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Why Premarital Counseling Can Make or Break a Marriage

Why Premarital Counseling Can Make or Break a Marriage

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She’s the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

Free Advice From a Marriage Counselor: Premarital Counseling Really Matters. Really.

True story: A colleague of mine (Jessica Small, M.A., LMFT) and I were giving a premarital counseling workshop at a huge bridal show here in Denver, talking about some of the skills and strategies that all couples need to keep a marriage happy, healthy and strong. We basically gave them a mini-rundown of what we teach in our Lifetime of Love premarital class, talking about communication strategies, how couples can help each other feel loved and respected, and some of the strategies couples can use to come together around important topics like finances, parenting, teamwork, priorities and more.

The place was packed with young, beautiful couples all glowing and holding hands, and after our premarital counseling presentation, many of them came up to talk to us and ask questions. One couple in particular, though, stood out.

The male partner took one of our class flyers and said, “Your presentation was really eye-opening. I think we have a lot to learn.” His fiancé giggled and nodded, saying, “We sure do!”

Then he said, “But… I don’t know, talking about things so openly, especially some things…” (pausing to look meaningfully at his partner) “…might cause more problems.”

His fiancé said, looking down, “Yeah, might open up a can of worms.” Then she perked up and brightly said, ” And don’t forget we’re going with the larger table arrangements now, so premarital counseling could put us over-budget!”

“Yeah, premarital counseling is probably a bad idea,” her partner agreed, putting down the flyer and looking slightly relieved.  They wandered away to go taste some cake.

I was dumbfounded. Here was a couple, acknowledging that there were significant issues in their relationship, and very deliberately choosing not to address them. I’m sure that they weren’t really, consciously, prioritizing fancier flower arrangements over the long-term health of their marriage. They couldn’t be. (Right? I hope?)

My guess is that they were nervous about premarital counseling because they didn’t really understand what it was about and the difference it could make in their future lives together. They clearly didn’t know that even the best premarital counseling is not expensive at all  — like a couple of hundred bucks, maybe — and would not even make a dent in their overall wedding budget. Maybe they didn’t understand the true benefit of premarital counseling. (Which has been shown, in numerous research studies, to have a significant impact on marital satisfaction and the longevity of marriages). Or maybe… on some level… they were afraid to talk and get real about important issues that could impact their shared life together.

What I thought to myself, but did not say out loud, was “When exactly IS a good time to talk about whatever you’re not talking about? On the honeymoon? After you’re pregnant? On the marriage counselor’s couch five years from now when you’re on the brink of divorce?”

Looking back, I wish I could have talked to them longer, to help them understand that good premarital counseling is only to help them strengthen their relationship, and get on the same page in order to prevent future fights — not cause trouble. If I could go back in time I might even risk making a fool out of myself and imploring them to listen to me, instead of just rejecting the idea of premarital counseling. I would have tried harder. Maybe I’d even stage a one-woman premarital counseling intervention, to try to make them understand what was really at stake. [Listen: How to Stop a Divorce and Save Your Marriage]

If I could go back and have an imaginary re-do, here’s what I’d do. First (since we are of course just pretending), I’d hit the open bar (something I did not do at the actual event other than sampling a cucumber / lemon / basil water.) And then I’d corner the cute-but-avoidant premarital couple at the cake-tasting table as they were about to sample the mini-eclairs, and say:

“Listen. Everyone is in love when they get married. But the shine wears off, and things will get harder. I’ve been married for over 20 years, and have been a marriage counselor for coming up on 15. I know what I’m talking about. You need to learn how to work as a team. You need to learn how to communicate. [Listen: How to Communicate With Someone Who Shuts Down]. I don’t know what you’re not talking about, but unless you deal with this stuff directly it could wind up blowing the doors off your marriage. As a marriage counselor, I see what happens to couples who didn’t invest in good premarital counseling, and who don’t talk about important things. And it’s not pretty. I see couples five, ten, fifteen years after the actual wedding, when the size of the flower arrangements is so irrelevant that it’s not even a memory. “

