Making a marriage work | 2017 Kitsap Wedding Guide

Any couple preparing to merge their lives together needs to think about what’s ahead of them.

And one of the ways to do that is to make sure your marriage house is sound, according to Heather Carstens, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, who practicing in Kitsap County.

“You need to figure out how to negotiate everything,” Carstens said, “because once you are married you will never again have things 100 percent your way.”

Learning good communication skills and how to compromise are the keys, she said. And good way to do that is to check out the questions for couples on the website.

The Gottman Institute was created by marriage therapists John and Julie Gotten. They compare building a strong relationship to building a strong house. The process is called “Building a Sound Relationship House.”

Gottman Method Couples Therapy was developed from years of research to help partners increase respect, affection, and closeness, break through and resolve conflict when they feel stuck, generate greater understanding between partners, and keep conflict discussions calm.

Carsten said if you learn how to do these things, any conflict that comes up can be resolved in a respectful manner.

“You have to learn to compromise,” she said. “You have to be able to not interrupt your partner and not hit below the belt.”

When it comes to specifics, such as whose stuff gets tossed when moving in together, she said there are many ways to approach this.

“Be creative and find common ground,” she said. “If he has a special blanket on the bed that is important to him, but that you really don’t like, find a way to keep it, but maybe not use it on the bed. Perhaps folded at the end of the bed. Negotiate. Really listen and find common ground.”

As for throwing everything out and starting all new, she’s not seen couples do that.

“If one of the spouses would suggest that, I would ask them to list the benefits and the drawbacks of starting all over.”

After being in marriage counseling for 15 years, Carstens said every couple she has worked with has different ways of dealing with issues, such as money.

“If you show me 500 marriages, there’ll be 500 different ways of managing money,” she said. “There’s no one right way to do it.”

Both spouses have to talk and determine what they can agree to whether it’s separate accounts, or a combined account, or both. And she said, how you manage money can always change.

“You have to be able to continue to address the subject,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to do it differently.”

An example, she said, is credit cards. If you agree at first to use them, but later one of the partners is not comfortable with that, sit down and re-negotiate that. Possible answers could be not using them, or setting monetary limits.

Ultimately, couples need to think about the fact that they are taking two lives and putting them together.

“Have a positive perspective about what it means to be blending lives,” Carstens said, referring the third level of the Gottman Sound House method. “And always trust that your partner has the best intent, even when conflict arrises.”

Kitsap News Group employees offer wedding and marriage advice:

From military reporter Terryl Asla: After 52 years of marriage I can say the secret to a long, happy marriage can be summarized in two words: “Yes, dear.”

Marketing assistant Annie LaValle who has been married 24 years: It’s YOUR day, you can listen to all the advice, but make it your own. Don’t spend a fortune – you’ll need it for your house, car, schools…. nest egg…

Annie said the best parts of planning her wedding (besides dress shopping): The pre-marriage counseling meetings with the Episcopal reverend. He gave us a list of questions to answer, no right or wrong answers, but prompted conversation and saw where our thoughts were similar and different. We found out our basic values were the same so that would be a strong foundation to survive the things life threw at us.

Graphic designer Kelsey Thomas: Married eight years. We had two receptions, one in Kitsap at my mother-in-law’s house and one in Wenatchee at a park. Since we had family on both sides of the mountain we wanted to make sure more people were included and my mom was set on planning a reception on her side of the mountains. We had large receptions where family and friends came. We wanted a small wedding but my husband has a huge family so we invited only immediate family to the wedding then had the big receptions. It was the only way we could keep it small and not have family with hurt feelings.

Best parts of planning my wedding: I loved picking out colors and designing my invitations and choosing flowers anything creative really. I also took a lot of pride in keeping my budget low, I wanted to have a nice wedding but a very affordable one. I would hear about people spending what could easily be a down payment on a house on their weddings and, well, I would rather put a down payment on a house and achieve some of our long-term goals we had as a couple.

Advice to others: Don’t go crazy and spend what could be a down payment on a house. Don’t skip or downplay the photographer (in 20 years you will have your photos and ring and maybe you have a dress you don’t fit hiding in your closet). And the advice my parents gave me, that marriage is 60/40, if you give 60 and expect 40 things usually work out.

Leslie Kelly, special sections editor: “I adhere to the advice my mother gave me — have two TVs, especially when you live with a newshound like my husband, Brian. “

Reporter Sophie Bonomi: “Enjoy the moment! Little things like give-aways at the reception or programs will be meaningless in a few years, but memories with friends and family will last forever.”

This story originally appeared in the 2017 Wedding Guide.

Leslie Kelly can be reached at

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