Despite the downward trend in the U.S. divorce rate (due to younger couples approaching relationships differently from baby boomers, says new data), many couples continue to face challenges in maintaining their marriage stability. As a couples therapist and observer of life, I’ve seen many relationships at the end of their ropes for a myriad of reasons; shaky relationship foundations from the start, low levels of emotional safety, inability to productively navigate conflict, unresolved family of origin wounds playing out in the couple dynamic, etc. And the reality is, everyone can hit rough patches in life.
Considering the amount of financial and emotional investment that can go into preparing for the wedding day itself, seems a no-brainer to also consider some effort into your marriage toolbox. But yet many couples don’t and it actually makes sense why not.
A lot of engaged couples honestly believe they are entering into marriage in love and strong. And this is probably true at that time, their bodies and brains surging with their brain’s love chemistry (that’s the “honeymoon phase” by the way). The problem is this extremely loving and bonded time may allow them to overlook the possibility that things may not always be that way. This is why premarital counseling or education can be so helpful, to facilitate the discussion of important topics that may get overlooked.
Six Great Reasons to get Premarital Counseling
- Strengthen Communication Skills: The ability to to effectively listen, hear and validate are not a given for everyone. Many don’t really know how to navigate conflict well either. But these skills can be learned. Couples that communicate effectively can discuss and resolve issues when they arise. They will be less likely to build resentment when business is unfinished.
- Discuss Role Expectations: Don’t make the mistake of assuming your roles in the marriage. This can apply to work, finances, chores, sexual intimacy, parenting 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: Disagreements will happen, possibly passionate arguments that may even lead to fights! Healthy couples are not necessarily the ones who don’t argue. In fact, with couples who “never fight,” I often wonder if anyone is sweeping things under the carpet or they have a conflict avoidant style (which could mean they are not really talking about their feelings which is even more problematic). There are very effective ways to de-escalate conflict and work through challenging situations.
- 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 it will look in the marriage and family.
- Identify Problematic Family of Origin Issues: We learn much of how to “be” from our parents, primary caregivers and other early influences. If either (or both) partner experienced an unsafe or unloving household, it can be helpful to explore that in regards to how it might play out in your intimate relationship (and possibly family). Learn each other’s vulnerabilities and if there is work to be done to resolve trauma, do it! Then both can be sensitive to these vulnerabilities, try to avoid triggers and get clarity around problematic relationship cycles.
- Develop Personal, Couple and Family Goals: Your marriage is a long term investment together so why not put your heads together and imagine how you’d like your futures 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’s really useful to get on the same page.
Take the time to invest in your marriage as you may the wedding itself. If you have some extra time on your hands these days with COVID-19, take a look at The Premarital Counseling Workbook for Couples, a tool I created for engaged couples who want to strengthen their relationship foundation before they tie the knot!1