A few years ago with the help of Senator John Cullerton, I lobbied a premarital education bill that advocated (not mandated) premarital counseling. While the legislation succeeded in the Senate with the additional help of then-Senator Obama, it fell on its face in the House of Representatives.
I was told to get out of people’s marriages, that the government did not belong in a couple’s bedroom, and that the legislation might dampen our tourist industry because couples would cross state lines to avoid the delay of three counseling sessions. One startling objection was that the few hours of premarital education I was advocating for might actually thwart shot-gun weddings!
As a divorce attorney, I had many ready answers as to how the government is already all over marriages, including their definitions, their rights and their responsibilities. Even more compelling is how involved the government is in marriages that do not survive. I could argue from the heart and head that a little prevention of a bad relationship is better than the best of divorces.
Lately, I have noticed a renewed interest in premarital counseling. More and more churches require it, and many couples are choosing it. What will always interest me is why some couples do not choose it.
When planning a wedding, we sign up for ballroom dancing, flower arranging, shop endlessly for dresses and coordinated tuxes, wedding venues and photographers as if our lives depended on them, and spend outrageously for honeymoons. Most couples do not stop to consider what to do if they are not living so “happily ever after.”
The sad fact is that only one out of two marriages will survive. Every marriage in its own way is a leap of faith and trust; we do not want to look too carefully at the chasm if our leap should fail.
Statistically, we could never get into a plane, train or automobile if the odds of a collision were as high as they are in a marriage. Also, there is a collective societal push on each and every person who declares himself or herself to be in love. Once you are happy in love, even your most unhappily married friends will demand to know when you are getting married, and the chances for second thoughts become fewer and fewer.
Accentuate the Positive
Then there is the state of “being in love” in and of itself. It is a euphoric state that no one wants to leave even for a moment of objectivity. It is that very objectivity we fear that relationship counseling will give us.
The hormones, the pheromones, the testosterone are all saying “yes, yes, yes,” and we do not want to hear any “no’s” about our beloved or about our unique relationship. But premarital counseling is really not about harping on the possibilities of failure or the faults of each other. It is about giving couples the tools to prevent the death of love, to preserve the romance, and to avoid some of the predictable “for worse” and to enjoy the maximum of “for better.”
Fair fighting is something you can learn from mentor couples. Fighting skills themselves can be taught so that arguments are effective and not destructive. Communication between two people who love each other can be murky but can be clarified with a few simple conversational tools.
Marriage can be made easier with some emotional wedding planning, which is what premarital counseling actually is. When the legislation languished, I began writing a book with a title that expressed my real goals for marrying couples: Better Beginnings, Fewer Endings. And may they live happily ever after.