somebody get married?

Norm Wright: When you look at the results of married couples compared to single couples, for example, just health-wise there’s a higher degree of health, there’s a higher degree of financial stability; your lives are enriched more; and, naturally, the family aspect. But there’s something else. The marriage relationship is one of the greatest opportunities to be stretched in terms of developing maturity, learning how to build one of the most intimate relationships with an individual and connect. I think it has the greatest potential for developing an individual’s potential to learn to be flexible, to learn to be committed, which all leads again to character traits and qualities which then overflows into other relationships as well.

Laura J. Bagby: When I look through your book, it’s all about goal setting. I’ve got to be honest with you, sometimes when I read through this, I think it kind of takes the romance out of everything.

Norm Wright: Not really. You can’t build a lasting marriage on just romance, because the romance begins to diminish. There are six different dimensions of intimacy: There’s the social, the emotional, the physical, the intellectual, the spiritual. Many times people are drawn because of the physical attraction, but that does diminish after a while. So what else is there? You can wake up one morning and say, “Gee, I don’t feel the same heart throb at this time, but I know I’m committed to the person.” I remember one couple that I worked with. They were doing premarital counseling with me. They came in and I said, “How was your week?” And she said, “Lou here was just rotten. He was just irritable, out of sorts, and just obnoxious at times. And yet, I looked at him and said, ‘I know that I love this man.’ It was so reassuring to know that I loved him at his worst, because it’s easy to love them at their best.” Love has a big element of commitment within it. You are committed to the person, you are committed to the marriage relationship, and that will carry you when the feelings are at a low.

Laura J. Bagby: Sometimes those feelings can go, too, because you come in with expectations. You have a section about that. What are some of these expectations people typically come in with that are not going to be realized because it’s marriage now?

Norm Wright: Maybe one expectation is that my spouse is going to meet all my needs. My spouse will know what I need without me having to tell them. My spouse is going to be a mind reader. One of the things we do, which is really critical, is that I ask each person to make a list of 25 expectations they have for the other person after they get married. This is before they get married. And then they exchange the list and look at those and say, “These I can meet, these there’s no way I can meet.” By doing that, you’re going to eliminate a lot of the surprises as well as the some of the heartache that occurs, because people come into it with these expectations that it’s going to be like this. I’ll ask some very basic questions like, “OK, who gets up first in the morning and puts on the coffee? Have you discussed it?” They’ll say, “Well, no.” I’ll ask, “Who gets to use the bathroom first?” “Oh, we’ve never talked about it.” “You’re coming into the marriage from two different households. How much space do you get in the closet, and how much space does he get? Because you probably have a lot more clothes than he does.” What you have to do in marriage is develop a “we” concept. It’s no longer “me.”

You always make a decision based upon how this impacts the other person. You check first and then decide. You don’t decide and then say, “By the way, we’re going to such and such a place.” It doesn’t work that way. You have to take into consideration how this is going to affect another. See, my wife and I have been married almost 47 years. Especially with her health issues, having a brain tumor over the last two years, when we go out, it takes a lot more planning figuring how long will be enough. How long and far will she have to walk? I might go a certain pace that won’t work for the other person. You have to start out that way when you get married. You never take the other person for granted.

Laura J. Bagby: That happens a lot.

Norm Wright: Yes, but see you’ve got to change that “me” mentality. Now, if you were getting married, one of the things I would ask is, “You cannot take your single lifestyle into your marriage. What will you be giving up?” I’ll have you identify what you will be giving up. Is there any kind of courtship deception? For example, maybe your fiancé loves to play softball, so you go with him to every game. What does he learn to expect? After I’m married, she will go with me to every game. And after you’re married, you’re thinking, I don’t need to. “But I thought you liked softball,” he says. And you say, “I like being with you.” See, those are the things you have to clarify ahead of time so that you don’t get disappointed as much.

Laura J. Bagby: When you sit down and go through these expectations and all these goal settings, some of these people aren’t going to get married.

Norm Wright: Right. That’s good. In fact, I did a study of the last 85 couples that I did premarital counseling for and 25 made a decision not to get married. And that was good, because there were a lot of indications that it’s just not going to work. That’s the whole purpose. Engagement is not the same as marriage. Engagement is a time to solidify, to clarify, and the more information that you can have at that time the better. That’s why when I do premarital counseling the couples go through five books.

Laura J. Bagby: Can you list the books?

Norm Wright: This book, Now That You’re Engaged; Before You Say I Do; Communication: Key to Your Marriage; the Penner’s book on sexuality [The Gift of Sex: A Guide to Sexual Fulfillment]; and then some resource on finances. It’s like you’ve got to prepare for this. I mean, take a look at your vocation. How many years do you spend in college, four or six? That’s supposedly to last you for your lifetime. If your marriage is going to last, you’ve got to put in time. And most people don’t put in that amount of time. So, that’s why we don’t apologize for what we’re asking them to do.

