Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016 12:04 am
What’s love got to do with it?
Premarital counseling for a strong foundation
Premarital counseling is something that can sometimes fall by the wayside in the excitement of planning a wedding. It certainly can seem like a bummer compared to the thrill of dress shopping and planning the reception of the century. But it doesn’t have to be. Having meaningful conversations about your shared future is a way to stay grounded and connected to your partner and, perhaps more importantly, a way to go into marriage confidently with your eyes wide open.
Couples may be reticent to meet with a therapist, because they associate therapy with conflict and divorce, situations that engaged couples understandably want to stay far away from. However, if couples have a better understanding of what to expect, their fears won’t preclude a visit to a professional.
Premarital counseling usually takes the form of meetings with a therapist or the clergy member who will perform the ceremony. In it, couples learn how to communicate well and negotiate conflict. These marriage experts may remind couples what to expect in the future, truths such as:
-Your relationship is dynamic and will change over time
-Anxiety about this commitment is normal.
The counselor can provide a space where constructive conversations about the future can happen, along with providing a gentle nudge to start these conversations.
A therapist can help couples connect to each other and decode behavior. Linda Castor, LPC, is a Springfield counselor who has worked with many couples about to be married. I asked her why a couple should seek premarital counseling if they aren’t having problems. “It is always beneficial to check in with a therapist to get an overview of how things are going with the couple. The therapist is unemotional and astute enough to see any problems that might be brewing between the couple, so it can also be a preventative measure. Most couples do not see a problem until it has created distress. Checking in is a nice way to circumvent this.”
Castor usually sees couples for 6-10 sessions; the duration varies depending on the couple’s availability and openness to counseling. In these sessions, couples might talk about money, relationships to their family of origin, and larger concepts such as communication, respect and trust. Castor notes that counseling can help couples become aware of emotional triggers – emotional reactions to present day experiences that have more to do with trauma or stress in one person’s past. Many go through marriage without awareness of these triggers, which can become relationship saboteurs.
Martin Woulfe, minister of the Abraham Lincoln Unitarian Universalist congregation in Springfield, also counsels couples about to be married. Many of them are same-sex couples and/or come from mixed faith traditions. Woulfe finds it helpful to hear about each partner’s previous romantic relationships and what he or she has learned from them. “I ask every couple two specific questions,” he says. “’People meet, and fall in love. They move in together, sometimes buy a house, sometimes have a child – and never get married. Why do you want to move from the status quo, and get married?’”
The answers provide a starting place for conversations about their expectations regarding marriage. He also asks about their spiritual backgrounds and level of family support. Woulfe then addresses other matters, such as how the couple resolves disagreements, whether or not they will have children, and when and how to raise them, and how the couple intends to manage money. Woulfe reminds couples that all relationships sometimes get “stuck” and if they do, not to be too proud to get professional help.
Many couples are choosing to have a friend become ordained online to officiate their wedding. If couples do not have access to a professional counselor or adviser for this or another reason, the next best solution is to start these conversations themselves. Address the above topics as well as how housework will be divided, how often you will visit extended family, what career ambitions are and how willing you are to move, as well as what transgressions you consider deal-breakers (Drug or alcohol abuse? Excessive spending? Flirtation?).
The delusional belief that love is all you need and the desire to live in the clouds will only do couples a disservice when they’re married and in the midst of real life on the ground. You need open lines of communication too.