It’s no secret that divorce is running rampant in the US today; in fact, it’s no longer taboo to divorce and remarry more than once. When you find out so-and-so is on their 3rd marriage, perhaps you make a quick joke, but it doesn’t really phase most people anymore.
Where did this start? Why is this suddenly a non-issue? How did we become so accustomed to the lack of commitment in our current generation? Let’s dig a little deeper because the answers are there.
A Little Background
In 1969, California became the first US State to allow a no-fault divorce. In a no-fault divorce, only one party must file paperwork and a judge can grant the divorce without the second party agreeing. This was helpful in cases of domestic abuse or abandonment, but in today’s society it’s also made it easier and faster to end a marriage rather than working on it.
So, what can be done to give your marriage a better chance of not only lasting, but to grow your marital happiness and fulfillment? Seeing this need many years ago, myself and other colleagues began to work with couples who were contemplating marriage or who were already engaged. Over the years, these couples tended to have much better outcomes than those who did not get counseling.
Enter: Pre-Marital Counseling
Think of your marriage as a home that you want to build. You wouldn’t start working on the framing, plumbing, electrical, and roofing until you built the foundation first. If you tried to build your house without a foundation, it might not stand up over time. Think of pre-marital counseling as building the foundation of your marriage. If you do, you dramatically increase your chances of a longer and happier marriage. Here’s some proof!
Approximately 30% of couples who went to pre-marital counseling say they have a strong, more successful marriage than those who did not, and yet only 44% of couples report attending such counseling. I’m sharing my top 5 reasons I think every couple should seek pre-marital counseling and I hope that each of you reading this will seriously consider counseling before you get married. Pre-Marital Counseling can help you:
1. Talk About the “Real Issues.”
Do you love each other? Yes. Do you want to spend the rest of your life together? Sure. Those are easy questions when you’re considering marrying someone, but what about the nitty gritty? What are your hopes and dreams for your marriage and the home life you want to live? Focus more on the “tone” of the life you want to live as opposed to the house itself. Remember, building materials make a house. People build a home. What type of home do you want to live in?
How many children do you both want? When will you start having kids? Will you raise them practicing a particular religion? Will they go to public or private schools? Are these issues that are important to you? Can you compromise?
What are your spending habits? Your partners spending habits? Will you combine finances or keep separate accounts? Who will be responsible for what bills? Are there lingering issues with your future in-laws that need to be addressed? What does commitment mean to you? What are your expectations for this marriage? Gender role expectations? How often would you like have sex? Is there anything that’s off limits in the bedroom? Anything you want to try?
Beginning to address these issues BEFORE the wedding can help unite the two of you and give you a clearer roadmap of how you’ll handle these and other issues as they arise, preventing, identify any potential “deal breakers”, and hopefully, lessen the intensity and frequency of disagreements in your marriage. Your eyes will be more open going in and that makes for a better prognosis in the long run.
2. Build Your Communication Skills.
Remember the ‘No Fault Divorce’ I told you about previously? It’s also known in some states as “Irreconcilable Differences.” Do you know what I hear when someone says that? I hear “We couldn’t communicate well enough to work it out.” Sometimes I also hear that their differences truly are irreconcilable: g. she wants to have a family and he doesn’t. These goals are clearly in conflict. (See Item # 3 below.)
Often arguments ensure or sometimes even worse, the couple just doesn’t talk to begin with. It would be impossible to avoid every argument in any relationship, so it’s important to know how your partner communicates and how you communicate. It will determine how you argue and how you resolve those arguments. (Refer to my blog Give Your Relationship A Fighting Change: 11 Ways to Fight Fair for more on this topic).
In any case, big changes will happen in your life together. Some planned; many unplanned including new jobs, new homes, maybe even new cities. Knowing how to communicate with your partner in a healthy way will ensure that you can navigate your way through these stressful situations together without constantly fighting.
3. Determine Your Relationship Goals.
We all love the cute memes on the internet lately of what relationship goals are or should be, but get really honest with yourself. Do you have basic shared values? Do you want to travel and see the world with your partner? Do you want to raise a family in a nice suburb? Do you want to make so much money you don’t know how to spend it? Do you enjoy volunteering with your partner at your favorite local charity? How old will you be when you retire? What will you do in your retirement? Do you have personal goals for yourself that you want your partner to support you in achieving? (I hope that answer for everyone is a big huge YES!) What would that support look like to you?
How will you know if your relationship is successful and on the right track if you don’t have goals set for yourself and your marriage? Having a third party who has done this more than once (potentially, for their own marriage even) to help guide you through this part is key! What if you find out that your partner is more focused on making money than you realized and all you want is to volunteer your time and money? How will you handle that conversation? I have worked with plenty of couples who realize they have different goals than their partner and made it work to their advantage.
Remember this. You always have more choices than you think. This fact provides you with more opportunities to work things out.
4. Benefit from Wisdom of a Non-Biased Third Party.
Whether you attend the pre-marital counseling offered by your religious group or seek a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, you will benefit from the knowledge and foresight of others. You want someone who has experience and training in all of marriage’s messiest issues.
The advantage to counseling versus talking to a married friend or your parents is this: your therapist is non-biased. I’ve never met you before and I don’t know a thing about your relationship that you don’t show me or tell me. I genuinely have you and your partner’s best interest in mind.
5. Finally, Dismantle Your Fears About Marriage.
With the rate of divorce as high as it is, perhaps you’ve got some major concerns. Maybe your parents or your partner’s parents are divorced and you’re afraid to repeat their mistakes. Maybe you grew up in a house where one of your parents was abusive or manipulative to the other and you’re worried about dysfunction in your future household. Or perhaps, your parents are still married and they seem to be so perfect that you’re afraid you’ll never be as happy as they are?
Whatever your fears are, they are valid and you should talk through them with a professional and with your partner. Discuss how you will handle these fears as you navigate marriage. More often than not, you can prevent much of what you fear by talking about them openly. Doing so will likely bring the two of you even closer to each other, and isn’t that what it’s all about?!
BONUS REASON: A friend of mine who knows that I am a Licensed Marriage Counselor. One day he asked me this question: “So, is pre-martial counseling expensive?” My reply was simple and to the point, “Pre-marital counseling isn’t nearly as expensive as a divorce.”
I hope that this article was helpful. Feel free to reach out to me directly to discuss what specific issues you or your partner have concerns about getting married and what it means for each of you. I am more than happy to offer you a free 15-minute phone consultation to see if you might benefit from pre-marital counseling.