Start your marriage off strong
What a fun journey it is that leads us to marriage – the spark of interest at that first meeting; the marvel of discovering someone who shares your beliefs, interests, and sense of humor; the joy of reconnecting after you’ve been apart (no matter how long); the breathtaking leap into planning a future together. Then comes the frantic busyness of planning the celebration of a lifetime.
It’s no surprise that a lot of couples skip or skimp on perhaps the most important step in the dance of togetherness: premarital counseling. Most religious institutions encourage couples to participate in premarital counseling, and some governmental entities are joining in; for example, extending the time required to get a license for couples who haven’t had counseling or giving a break on the cost of getting a marriage license for those who have. Two statistics support those efforts: 50 percent of marriages end in divorce in this country, and a compilation of 23 studies of premarital counseling shows couples who participate in premarital counseling report their marriages are 30 percent stronger as a result.
Of course such counseling varies widely, depending on the counselor and the couple’s interests, but in general you can expect some of these exercises:
- Learn to talk. Communication is the bottom line in successful marriages. Couples who are able, and eager, to talk to one another openly about issues that arise are much more likely to stay together, happily.
- Learn to fight fair. The other side of communication is disagreeing. As much as you adore your honey bunny today, there will inevitably come a day when you take battle positions. Premarital therapy can teach you in advance how to make your way through a fight without doing irreparable damage and to come out the other side with greater understanding.
- Plan for bad times. In the midst of your joyous plans, looking forward to the down times certainly isn’t appealing, but bad times do come to every life. The more planning you and your partner do for handling problems the more confidently you can go forward and the less trauma your relationship will suffer when unemployment, accident or illness, infidelity or any of life’s unhappiness finds you.
- Claim your independence. You are becoming a new single unit. While your families and friends won’t, and shouldn’t be, excluded from your new life, it’s important to acknowledge to one another that this marriage is yours to enjoy, maintain, and wrangle with.
- Ask questions. You think you know each other soul-deep, but the reality is that there are a lot surprises ahead for both of you. A counselor experienced in working with couples will have a handle on some of the biggies that come up later in many relationships. What does each of you expect your relationship to look like in 10 years or 20? How does each of you feel about money and security? Dogs, kids, both, none? Who deals with the damage from a broken water heater? What is your partner’s credit score? How will you assist your parents as they age? You can’t cover every potential issue, but you can learn a lot about one another by diving in.
- Say what you’re thinking. So far, you’ve been courting one another, piling on the charm. This is the time for honesty, for confessing “I hate it when you …” or “You don’t know this about me, but it’s important.” Having a skilled and impartial person in the room will make these revelations easier to digest and accept.
- Assess. Some couples avoid premarital counseling for fear it will bring their mutual euphoria crashing down. The truth is premarital counseling is a proactive way to address potential relationship issues before they become land mines in your marriage. Examining your relationship strength and growth areas before you head down the aisle can actually bring you closer.