Premarital Counseling: Why You Shouldn’t Skip This Step
My oldest daughter is about to get married to a very special, brilliant, kind young man. They are madly in love with one another. When we met him, we immediately knew he was the one she would marry.When my daughter was much younger, she pretended that she would one day marry a famous actor or musician, like Zac Efron or Justin Timberlake. She and the neighborhood children would enact their dream wedding day, each time ending with a happily ever after theme, very much like Disney princesses.
Watching my oldest fantasize about her future wedding day was something one often sees in romantic movies, eyes bright and full of hope, wonder, and excitement. Marriage can be this way, but it requires a lot of work.
Having been married for over two decades, I remember that time in our marriage, when my husband and I could not get enough time with each other. Nothing else existed or mattered, and the fantasy of the many tomorrows, adventures, and one day a family felt within reach.
I am excited to see that after two-and-a-half years together, that excitement is still very much present for our precious daughter and her fiancé. More than anything, we want her to continue to experience a deep bond, sense of unconditional acceptance and love, happiness, success, and good health with this man of her dreams.
Why Do We Need Premarital Counseling?
Many often ask — especially in today’s world where divorce is prevalent — what does it take to make a marriage last forever? Being able to discuss a couple’s deepest fears, resentments, and anger in a safe environment helps the relationship begin on realistic terms.
Just because my daughter found her Prince Charming does not mean challenges won’t present themselves in their marriage. Realistically, ups and downs are part of life. If my daughter were to go into her marriage thinking that once they said, “I do,” all her problems would go away, like in those Disney movies, she would be in for a world of shock. Being prepared as to what is required to keep that happily ever after feeling requires work.
It is important that both my daughter and her fiancé have similar life goals, are able to tolerate their differing personal habits, have similar spiritual beliefs, are wise with their money, agree on children or no children, understand and make peace with their history, are able to discuss sex and intimacy, be able to communicate assertively, and be able to deal with conflict.
Most couples end up divorcing because they are unable to either identify, communicate about, or solve their problems. Being able to express dreams, wants, and desires is crucial. Couples often assume that their partner knows exactly what they need and how to go about providing that to their loved one. However, this is a cognitive distortion.
We are the result of our childhoods and life experiences, and not one person (except for oneself) can know exactly what we need or want. Being unable or unwilling to communicate these needs often leaves one feeling neglected, unlovable, or helpless within their marriage.
How Premarital Counseling Can Help
It is important for couples to understand why they are getting married. Some people get married to feel secure, for financial reasons, for companionship, to procreate, out of obligation, and/or a need for intimacy.
Whatever the reason, it’s important to identify why you are making this lifelong decision and make peace with it. Being able to be vulnerable with one another and communicate this reason is of the essence. It opens the door to trust, a stronger bond, unconditional acceptance, and love.
It is also vital to flex and adapt to one another’s personal habits. This goes beyond tolerating your partner leaving the toilet seat up. For example, if you are against drinking but your fiancé ends each day with beer or hard alcohol, it is a good idea to address this. Setting and respecting one another’s boundaries prior to marriage is essential.
Another important issue to discuss includes household chores. If, for example, one person is in charge of cleaning and maintaining the entire house, the one who not only works and does all the work might eventually become resentful.
Marriage should be an equal partnership. Part of being an adult is taking pride in your things and taking care of them. My husband recently posted the following image on my Facebook page. I laughed and laughed and then laughed some more. One of his friends responded with, “Don’t go there. It can affect life expectancy.”
I’m so happy to be living in a world where men and women are equal partners in a relationship. Marriage is to be enjoyed and cherished. Experiences bond us closer together. Equal power and control of all issues leave us feeling empowered so we feel secure and free to achieve our goals and dreams.
I often see couples in therapy because of differing spiritual beliefs. Usually, one is religious and values weekly church attendance while the other is an atheist, and therefore, does not want anything to do with religion.
Thus, it is important to converse regarding your values and expectations of one another, including spiritual beliefs. Respecting your partners beliefs and evaluating how these will be observed and respected is of the essence.
One of the leading causes of divorce is finances. In some relationships, one is usually the spender while the other is the saver. If you happen to be an over-spender, it’s important to understand the void you are trying to fill.
On the other hand, if you tend to be on the very conservative side of spending, compromising on some things you both enjoy and treasure and setting limits on them is important. After all, you really can’t spend your money in heaven. In addition, it is wise to discuss financial goals, outstanding debts, and how and when these will be addressed, as well as how big purchases will be made.
Conversing about how many children to have is a talk most couples have when they dream of their future. However, couples often fail to discuss the type of parenting style they will utilize. If for example, one partner tends to be authoritarian (rigid, strict) and the other is permissive (rarely enforce rules, tends to allow children to learn on their own, and wants to be friends rather than parent), there is going to be conflict.
