In last month’s column we discussed the factors that influence a successful marriage. While some of them are not in our control, many are.
And one factor in our control can compensate for all the other negative factors combined. That’s premarital counseling.
Good premarital counseling/education is a sort of insurance policy against divorce and can reduce the risk of divorce by up to 30 percent.
We all encounter difficulties in our marriages. When couples take advantage of the positive energy and optimism to strengthen the marriage before it starts, they can avoid some of the negative habits and bad communication patterns that can build up later. Couples who attend premarital courses learn to communicate and solve problems better.
One of my favorite stories about premarital counseling came from a minister friend who works as a pastoral counselor. He does a lot of premarital counseling but does not usually perform weddings.
Two longtime friends, both widowed and in their 60s, approached him about performing their wedding ceremony. He agreed, on one condition: they attend premarital counseling with him.
The groom-to-be balked, saying they didn’t need it because they had both been married before.
My friend’s response: “Yes, but not to each other.”
So what do you learn in premarital counseling?
Having an impartial premarital counselor helps couples identify potential areas of conflict and how to navigate them to avoid major problems in the future. It can also identify “deal breakers” such as fundamental differences or disagreements about children, finances, faith and values.
You learn about your relationship strengths and weaknesses, those of your spouse-to-be, and how they might contribute to or detract from your marriage.
You learn that when you have a disagreement one of you wants to talk it out right now and the other wants to wait until the next day when he or she is calmer.
You learn that you have completely different ways of handling money — you’re a spender and she’s a saver — but you come up with a realistic budget that you both can live with.
You learn that you have the same values and you place the same importance on faith and religion.
And you may learn that your goals and values are so different that maybe you should call things off. While it might be disappointing or even embarrassing to call off a wedding, think of the turmoil, heartache and distress you will be avoiding down the road.
Every premarital counseling program is different, but most cover basic topics such as commitment, communication, conflict resolution, faith and values, family, finances, parenting and sexuality and intimacy.
Most counseling programs last about six weeks and include sessions with the counselor as well as “homework” assignments that might include reading books or articles, or communication exercises to practice between sessions.
Finding a premarital counselor or education program is not difficult.
Most churches require premarital counseling before you can be married in that church. Some also host premarital education programs for both members and non-members.
Other alternatives include licensed marriage and family therapists.
And while there are dozens and dozens of books on the subject, they are best as part of a premarital program with a counselor who can help to identify the strengths and weaknesses in the relationship.
To find premarital counseling resources, you can go to www.marriageinvestors.org and click on the Resources tab and look for “Find the Counseling Resources You Need.”
Future columns will cover each of the topics covered in premarital counseling in more detail.
Bea Northcott is a columnist for the Daily Journal, writing about marriages, relationships and family. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.