People come to see me for marriage counseling in varying degrees of distress. Some seek counseling as a last ditch effort before divorce. Others come at the first signs of any troublesome conflict.. A lot of them have said they wish they had come in before they got married. Premarital counseling can help couples identify potential trouble spots and prepare them to go into the marriage aware of issues and solutions. It might also help them call off the marriage in the most constructive way.
It is important to come to counseling with a goal in mind. It might be helpful to imagine that you are starting a business. Marriage is a partnership and if it flourishes it might produce children, a beautiful home, trust, and a satisfying sexual relationship. If it fails, divorce, bitter custody battles, loneliness, and depression are among the possibilities. So it would definitely be worth it to invest in some premarital planning.
I always ask clients to make a list of questions and bring it to counseling. Ask yourself some questions and discuss your answers with the therapist and your spouse-to-be. Who is going to be the CEO of the marriage? Some marriages are traditional with the male at the head of the household. Others are headed by the female. Some share head of household equally.
What is the mission of the marriage? Is it to promote education and career development? Are children are part of the picture? What about adoption? Will one spouse stay at home and the other work? Will religious practice be a priority? What are the financial goals?
After you develop a list of questions and answers, then you can begin to develop a since of compatibility. It appears that couples run into trouble when their values and goals differ significantly and their maturity levels are incompatible. For instance, a 40 year-old man is closer to age 18 emotionally if he is more interested in partying with his friends than he is making sure he is involved with his wife in the child rearing duties.
Your therapist can help you work through some scenarios and come up with some options. It might be helpful for the 40 year-old teenager to get some individual counseling so he can look deeper into his own needs and hang-ups to determine if he is motivated to grow into his age or not.
One of the best aspects of young relationships is also a significant problem. Physically and emotionally we are very excited by our significant others. We get butterflies just thinking about them and we usually want to see them as much as possible. Unfortunately, the strong emotions we feel can override sound judgment. We are in love with them so it is easy to excuse their bad habits. The feeling of being in love will change unless the couple works to keep it going. Counseling can be a safe place to address these habits in a non-emotional way and decide what to do about them.
Going back to the business concept, let's look at our business history before we reinvest in a new one. It is important to look at prior relationships. Describe your prior relationship histories. How were you treated? Did you have clear boundaries? Were you a people-pleaser or did you express feelings and thoughts openly? Look at your current and past relationships with your parents. Have they been safe, warm and loving? Chances are that is the kind of relationship you are used to. Is your relationship with your parents distant, unpredictable, and domineering? You might find yourself attracted to that type of person.
Once again it might be helpful to spend some time digging into your own unmet needs, in counseling, so that you can see your potential spouse for who they really are and not who you fantasize them to be.
In counseling, dig into legal histories, personal and family history of any medical and mental disorders, substance abuse, addictions and financial problems. These don't have to be deal breakers but it is very important to talk about them so you can make an informed decision.
Finally, it is important to have a tentative plan in the event help is needed after the wedding. Having a connection with a therapist can make a return to counseling smoother. Identify the early warning signs that would indicate a need for counseling. You might look for changes in communication patterns, distancing, insults, frequent arguments, and changes in quantity and quality of sex. It is sometimes helpful to write down your plan and make a commitment to each other to follow through with the plan if needed.
A lot can be accomplished in 4 counseling sessions. It would be worth the investment if you could address some of the issues before the marriage and have some mutual understanding of how you will deal with problems as they arise.