I can imagine the cute premarital couple’s eyes widening as I continue to tell them, passionately, about the years I’ve spent trying to help the couples who didn’t learn how to do things right from the beginning, and who only show up at our office for Hail Mary marriage counseling when they are on the cusp of divorce. And how hard it is to help a couple after they have experienced years of poor communication and layers of disappointment with each other. Even though it can be done, and committed couples do it, it requires a huge amount of effort to change an entrenched system negativity and repair trust and goodwill. I would try to articulate how much easier it is to prevent relationship problems than it is to fix them, and how by just learning a few simple tools through good premarital counseling, couples can keep their bond strong, and turn conflict into connection right from the start…. but that most couples never learn how.

I envision my eyes blazing, and them now looking uncomfortably at the floor, as I tell them what it’s like to work with the couples who didn’t get on the same page right from the beginning. And how, over time, as resentments build and hurts pile up they start to become so disrespectful, emotionally abusive, and neglectful to each other that one of them develops an emotional or sexual connection with someone else. And that how, even if couples want to work it out after an affair, rebuilding trust after infidelity is so, so hard. Couples can and do grow back stronger than ever before, but it’s still never the same. I would plea with them to hear me say, “It never had to get that bad! They could have prevented all this heartache, just by learning how to solve problems together before it turned into such a big, relationship-destroying deal.”

I’m guessing the cute premarital couple would start backing away slowly (probably desperately looking for an exit at this point) as I tear up, and tell them about what kinds of terrible things can happen to couples who learn how to take care of their marriage. I would implore them to hear that there is a window of opportunity, where a relationship can be repaired, but if couples don’t work on things while there is still love, commitment and goodwill between them, there comes a point where it’s too late. I might tell them what it actually feels like to be in the room when one person — sometimes after months of resentfully showing up to marriage counseling that had been postponed far, far too long — says to another, “I just don’t care anymore. I cared for years. I tried for years. but nothing ever changed. I want to care but I don’t. It’s just over.” And then walks out, leaving me alone with their shocked and heartbroken spouse.

I can imagine the cute premarital couple silently mouthing “Call security” to a passing waiter when I start openly crying as I tell them about what it’s like to be the one who sits with a young mom who is confronting the fact that she now has to hand her precious young babies over, three days a week and every other weekend, to a man she does not trust to take care of them. Or what it’s like to support someone who is realizing that she will probably never have children as a result of her marriage ending at this point in her life. Or, in the case of someone with children already, what it will do to the existing child / children if she did start a “new family” with a new partner in a blended family situation. Or how it feels to help someone deal with the grief and heartbreak over a lost life — for themselves, their dreams for the future, and stable, happy future that their child should have had.

I would tell this cute premarital couple, with my voice rising to a shout, (so they can still hear me as they are attempting to hide behind or possibly under the cake-tasting table), that “I never wanted to be a breakup expert! I actually hate being a breakup expert! I don’t want to watch people rip up their wedding photos as part of a cathartic ‘releasing ritual!’ I would much, much rather devote my life to helping couples avoid all of this heartbreak and tragedy, and just have happy lives and happy families! ALL OF THESE TERRIBLE THINGS COULD HAVE BEEN PREVENTED IF ONLY MORE COUPLES PRIORITIZED PREMARITAL COUNSELING!”

And by this time they would probably make a break for it, and be sprinting out of the wedding show to get away from me, abandoning their wedding-vendor swag bags so that they can run faster, and I can imagine myself chasing them out into the parking lot shouting, “GOOD PREMARITAL COUNSELING IS THE PATH TO A LIFETIME OF LOVE TOGETHER! IT’S NOT EVEN EXPENSIVE! IT CAN CHANGE THE COURSE OF YOUR LIFE! YOUR FAMILY!”

And as security tackles me, I’d be screaming, “BUT GO AHEAD! GET BIGGER FLOWER ARRANGEMENTS INSTEAD! YOU HAVE NO ONE BUT YOURSELF TO BLAME!!!”

I’m guessing I’d pass out after the first taser shot. I’m kind of a lightweight.