Laura J. Bagby: OK, here I am, I’m in a dating relationship. How do I know when I’m ready to commit to marriage?

Norm Wright: You want to be sure that the person that you’re dating is not a stranger. Why would you want to marry a stranger? That means you have to spend sufficient time with the individual, with their family. I even encourage couples that are serious to go on vacation with their special person and their family for a week, because you’re marrying a family, no bones about it. So you’ve really got to do that and you’ve got to be talking about it. You want to make sure you know the person thoroughly and they know you thoroughly. Then you start asking yourself questions: Do I see myself with this person ten years from now? Twenty years from now? Forty years from now? Do I see them as the mother/father of my children? Am I ready to stand by this individual? Do I have something to offer to their life, and do they have something to offer to me? And a real big issue – this is critical – can you speak the other person’s language?

Laura J. Bagby: Are you talking love language?

Norm Wright: We’re talking about basic language style, because when you marry someone, you’re marrying a foreigner. They come in with different vocabularies, different dictionaries, different backgrounds. I mean, you make spaghetti, they make spaghetti, but it’s different. You might be an expander when you talk – you give a lot of good detail, rich information. He might be a condenser – gives you two sentences. You enjoy talking more to an expander. He enjoys talking more to a condenser. So what you’ve got to do in that relationship – and this is just the tip of the iceberg and that’s why the book Communication: Key to Your Marriage, is essential – when you talk with him, condense. And when he talks to you, he needs to expand.

Laura J. Bagby: Or at least let me expand, right?

Norm Wright: Yes, but it’s both. He has to learn to give -- instead of two sentences, five sentences to you. That’s speaking your love language. And you condense for him. That’s just a small portion of it.

Laura J. Bagby: This goes back to before everything began with this topic for you. When you got married, did you have this kind of resource?

Norm Wright: We had a couple of books. We had a couple of sessions of some premarital counseling. No, we didn’t have as much as we wish we would have had. We learned. One of the things that really caused us to learn and change was the birth of our second child, who was profoundly mentally retarded and brain damaged. We’d had background in working with them, and I also knew that 80 percent of couples who have disabled children divorce. So, we really had to go ahead and say, “This is what we need to do.” It drew us together. We changed; we developed more because of that situation. And that’s something else when couples get married: How are you going to handle the rough, difficult, unexpected times that happen in your marriage? You have to work together as a team. That’s a big issue.

Laura J. Bagby: This book is obviously about commitment, but we commit on different levels. So, what exactly are we committing to? We're not just committing to marriage, this big thing in the sky. We are committing to different areas.

Norm Wright: We talk about the whole idea of marriage itself being a commitment: the commitment to be free from your past and grow, instead of just allowing the past to take over and consume what’s going on; commitment to be willing to change, because this is a great opportunity to be refined and to develop; a commitment to learn to communicate, to learn to speak the other person’s language, to learn how to resolve conflict, to deal with in-laws in a positive way. That’s a big factor. What’s really important is a commitment to develop a spiritual intimacy together, to learn to pray together. That is just a foundational area, and that ought to start when you’re dating.

Laura J. Bagby: I’m going to be the devil’s advocate, because I’ve heard these things before. “Oh, you don’t want to pray one-on-one with this person. You build spiritual intimacy, and the next thing you know, you are getting into physical intimacy. What do you do with that?

Norm Wright: Well, I’ve never bought that line. I think it’s a cop out. I’ve never run into couples yet where that has been a problem. Yes, it does develop a deeper intimacy, but to the spiritual area, that’s the foundation you want. There are two big foundation areas when you get married: You want to know that you can really connect spiritually, and you want to marry somebody that is a friend.

Laura J. Bagby: Define that, because a lot of people don’t know what that means.

Norm Wright: Friendship means you like being in the presence of the other person without the physical. You like the way they talk. You like playing together. You like doing things together. I’ve had couples come in and apologize by saying, “We were friends for two years first, and then we got romantic.” Great! That’s the best foundation there is, because what happens in our society is people say, “Oh, I’ve got to find somebody to get married to, so I’ll call e-Harmony or one of the others and we’ll start dating.” You’re dating a stranger, for crying out loud! You don’t want to do that. You want to start out and develop a friendship. Forget the dating stuff. Let’s see if we like the presence of the other individual. Just spend time together, hanging out together, studying together, playing together. That’s a big issue, because some couples can’t play together because one is so competitive. One of the things I’ve told married couples is that if one of them is very proficient in a sport, like golf or tennis, get somebody else to teach your spouse, because you’re going to go in and expect them to be at your level. No, you have to come down to their level. I taught my wife to fish, and we started out accommodating her level. I can fish ten hours a day; we go out for two hours a day. I can go out in the snow and fish; we go out in the warm sunshine. You make it comfortable for the other person. You pace them and bring them up to a different level is what you have to do.