Research shows the happiest and most successful people come from authoritative parenting households, where the parents treat their children with the same respect as they seek. These types of parents validate, empathize, invest time, establish and enforce rules and boundaries, and are consistent.
Some couples become frustrated when I bring up their childhoods in session. Most people are conditioned to think that the past is the past and there is no need to address it. However, how are we to know our destination if we don’t know what made each one of us into who we are?We are products of our past experiences. If, for example, we are raised in an environment where affection was not shown and success was highly regarded, we will most likely not value intimacy as much as work.
What if our partner, on the other hand, was raised in an environment where hugs and emotional support were freely given? Most likely, the spouse who expects to be emotionally supported will feel neglected by their partner.
Knowing and understanding how to provide what each partner values, needs, and wishes is crucial for a successful marriage. Of course, there is so much more information that could fit into this category, but we can chat about this further in session.
Sex and Intimacy
Depending on a couple’s history, it is important to discuss whether a partner cheated or was cheated on prior to your relationship. Knowing this information is crucial if a partner is to understand why their fiancé tends to feel jealous and address their insecurities.
Know that it is never okay for your partner to ever isolate you because of their jealous tendencies. It is never okay to make demands of you. They must seek help if they are to overcome their fears. Trust is imperative to a healthy and long-lasting relationship.Premarital Counseling: Why You Shouldn’t Skip This Step Click To Tweet
Some partners come into session thinking they can continue to live as if they were single, partying with their friends for hours upon end. Others feel they have more control over what their partner does because they have tied the knot. Neither is true.
While it is important to have time with your close friends, having discussions about what is an appropriate amount of time to spend with others is necessary. Being able to draw boundaries with one another and having open communication about what feels right or wrong in this regard is vital.
In addition, it is essential to address with the help of a premarital counseling therapist if you feel your partner is attempting to keep you to themselves. If you notice them telling you who you can and can’t spend time with or that they demand your every bit of attention, I recommend you seek help. You should never be isolated from your loved ones.
Sex is another significant topic to address, even if it feels uncomfortable. Relaying your wants and desires when it comes to the bedroom is important. Keep your sex life fun, light, and adventurous. Equally communicate how often you want sex. Should it be nightly, weekly, or monthly?
Love LanguagesFurthermore, figure out your love language. Most of you have heard of Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages: words of affirmation, gifts, acts of service, quality time, and physical touch.
Here’s a brief summary of each, from Gary Chapman’s book:
Words of affirmation: using spoken words to build up the other person (no harsh words or ignoring), i.e. cards, love notes, and text messages where encouraging words and compliments are given.
Receiving gifts: Gifts of time, remembering special occasions, giving of material things or small tokens. Gifts tell your loved one you were thinking of them.
Acts of service: Doing something you know your partner would like (i.e. cooking, cleaning, helping each other).
Quality time: giving your partner your undivided attention (i.e. walks, talks with no interruptions or cell phones).
Physical touch: hand holding, hugs, physical touches, sitting close to one another, sex. (Chapman, 1995)
Understanding which one you and your partner most identify with is important in meeting each other’s needs.
Conflict and Communication
Good communication is of the essence. Being passive does not allow for one to get their needs met. Being aggressive intimidates a partner to become submissive.
A healthy relationship never involves fear. Therefore, assertiveness, where each person is heard and understood is ideal. With this type of communication style, each is left feeling valued and respected.
In my line of work, I have met couples where one always feels they are right and the other passively accepts it so as to not make waves. The problem with this is that anger builds and the one who has been passive for a long period of time eventually explodes like a volcano. Having an equal voice where there is a compromise so that you both get your needs met will prevent such explosions.
My 101-year-old grandmother Daisy was married for over sixty years and to this day, she very much loves her husband, who now lovingly looks down at her from heaven. I adore my grandmother. While she is one of the most loving and accepting people in my life, she is also stubborn as heck. I believe this is one of the reasons she is still alive.
My daughter shares not only her heart, but her passion (also known as stubbornness). Therefore, I predict she and her sweet fiancé will be married for the rest of their lives. I pray you experience a happy and fulfilling marriage, and that you’ll pursue premarital counseling as a strong foundation for your union as husband and wife.
If you would like to explore premarital counseling for your own upcoming marriage or you find yourself struggling, give me a call. I would love the opportunity to meet you.
Chapman, G. (1995) The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate. Chicago, IL: Northfield Publishing.
“Bouquet”, Courtesy of Beatriz Perez Moya, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Forever”, Courtesy of Gabby Orcutt, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; Unsplash.com, CC0 License