Premarital counseling may be more important than your wedding dress
If you are engaged, the idea of premarital counseling may sound like a buzz kill. Who wants to talk about your issues or possibly discover new ones during such a joyous time?
People usually spend far more time and money on their wedding dress than on preparing their relationship for marriage, which can leave them ill-equipped to successfully navigate problems down the road. Meeting with a counselor, religious advisor or even a friend or family member to facilitate discussions between you and your partner can decrease the chances of being blind sided by unexpected issues and increase the likelihood that you’ll be able to successfully cope with life challenges. Through my experience counseling couples, it is clear that the following questions should be discussed prior to walking down the aisle.
Why do you want to get married? Understand the motivations of you and your partner. Are they internally driven and specific to the relationship (i.e. “I want to build a married life with this person”) or are they externally motivated (i.e. from expectations from family or society). Discuss why you are choosing to marry rather than make another form of commitment.
Why do you want to marry your partner? Make sure you really understand why you and your partner have chosen one another. Discuss how you’re the same or different from previous partners (in good ways and bad). Keep in mind that what attracts us to our partner is usually what ends up bothering us down the road (i.e. you love how ambitious he is but later resent the prioritization of his career). We all tend to unconsciously recreate what is familiar until we become conscious of our relationship patterns and actively choose something different. Make sure you and your partner are choosing each other for healthy reasons.
What is your vision for your life together? Discuss core values, where you will live, work/life balance (work to play or play to work), your roles (traditional or not), division of labor (who will doing what), will you have children and how many (and how would you handle fertility problems) and what role will religion play in your marriage/family. Discuss basic ground rules around fidelity (i.e. in the age of Facebook divorces, what is acceptable and what is not), conflict resolution (what behaviors are not to be tolerated) and decision-making (both having “veto power” to ensure an equal relationship). Discuss how your marriage is going to be the same or different from your parents’ relationships.
What are your relationship issues? Life stressors trigger old hot spots. Understand your relationship’s strengths and weaknesses. Assess whether you are getting married to patch an unhealed wound. Pay particular attention to recurrent issues around trust, addiction or abuse. Examine and improve your communication and conflict resolution styles.
How will you handle finances? Marriage is a business partnership. Understand the financial situation of your partner (debt, assets, credit, etc.). Discuss a financial system (shared, separate or combo), a budget, a financial plan and possibly seek a financial advisor.
Finally, how will you handle your relationships with family? A healthy relationship has good boundaries with family (a balance between staying connected and having your own separate lives). Examine issues with your families and develop a plan for working as a team in managing these relationships.
Whether you and your partner decide to seek formal therapy or not, it is imperative to have these discussions that may make the difference in your marriage between “for better or for worse.”