Premarital Counseling gets a bad rap. The popular belief that there is something wrong with your relationship if you need counseling just isn’t true. Most premarital clients are very happy and not having doubts about their wedding. They simply se skills to prepare for predictable challenges of marriage. Yes, marriage is challenging, but most of the challenges are easy to overcome.
We live in a world where more than 40% of all marriages fail. For those with college degrees, only 16% fail. For those without college degrees, 50% of marriages fail. The good news is that both numbers are better than the media tells you. And in both cases, most fail within the first ten years.
As a marriage therapist, I can tell that that most of these couples had little to no doubts about their future success when they were standing at the altar. So, what happened to these happy couples? Most weren’t prepared for the predictable challenges that come with being married.
Living with one person for most of your adult life isn’t easy. Issues like kids, money, your sex life, planning for the future — even picking what to have for dinner — can become a challenge when you and your mate are not on the same page. Marriages that start off with couples agreeing about how to manage these expectable bumps in the road have a better chance of surviving.
Here are the top 5 reasons couples need this preventative does before walking down the aisle:
1. Role Change. Couples rarely anticipate the anxiety or feelings that come up as they think about their new roles as husband and“wife. What does it mean to move from being a single person, to someone bound to another? It may feel like nothing will change because you already spend all your time together, perhaps live together and share expenses.
But don’t be fooled – huge changes are underway. You are moving from a girlfriend to a wife or a boyfriend to a husband. These changes affect very basic things in life including how you think about yourself and how you look at your life moving ahead. For couples who struggle with their loss of independence, this can be a particular challenge.
2. Bonding. My experience as a therapist tells me that 3 main reasons why couples divorce are:
- Someone in the marriage feels that their partner just doesn’t understand him/her anymore;
- Someone in the marriage feels that that their spouse has changed. In the client’s words, “I no longer feel like I know him/her;” and
- Someone in the marriage has the ongoing experience of feeling of being alone in the relationship.
The bond between couples is an intimate connection that no other relationship can match. When a couple feels like their marriage is in crisis, something about this bond is being stretched or pulled and the couples is left with the sensation that something is very, very wrong.
It’s normal for couples to become overly enmeshed when they first connect and are first marriage. And it’s equally as normal for couples as individuals to stretch their wings and re-explore their individuality after they are married. The pain of this stretching is normal and something couples can be prepared for if they understand how the brain bonds and what it needs to stay bonded to one person.
Learning about this predictive pattern is how smart couples prepare themselves to hold on to this wonderfully connected feeling you have right now. Remember, premarital therapy is all about prevention so you don’t need a cure.
3. Sex. Couples often get very blind-sided when predictable changes to their sex life happen. Kids, stress, over-enmeshment all can lead to a slowing down of one’s sex life. Couples are often left with the feeling that there is something very, very wrong here when things slow down or even change course.
The truth is that changes are normal. Sex drives and interest ebb and flow and with the awareness that things like this will happen, you can ensure that you have a plan for how to talk about these changes so they don’t leave you questioning the marriage. It is amazing to me how many couples not only have sexless marriages but touch-less marriages. With a little education you can prevent this from happen to you.
4. Goals. Most of us know how to set goals and achieve great things — getting a job, getting into graduate school, etc. But we forget that this same skill has to be applied to our marriages. Smart marriages are prepared for what changes will come to your relationship in two years, five years and 20 years.
I am not talking about financial goals, although these are very important. I am talking about how you want to feel in your marriage, and what you want it to provide for you. Most couples also need to renegotiate their goals with their spouse every few years.
Problems arise when couples don’t renegotiate, when they hold onto their old dreams and goals when circumstances have changed. Resentments build up, arguments turn nasty and a chasm appears in the marriage. Couples come to see me when they are in distress and saying, “I never signed up for this.” By learning that it’s both normal for things to change and how to adjust to these changes, your marriage can flow more easily with whatever life brings you both good and bad.
5. Wedding Day. Weddings are highly emotional affairs for everyone involved. You need to make room for your own emotions to run on high as well as for your guests. Weddings have an uncanny way of bringing lots of feeling to the table.
For your guests, it’s impossible to watch the happy couple walk down the aisle and not think about their own feelings. For the unhappily married couple who are guests at the wedding, questions of “what happened?” and “why?” rise to the surface. For the single people in your crowd, the questions swirl around when love will come their way. Add an open bar and weddings can be an emotional minefield for everyone attending.
As a bride and groom-to-be, it’s important that you’re prepared for the craziness brought on by your special day so it doesn’t interfere with your happiness. Creating a wedding day plan is one way to define how you want your day to go so all of the unpredictable (yet oh-so predictable) events are handled easily and without too much interference.
Premarital counseling is like getting preventative medicine for your relationship. It is a chance for you to explore what breaks couples up and get the best tips, tools and advice so you don’t have to walk that rocky road.