Most couples spend more time planning their weddings than their marriages! With divorce rates at an all time high, it seems that couples are facing more challenges than ever in preserving their relationship stability.
In my relationship counseling work as a Marriage and Family Therapist, I’ve seen countless couples who come into my office at the “end of their ropes.”
Many have very shaky relationship foundations, diminished emotional safety and little ability to deflect internal conflict within their relationship, let alone the stressful external events that life sometimes can dish out.
If you think about the amount of financial and emotional investment that goes into preparing for the wedding itself, doesn’t it make sense to invest a little in strengthening the relationship at the onset?
Many couples preparing for marriage honestly believe they are strong going into the union – and they probably are in a lot of ways. Being caught up with all the loving feelings and other feel-good stuff going on ahead of nuptials, couples often don’t consider the potential pitfalls. Those “pitfalls” are often times what leads them into a therapist’s office some time down the line.
I strongly encourage couples to give their marriages the best possible start – to do all they can ahead of time to avoid marriage counseling later. Based on my experience with couples who see me for marriage counseling and the issues they bring in, there are a number of things that would have been helpful for them to have known about or worked on previously.
Here are six great reasons to get pre marriage counseling:
Strengthen Communication Skills
Being able to effectively listen, truly hear and validate the other’s position is a skill that isn’t necessarily a “given” for many people. Couples that really communicate effectively can discuss and resolve issues when they arise more effectively.
You can tune up your talking and listening skills. This is one of the most important aspects of emotional safety between couples.
Discuss Role Expectations
It’s incredibly common for married couples to never really have discussed who will be doing what in the marriage. This can apply to job, finances, chores, sexual intimacy and more.
Having an open and honest discussion about what each of you expect from the other in a variety of areas leads to fewer surprises and upsets down the line.
Learn Conflict Resolution Skills
Nobody wants to think that they’ll have conflict in their marriage. The reality is that “conflict” can range from disagreements about who will take out the trash to emotionally charged arguments about serious issues – and this will probably be part of a couple’s story at one time or another.
There are ways to effectively de-escalate conflict that are highly effective and can decrease the time spent engaged in the argument. John Gottman’s research (www.gottman.com) has shown that couples who can do this well are less likely to divorce in the end.
Explore Spiritual Beliefs
For some this is not a big issue – but for others a serious one. Differing spiritual beliefs are not a problem as long as it’s been discussed and there is an understanding of how they will function in the marriage with regards to practice, beliefs, children, etc.
Identify any Problematic Family of Origin Issues
We learn so much of how to “be” from our parents, primary caregivers and other early influences. If one of the partners experienced a high conflict or unloving household, it can be helpful to explore that in regards to how it might play out in the marriage.
Couples who have an understanding of the existence of any problematic conditioning around how relationships work are usually better at disrupting repetition of these learned behaviors.
Develop Personal, Couple and Family Goals
It amazes me how many married couples have never discussed their relationship goals – let alone personal or family. I honestly think it just doesn’t cross their minds! This is a long term investment together – why not put your heads together and look at how you’d like the future to look?
Where do you want to be in five years? Approximately when would you like to have children? How many children? There are many areas that can be explored and it can be a fun exercise to do together.
Pre marriage counseling doesn’t need to be a long process, especially if you feel you’re starting out with a very solid foundation and only need some clarifications and goal-setting. For some people who are poised to start out the marriage as a “higher conflict” couple or have deeper issues to contend with, the process could take a bit longer.
Regardless, be sure to take the time to invest in your marriage as you might in the event itself. The return on your marriage investment has the potential to be life long!