It’s my experience that most couples choose not to have pre-marital counseling. Perhaps they feel it’s unnecessary because they think they’ve already talked through all of the issues that could trouble their marriage. Or perhaps they’re so caught up in the romance and excitement of their relationship that they can’t conceive of anything ever coming between them. Going to a counselor who will ask questions and stimulate discussion about “personal” matters may then seem intrusive and a waste of time.
And if it’s a counselor who is also a clergy person, it may feel even more threatening if their experience of “religion” or clergy has not been positive. Having said that, it’s my experience that ignorance isn’t really bliss at all. Going into a marriage without going through a process of self-examination and open discussion with your partner is like walking into a minefield.
You don’t really know what to expect. Marriage is perhaps the most complex of human relationships, and it’s intended to last for a lifetime, but unfortunately many couples are not equipped to deal with the challenges they face in marriage. It’s estimated that over half of all first marriages will end in divorce, the average marriage lasting less than seven years.
Loving someone doesn’t mean there will never be conflict, but how you deal with the conflict, how you communicate with each other as you work through the difficulty is vitally important. We are all required to study and take tests, written and practical, before getting a license to drive a car, but no such tests are currently required in most states before getting a marriage license. Those couples who are already living together before marriage may think that is adequate preparation, but statistics show that cohabitation prior to marriage does not increase marital success. There is no substitute for good preparation.
I do this counseling with my colleague, Zia Shapiro, who is a wedding officiant, a Board Certified Chaplain and a trained therapist. She brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to this process. Working with her also brings a good balance of male/female energy to the counseling and makes it a richer and more enjoyable experience for us all. She and her husband Daniel are dedicated to the vital marriage they share, so she has “skin in the game” as do I with my 36 year marriage to Joyce.
We use a tool developed by Life Innovations called, Prepare-Enrich. It’s an inventory that each partner takes separately which when scored shows the strengths and growth areas of the relationship. It teaches valuable communication and conflict resolution skills and helps couples become aware of important issues before they turn into major problems. Before our first session together (on Skype or in person) each partner takes the inventory online and after the results are scored, a report is generated which gives us our starting point.
This tool is also excellent for use with couples who are already married and who want to enrich their life together. Sometimes unhelpful habits and chronic busyness conspire to derail the best of intentions and the relationship suffers. Deciding to address those issues through counseling can bring awareness to the ways they’ve gone off track and help them recover the joy they’ve lost.
And it’s also true that many couples are either too busy or too hurt, or too caught up in the ongoing drama of disagreement, to be willing to do this important work. Deciding to separate or divorce may seem to be the easiest and best way out. But if there are children to consider, it’s never that easy and counseling becomes a much wiser choice.
Some couples who do end their first marriage may initially be soured on the idea of ever marrying again, but over time their desire for love and companionship may trump their fear. Having learned some painful lessons, they are determined not to have that experience again, and the insight and understanding gained from pre-marital counseling helps in their healing as well as their preparation.
I believe strong marriages and strong families are the foundation of a healthy society, and so I strongly urge every couple to take the time to prepare wisely for their marriage. If they put as much time and effort into preparing for their marriage as they do in preparing for the ceremony, I’m convinced our divorce rate would be significantly reduced.
Although I’m convinced of the benefits of premarital counseling, I do not require couples to do it in order to utilize my services.