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With so many engagements occurring between Christmas and Valentine’s Day, the wedding planning season is in full force.

If you’ve been reading this column for any length of time, you probably know my view that couples should spend as much time planning for their marriage as for their wedding.

According to wedding-industry statistics, it takes 250 hours to plan a wedding. At best, couples who receive premarital counseling spend a couple of hours a week for six weeks planning for their marriage.

That means couples spend 20 times more time planning one day than they do planning a lifetime together. No wonder so many marriages end in divorce.

Let’s be realistic: couples aren’t going to spend the same amount of time on both. So any amount of time actively involved in premarital counseling or education is better than none.

Last month’s Family Foundations column provided an overview of topics covered in premarital counseling. This month, we begin a series about each topic in more detail.

We’ll start with “Commitment” because, after all, isn’t that where engagements and marriages start? With the commitment to pledge our love “until death do us part.”

Lois Smith Brady, “Vows” columnist for The New York Times for the last 20 years, said, “I often wonder when the wedding couple will realize just how much hard work they’ve taken on by consecrating that quirky emotion called love into the formal tie of marriage.”

Whenever it occurs, the spark of passion has died, conflicts arise, and the couple doesn’t have the tools or knowledge to effectively deal with them. They feel the only alternative is to divorce and start over again.

Bill Doherty, director of the Marriage and Family Therapy Program at the University of Minnesota, says, “In the consumer culture of marriage, commitments last as long as the other person is meeting our needs. We still believe in commitment, because we know that committed relationships are good for us, but powerful voices coming from inside and outside tell us that we are suckers if we settle for less than we think we need and deserve in our marriage. Most baby boomers and their offspring carry in our heads the internalized voice of the consumer culture — to encourage us to stop working so hard or to get out of a marriage that is not meeting our current emotional needs.”

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Premarital counseling educates couples about the commitment of marriage, the vows they will take, obstacles they will encounter that make it difficult to keep that commitment, and the wheel of love — attraction, limerance, conflict, intimacy and back to attraction.

And it encourages communication about what commitment means to each of them that is key to a successful marriage and underlies everything that you’ll learn in premarital therapy.

A lifelong commitment is scary. How do couples make it to 30, 40, 50 or even more, years of marriage? The same way you tackle any large goal – one step and one day at a time.

It’s making a choice each day to honor the commitment you made to have and to hold, to love, honor and cherish your spouse — today. To treat your spouse with respect and kindness, even (especially) when you feel wronged or slighted.

It’s making a choice to communicate your feelings even though you think if he/she really loved you, they’d know what was wrong.

A quote from an unknown source says, “The real

commitment of marriage is not a commitment to stay regardless of how you are treated. It’s a commitment to care for each other regardless of the circumstances in which you find yourselves.”

All divorces should not be prevented; there is no room in a healthy marriage for abuse of any kind. But most marriages can be strengthened by early discussions about the meaning of commitment.

A letter to Dear Abby from a woman in Cape May, NJ, illustrated this: “Some months ago, you printed a letter from a reader who was disturbed that the spark was gone from her marriage. I asked my husband whether the spark is gone from our 18-year marriage. His response: ‘A spark lasts only a second. It lights a fire. When the flame burns down, we are left with the hottest part of the fire, the embers, which burn the longest and keep the fire alive.’ ”

Hopefully, they’ll stick with you for a long time — and that’s what a lifelong commitment is all about.

Bea Northcott is a columnist for the Daily Journal, writing about marriages, relationships and family. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.

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