9 Things You Need to Know Before Marriage

Engagement Photo in Somerset

Almost 18 years ago, I married my husband for love, acceptance, and companionship. Having both grown up in divorced families, we knew that marriage doesn’t always last and that problems can arise. Like any counselor-in-training, I tried to make sure we were prepared for marriage by talking about all the important topics. But there are many things I wish I would have known before we got married!

Most engaged couples spend a lot of time planning and budgeting for their wedding, and almost no time planning for their marriage. Set aside some time and money to invest in not only the celebration of marriage, but also in the invitation to grow yourselves while in this relationship.

Many engaged couples think as long as their mate keeps making them happy they will be satisfied and fulfilled. But over time, couples slowly starts to be less open in order to keep the peace and avoid feeling hurt. All marriages have emotional distance, but not all marriages grow emotional divorces.

What I Wish I Knew Before Marriage (and Now You Can Too)

It’s hard to be realistic and objective when you are falling in love, but the more you can view marriage without rose-colored glasses, the better you will start this life together.  Take a look at the 9 things I wish I knew before I got married, and ask yourself how open you are to exploring each of these opportunities and obstacles:

  1. Conflicts Repeat: Many marriages have conflicts that recycle and don’t get resolved . The conflict can go underground, and ignite under stressful times. Negative reactions trigger more negative reactions, and couples can get really stuck in arguing about how they are arguing. For conflicts that are co-created, the quickest way to tone down marriage conflict is for each person to take  responsibility for their part in the problem.
  2. Manage Your Own Emotions: If you want to communicate more openly or effectively, start with managing your emotions and reactions under the words you use. How you perceive the situation, yourself, and your partner will direct how you communicate.
  3. Listen More Than Pressure: If you communicate by trying to get your partner to hear your point, then you miss out on learning what you partner thinks. Represent your thinking but be open to also learning what your partner thinks. Pressing emotionally  on your partner acts as anti-intimacy.
  4. Respect Differences: Many people want sameness when under stress, but different ideas can be helpful when trying to solve problems. Respect that your partner may have different ways of doing things, unless that difference is so great that it’s what I call a “marriage breaker.”
  5. Painful Feelings May Be Experienced: Don’t believe the myth, “if you love me, you would never hurt or leave me.” This is the risk you take when entering into a relationship. You may feel hurt or loss, so you have probably already decided it’s better to love than avoid loss. (The more you work on #8 and #2, the less you will feel like your partner’s behavior defines your value or happiness.)
  6. Marriage Has Changing Seasons:  The marital relationship is always changing, so you are never done working on yourself. You probably won’t always feel “in love” like when you first start dating and courting. The more you can see your partner as separate from you, the more you will be able to connect without expectations and pressure on the other.
  7. Sexual Frequency Can Change Too: Sex is the bonus of being married, but the frequency of sex in a marriage can vary. Sometimes sex isn’t an option as one of the ways to connect, so make sure you are working on other ways to connect. Instead of more distance and pressure, work on your marital friendship and emotional intimacy.
  8. Be Responsible for Own Well-Being: It takes courage to take responsibility for your own well-being. View marriage as an invitation to grow yourself instead of trying to get your mate to make you happy. In doing so, you can stop thinking that your partner’s behavior defines your happiness or worth.
  9. Find Neutral Mentor/Coach: Friends and family will often take sides. It’s natural to turn to someone else when tension gets so great between two people. This can be calming or more problematic. If the person you turn to is neutral, then he or she can coach you when you are stuck or feel like giving up. It’s better to come in for a marriage checkup throughout marriage, then wait until someone is asking for a marriage separation.

While I wish I would’ve known all of this before I got married 18 years ago, you honestly can’t know until you are experiencing marriage on a daily basis. But if you are open to working and growing yourself more than growing your partner, you are starting your marriage on the right track.

What would you add to creating marriages that last?


Participate in a few premarital sessions before the wedding. If you feel comfortable with the counselor, then it will be easier to return when you need a little coaching after the wedding!

3 Premarital Counseling packages now available. Great gift idea for an engaged couple or for making an investment in creating a marriage together. For more information on what each package includes, visit my website here or contact Marci Payne, Licensed Professional Counselor at 816-373-6761 ext 2.

Photo Credit: “Engagement Photo in Somerset” by Bert Palmer

6 Best Mental Health Gifts

Now that the busyness of the holidays are over, you are probably done shopping, wrapping and returning gifts. Why not start the new year with a mental health gift for yourself?

I believe managing anxiety and maintaining relationship connections are important parts of mental health. So I’m going to share 6 of my favorite gifts for promoting relaxation, health, and human connection:

Gift #1Young Living Essential Oils; Pure oils from a botanical that can be either diffused, inhaled, applied topically, or taken internally to promote health and balance. Among some of my favorites are: Lavendar (promote relaxation), Lemon (cleansing), DiGize (support digestion), Peppermint (energizing),  Joy (uplifting mood), and Stress Away. (Click here if you want to receive 24% discount off oils without having to sell anything. Or shop at full retail prices here too.)

Gift #2: Massage Gift Card: Schedule a massage for yourself or give the gift via gift card to promote deep physical and mental relaxation. Look for licensed massage therapist in your area. Or if you live in Kansas City area, I recommend A Healthy Alternative Therapeutic Massage.

Gift #3: Sounder Sleep System: Breathing and mini movement exercises to help promote more restful sleep for those insomniacs. It’s more than meditation, as it helps you synchronize your breath with easy mini moves you can do both in bed and throughout the day to have a more restful sleep.