===

Of course, none of that actually happened. Nor would it. (Though it is kind of fun to write about.) I would never confront anyone like that, or push my views on someone who really didn’t want to hear them.

But I can, and do, throw these bottles in the digital ocean in hopes that they will wash up at your feet (or on the screen of your smartphone). And that one of my stories can help even one family, somewhere, avoid the misery and tragedy I’ve seen other families go through.

I’ll start wrapping up this tirade. Here’s the punchline: Having a strong, healthy sustainable marriage is not difficult if you know what to do. But no one teaches any of us how to do relationships. We spend decades in school learning about everything from geometry to history. But we get zero formal education about how to talk so people will listen, how to listen so people will talk, how to understand the nature of love, how to create compromise and agreement, and how to avoid relationship problems.

You (and by “you,” I mean all of us) need to intentionally seek out learning opportunities to acquire these skills. AND (this part is critical) it is much, much easier to improve and strengthen a relationship when two people still feel mostly good about each other. It is much, much harder to mend a relationship when people have had years of negative experiences with each other. The time to act is now, while you’re both still young and cute.

Because of this, over the years I have become increasingly passionate about early relationship intervention. In my practice we have doubled down on premarital counseling services and relationship education over the years.

We have a premarital class that is very affordable called Lifetime of Love. It teaches you fundamental relationship skills. We also offer a premarital counseling program called “I DO” that maps out all the strengths and growth opportunities so that you can identify and resolve potential problems before they start. And we offer in-depth private premarital counseling that will help you talk about whatever you need to talk about, and deal it successfully before you jump the broom… and before your shared life gets harder.

You have lots of options. Just do something. Please.

I’m ending my rant now. But I hope that you’ve taken some sincerely heartfelt advice from a marriage counselor who has seen the best and the worst: Great relationships don’t just happen. Everyone is excited and in love when they get married. But that is not enough to carry you through. Couples who make it, and stay happily married for a lifetime aren’t “lucky.” they’re smart. And they are actively creating a strong, happy relationship and together every day.

You can do this too.

With love and respect,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, Founder and Clinical Director of Growing Self Counseling & Coaching

Premarital Counseling: Set Your Marriage Up For Success

Premarital Counseling: Set Your Marriage Up For Success

On The Fence About Premarital Counseling?

Wedding season is upon us, so I thought it would be a good idea to talk about the benefits of premarital counseling, and why so many marriage counselors and couples believe it’s such a good investment for a relationship. Here are some FAQs that couples often have when deciding if premarital counseling is right for them:

We have a great relationship and don’t have any issues. How can premarital counseling help us?

Even the best relationships could use improvements in conflict resolution and communication. There may be “blind spots” that you’re unaware of that could potentially become an issue later on in your relationship. Premarital counseling allows couples to be proactive about these issues before they even arise.

How does premarital counseling differ from couples therapy?

In general, premarital counseling is much more structured than traditional couples therapy, particularly if you do a structured premarital program or a premarital class. Many couples enter into premarital counseling without an agenda, or unsure of even what to talk about. An experienced marriage therapist will be able to structure sessions around topics that are common issues that couples tend to come to marriage counseling for later. Typically premarital counseling is less in depth than couples therapy.

What can I expect in a typical session?

Sessions can be as structured as needed, depending upon the couple. Some couples come into premarital counseling already with an idea of what they would like to focus on, while others enter into the process without an agenda. Premarital counseling can be effective in both of these situations. A good therapist will tailor your sessions to your unique needs.

How many sessions do you recommend?

I’ve found the average number of sessions for premarital couples to be 5-7; sometimes more, sometimes less. This totally depends on what couples would like to focus on, and how in depth they’d like to go.

There is a lot of information and talking points that we’ve found on the internet on what to talk about before getting married. Why should I pay for premarital counseling?

Private coaching or therapy gives couples the opportunity to focus on the unique needs of their relationship, and to practice new ways of interacting with each other. Additionally, having an objective marriage expert by your side could help you prevent some pitfalls that you may not even be aware of.