Laura J. Bagby: When you were dating your wife, were you friends for a while?

Norm Wright: We knew each other. We went to Westmont College and we met there. I’d give her a ride down to Glendale when I would come down to Southern California, so we were friends. We were in Church History together. Then we dated once up there, and it didn’t work out. When she left Westmont to come back down to Southern California, we started dating. We were engaged probably in about two months. We knew, and then we waited another 10 or 11 months and had a lot of interaction together and then got married and went to seminary. Then in two years we had our first child. So we did a lot of talking and a lot of interaction.

Laura J. Bagby: Are you guys similar?

Norm Wright: No, we’re very different, totally different in personality and tastes.

Laura J. Bagby: That’s one other thing. I bring this up because e-Harmony, you’ve got those 29 dimensions. You’ve got to be the same background. Everything needs to be the same, same, same. I don’t necessarily agree with that.

Norm Wright: Well, I don’t agree that you have to have the same personality traits. The issue is not whether you’re similar or dissimilar. It’s what you do with it. I’m an extrovert. Joyce is the introvert. I’ve learned to adapt. I mean, I wouldn’t come in and say, “Here’s a question. I need to know what you think.” You don’t do that with an introvert. “Wait and think about it for a while and let me know.” Introverts have to think to talk. We extroverts have to talk to think. No couple who gets married, whether you’re different or similar, is compatible.

Laura J. Bagby: Don’t say it!

Norm Wright: They learn to be compatible because you could have two people who are identical and that can clash unless you learn to mesh. You can take the difference and you can learn to celebrate the different-ness. Now, some different-ness can be a problem. If you’ve got somebody who’s an impulsive spender, that undermines the marriage and you need to learn to become more frugal. I mean, you look at some of the character traits in the Scriptures and you need to bring those into play. So it’s good to have those things that are similar, but you’re not going to always have 29 things that are similar. What do you do? Do you say that wipes out the whole thing? Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe you say, “You’re really different from me in this whole area. What can I learn from you?” It’s the attitude you have toward that thing that’s different.

Laura J. Bagby: It’s kind of like you have to be humble, you have to have humility. It goes back to that commitment thing, which is what this book’s about. I mean, you choose, love is a choice kind of thing.

Norm Wright: Yeah, love is a choice. Joy is a choice. Remember the Scripture, “Count it all joy”? Count is to make up your mind to regard that adversity as something to welcome or be glad about. It’s an option.

Laura J. Bagby: Maybe we could talk about the area couples have the most trouble with. What area do you cover in the book that couples have the most trouble with?

Norm Wright: A lot of people say that finances is one of the biggest issues for couples. I guess I question that because is it the finances or the way you deal with them that’s the problem? Maybe it’s the lack of negotiation, the lack of resolving conflict. It could be spending habits. I’ve known couples where one was a spendaholic and just ran them into the ground 50-, 60-, 70,000 dollars of debt. There’s a pathology there that needs to be dealt with. I think it’s the stuff you bring into marriage that you didn’t talk about – that’s what’s going to crop up, right there.

Laura J. Bagby: Isn’t that the expectations thing all over again?

Norm Wright: Well, it brings in a surprise. “Gee, I never expected this.”

Laura J. Bagby: I didn’t sign up for this?

Norm Wright: Yeah, that’s right. You weren’t this way before I married you. Well, you should have found that out. You’ve got to know this person. You do not want to marry a stranger. You’ve got to ask questions. I have another book out called 101 Questions to Ask Before You Get Engaged.

Laura J. Bagby: I’m scared to read it!

Norm Wright: You need to read it. Here’s the other thing. If the other person that you’re dating isn’t willing to read, isn’t willing to discuss these questions, guess what that’s telling you? They’re not marriage material, because this is just a preview of what will happen after you get married and there are problems. They’re not going to go to counseling with you.

Laura J. Bagby: Right. There’s something to be said for that teachable spirit.

Norm Wright: You’ve got it. That’s really, really important. You’ve got to remember the person you get married to is not perfect, but neither are you. And that’s OK. It is two imperfect people coming together and allowing God to refine them and cause the marriage to grow into a deeper love than you could have ever experienced before. It will change the romantic love and lead into a lasting love relationship.

Laura J. Bagby: Any last thoughts?

Norm Wright: The only thing I can say is take it slow. Listen to the advice of others. If parents or friends say, “Hey, I just don’t think this person’s for you,” there’s wisdom in what they say, so consider it. We have found on testing to the prepared tests when couples had parents that were really against it or friends, those are the couples that had difficulty later on. So, listen to them, but get to know the person. Read, take your time. Don’t be pressured because ‘all my friends are getting married and I’m going to be old’. People get married in their 30s or in their 40s and they’re having children later. My daughter and her husband adopted at 40. Just make sure you have asked the Lord, “Is this Your will for my life?” That’s the big question, big one.

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