Gift #4: Restorative Yoga Video: Enjoy simple yoga exercises for beginners looking to relax or rejuvenate. Lead by professional yoga instructor in privacy of your own home. Especially beneficial if recovering from illness or injury.

Gift #5: Friendships Don’t Just Happen Book: A useful guide for creating meaningful circle of friends. As adults with busy schedules, it can be hard to meet and create friendships. But social and family connections are vital to our well-being. Author Shasta Nelson guides you through discovering how all levels of friendships are important. Friendships are always changing, because so are you

Gift #6: Emotional Intimacy Journal for Self Discovery: I created this journal with 15 questions that will help you increase your self-awareness in regards to better understanding and developing emotional intimacy with your partner. Instead of continuing to do what doesn’t work, find new ways to connect without pushing your partner further away. This journal is free when you subscribe to Liberating Choices (or it’s available for sale in my office for $10).

Please share your favorite gift to give yourself to promote emotional or relational health. I know many gifts won’t cost you a thing!


Schedule a mental health check up today either face to face or online with Marci. 

How to Adapt to Stress When You Can’t Avoid It


Most people would rather avoid stress if possible, rather than lean into it. Unfortunately, most of the time stress can’t be avoided. So how do you deal with stressful situations and/or stressed out feelings?

The Upside and Downside of Stress

First, let’s define stress. I think of stress as a pressure or challenge to a person or system. A stressor can be positive, such as planning a vacation or wedding. Or a stressor can be negative, such as job loss, death, or family illness. As you can see, some stressors are self-made while others are externally created.

So unless you had a part in creating your stressful situation, you really can’t avoid stress. And it really doesn’t do any good to start throwing around blame. Your energy will be better spent deciding how to deal with the stressor.

“Stress activates adaptive responses…Adaptive responses are described by the term ‘allostasis’ which means maintaining stability, or homeostasis, through change. The body actively copes with a challenge by expending energy and attempting to put things right.” ~Bruce McEwen, PhD, neuroscientist/author of The End of Stress As We Know It

Initially, our stress response revs us up, so we can have enhanced memory, focus, and energy to deal with the problem. When we adapt to the stressful situation, we are using just the right amount of energy to deal with the problem, not over or under-responding.

“When exposure to stress disrupt the body’s internal balance (‘homeostasis’), it can go one of three general ways: the body can regain its normal equilibrium once stress has passed or it can become stuck in over- or under- aroused state.” ~ Bruce McEwen, PhD, neuroscientist, and Dean Krahn, MD, psychiatrist: The Response to Stress

How do you typically deal with stress? Do you over-react, expending more energy than the problem needs? Or, do you under-respond, by avoiding dealing with the situation or secretly hoping someone else will fix it for you?

Anxious people typically over-respond like a race horse busting through barriers. An over-responder will try to solve the problem as fast as possible and do all the research themselves, never considering help from others. While depressed individuals may under-respond, feeling like they are to blame, and possibly  retreating to the bedroom to sleep.

5 Resouces for Adapting to Stress

I think stress management is more complex than taking deep breaths, reading a book, and attending a yoga class. While these techniques are relaxing and comforting, the effects are often short lived.

So how does one adapt to the stressor without over of under-responding? By definition, to adapt means to modify or adjust to new conditions. Here are 5  resources I think help individuals adapt to stress:

Resource #1. Make a Realistic Assessment: Instead of letting fear direct your response, make a more objective assessment about the situation or problem. For example, fear tells you that you will lose your business when you lose a major referral source. Reality says you still have a business, but will need to modify your referral sources or expenses.

Resource #2. Practice Self-Care: The last thing many of us want to do when we are stressed is exercise or eat healthy. Instead most people turn to substances, such as sugar, alcohol, and drugs to comfort themselves. But practicing good self-care under high stress times, will prevent you from putting more stress on your body.

Resource #3. Focus on Goals More Than Discomfort : Most people don’t stop to think about their goals when under stress. It can be calming to focus more on your goals in the situation, however big or small, more than the anxiety or discomfort you are feeling. Then how do you get focused on goals even though you feel miserable.

Resource #4. Identify Psychological/Social Add On Stress: How people think about how they can handle stress will have an impact on how they handle it. If you are pre-occupied with others acceptance, approval, and expectations of you, then you will add more stress to the challenge you are facing. Or people in your family/organization can also add more stress by criticizing or pressuring you to think, feel, or act in a certain way. Instead of worrying about what others want you to do, focus on what’s best for you.

Resource #5. Recognize Social Support Opportunities: Often people withdraw and isolate when dealing with stress to avoid more stress. In doing so, you miss out on opportunities for support. Loneliness and social isolation is another add on stress. You are not as alone as you think you are. People may get amped up, but they may also support your desire to find the solution that’s best for you.

While stress can be helpful to give us energy to deal with a problem, the stress response can also get stuck on. When the stress response becomes chronic, it’s important to evaluate how we are dealing with the stress and whether or not we are adding to the stress load we are already carrying. Then lean into the stress, doing what’s best for you, and accept support along the way.

“Think of stress as a signal of meaning, not that you’re inadequate to the challenges in life.” ~ Kelly McGonigal, psychologist/author of Upside of Stress

What helps you deal with stress, challenges, and pressure?


Schedule a mental health stress check up today either face to face or online with Marci.

Photo Credit: “Stressed” by Jenisse Decker