What do we need premarital counseling for? We’re in love! Don’t you believe it (and no, neither I nor my wife are in the marriage and family therapy business, so don’t think I have a financial interest in this subject). If you have ever divorced, when you hear a loving couple utter these uber naive words right before they are about to walk down the aisle, you just shake your head regretfully.
I asked a divorced woman to share her thoughts with me about premarital counseling. She gave it to me straight, it was from the gut, and here are my notes on our conversation:
Long before the ink is dry on the divorce papers, we all have thought, “How could I have ever been so stupid to marry him/her?” Divorce makes some of us feel like a failure. Even if we’re relieved to be out of the bad marriage, we still feel sad that we missed the chance at a life of love and happiness with a spouse. Others never really took marriage very seriously to begin with and just thought they had to marry out of social or cultural pressure.
Whatever the reason a marriage fails, there is something that could have made a difference for those of us who ended up learning the hard way. It’s premarital counseling.
Why, when we are so in love that each one of us would lick the dirt off of the others feet would we ever need premarital counseling? I can’t imagine life without him/her! As someone who has been there and done that, I am here to tell you: yes, you do.
I used to feel apathetic about premarital counseling. Then I thought back to when my ex-husband and I were so madly in love with each other that knowing what I know about him now probably wouldn’t have made a difference to me then, blinded by love and hormones as I was.
But I could have benefited from a trained counselor to counsel me and warn me about the eventual horror that was about to unfold over ten plus years of marriage.
Why do I say “me” and not “we”? Well, my ex-husband was what one marital counselor we went to referred to as “unresponsive to marital therapy.” Why? I’ll save that for a possible future blog.
Back to premarital counseling. There are many reasons, that, in my opinion , make premarital counseling a great idea:
1. Better, more effective, communication – This is the number one area of marriage that I think needs to be dealt with prior to marrying your one and only. Failure to communicate your sexual and intimacy needs, your financial expectations and obligations, actual likes and dislikes, the sharing of chores and responsibilities, how many children you both want to have, personality issues and habits, and whether you are both actually compatible or not is NON-NEGOTIABLE where marriage is concerned. If you haven’t gone over these with your significant other or you think you already have and therefore won’t benefit from meeting and speaking with a counselor, you are probably headed for at least some type of marital misery, or at least exposing yourself to the risk of it needlessly. Premarital counseling addresses and explores areas of communication that most people fail to go address before marriage.
2. Realistic Expectations – Many couples confuse romance with compatibility and intimacy. When the excitement of new love wears off and couples show each other their real selves, some couples are extremely disappointed by what they see. That’s when the little things like the cap left open on the toothpaste and the toilet seat being left up start to seem like huge impasses in the relationship. Premarital counseling will help you both figure out if one or both of you are mature enough emotionally for these realities of marriage.
The pros and cons of premarital counseling are not that much different. The most significant one, I think, is that you get to identify and talk out many problems or potentially BEFORE it’s too late to do anything about them. Issues such as money handling problems, anger, jealousy, and infidelity are brought out into the open before marriage so that you both don’t get blindsided by them six months or so into the marriage and tortured by them for the next 15 years.
Premarital counseling also gives you an outside perspective on your relationship and how to make it last. You may, on the other hand, just end up calling off your wedding entirely and breaking up. That is can be devastating, but if it saves you from marrying someone who isn’t right for you, it’s worth the short-term pain.
If you don’t do your research and screen premarital counselors, you can end up with a less than up to par counselor, or one who may not be so skilled at conflict resolution, causing you to end up arguing incessantly about something that was brought up in the counseling session.
There is rarely advice that applies universally and absolutely, and premarital counseling is no exception, but it is a useful and far too often overlooked tool for helping to fix shaky relationships and for strengthening good relationships. Engaging in premarital counseling is not a sign of weakness, but being too proud to examine your relationship before you enter into a lifelong commitment is. Neither you nor your fiancé is perfect, and I guarantee that neither of you is fully equipped to deal with each other’s flaws as gracefully as you should. To deny yourself the opportunity to see what premarital counseling might do to benefit you or the both of you is foolish at best, and recklessly irresponsible at worst.