Most people discussing marriage will address the big question: Will we have children together? This often includes picking a number of children as a goal. Differences here might even be a major obstacle to getting married. This is an essential start to a marriage, that is, to have an agreement on whether or not to have children and possibly even how many will be the goal.
However, like most important topics, children and parenting should include a little more depth in the discussion. Your authors have seen divorces occur because spouses changed their minds after marrying, or more commonly, substantial differences in parenting goals, skills and values lead to unresolved disagreements. Because children are so close to the heart, those disagreements can grow into marriage-destroying conflicts.
Useful discussions to have might include the parenting styles the prospective spouses had when they grew up, what they learned from them, good and bad, and the like.
- There is a difference between parenting style and parenting skills – style matters little while skills make all of the difference.
- The research on skills provides us a list of skills that matter:
- Authoritative parenting, rather than authoritarian or permissive parenting
- Nurturance and warmth
- Clear and high expectations
- Intellectual, social and skill building stimulation
- Support for and participation in the children’s lives outside of the family
The first two skills are far and away the most important, and oddly, one of the primary disagreements many parents have, with one parent being too permissive and the other being too authoritarian. Authoritative simply means having clear rules and expectations with clear incentives and constraints (e.g., loss of incentives, punishment).
Spouses rarely see disagreements before having children, but having this discussion before marriage might identify risks to this part of the future marriage. A commitment to having open discussions, and even to get help, in the future when differences and disagreements arise, rather than arguing about who is “right,” might smooth the path to successful parenting and a successful marriage. Most married people who have raised children describe it as both the hardest and the most rewarding part of their marital partnership. Raising children as a team means resolving the inevitable differences between spouses and resolving disagreements when they come up.
Your authors go into great detail in their book, The Road to Successful Marriage is Unpaved: Seven Skills for Making Marriage Work on healthy ways to resolve differences and disagreements. This prevents unresolved disagreements from growing into painful conflicts, and in many cases, into reasons for divorce. People considering marriage often discount problematic disagreements. But not so fast. There might be clues of disagreement resolution weaknesses that need to improve to make a pending marriage more successful.
Be sure to read Blog 2 in this series to discover the importance of talking about the handling of money prior to marrying.
 These styles are easy to differentiate: asking a child “to try” versus telling a child to “do it” versus saying or doing nothing when the child acts out.
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