Many couples find it helpful to develop a relationship with a therapist so that they can easily come in for maintenance. Similar to finding a good mechanic for your car, having a trusted person to go to for a “tune up” of your relationship is a great benefit.

More questions about pre-marital counseling? We have answers…

What to expect in premarital counseling?

How much does premarital counseling cost?

Can we do premarital counseling online?

Is premarital counseling really necessary?

I hope this information about pre-marital counseling helps you both decide if it’s the right decision for you.

 

The Keys to Building a Marriage That Lasts a Lifetime.

The Keys to Building a Marriage That Lasts a Lifetime.

Because You Don’t Just Want to Get Married. You Want an Amazing Marriage.

As I’ve written about (passionately!) in previous posts there are specific things that smart couples do — right from the start of their relationship — to set themselves up for a happy, healthy, successful marriages.

Step one? Relationship education. Regrettably, no one explicitly teaches you how to have good relationships. We all muddle through, learning from our mistakes, and breaking some things occasionally in the process. But your marriage is much to important to wander blindly through. The quality of your marriage is the center of the life you’ll build. Don’t take chances. Do it right. Believe it or not, there is actually a relationship instruction manual!

What we know from research is that couples who engage in high-quality marriage education programs either before they get married or in the first few years of marriage have much better outcomes than couples who don’t: Lower divorce rates, higher marital satisfaction, and a stronger partnership.

You can achieve this too, by investing in your relationship, and educating yourself.

Why does relationship education help? Because proactive couples on a positive trajectory who learn ahead of time how to handle inevitable issues, how to communicate, and how to keep their love alive prevent relationship problems from happening in the first place.

Our Wedding Present to You

If you are getting married this year (or even if you jumped the broom a few years ago) I am here today, to support YOU in creating an amazing, strong, enduring marriage by providing you with loads of free information. I want you to have everything you need to be happy and successful in your relationship for years to come!

Specifically, today, I have two “marriage education” presents for you.

Free Premarital Counseling Advice

The first: I have enlisted the support of one of our resident premarital counseling experts, Meagan Terry, M.A., LMFT. Meagan is a licensed marriage and family therapist, an emotional intelligence and communication coach, trained by the federal reserve to do financial counseling with couples, AND she teaches our Lifetime of Love Premarital and Relationship Class.

On this edition of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast Meagan will be SPILLING THE BEANS about the kinds of skills and strategies couples need to learn to create a lifetime of love together.

Listen to our interview and learn the kinds of things you and your sweetie can start doing now to ensure that your relationship stays strong. You’ll also get some insight in to the skills and strategies she teaches her premarital couples to help them get on the same page around finances, sexuality, priorities, and more.

Ask a Wedding Expert

The second wedding present I have for you: We are co-hosting a super-fun happy hour event at our Denver office on Wednesday May the 10th called “Ask The Wedding Experts.

If you are planning a wedding, this is your big chance to mix and mingle in a casual setting with wedding professionals (like master wedding planner Laura Peterson of L Elizabeth Events) who are ready to share their wisdom around things like:

  • How to pull off amazing wedding without breaking the bank, and stretch your wedding-budget dollars.
  • “DIY dazzler or disaster?” – The projects that are worth (or not) the effort.
  • Wedding day Do’s & Don’ts to keep your special day running smoothly.
  • Styling tips to help your day (and your photos) to reflect what is most authentic an beautiful about your love.
  • And of course, Growing Self premarital counselors will be on hand to help with tricky family situations, communication tips, boundary setting, and more.

This event is FREE. If you’d like to attend in person, register now so we know to save some champagne for you.

And, because so many of our online premarital counseling clients are outside of Denver, you can still get the scoop. Email me with your questions, OR leave your questions as comments in this post.

I will ask our panel of wedding experts your questions on your behalf, and I will post their answers for you in an upcoming blog post. Get your questions to me by 5/9, and then stay tuned for the answers!

xoxo, Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Knowledge is Power: What Can Make or Break Your Marriage.

by Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby | Love, Happiness & Success

Music Credits: “Matrimony,” by Tennis

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