April 7, 2011
First comes love. Then comes marriage. Then, for many, comes marriage counseling. But in a world where even Prince William and Kate Middleton are sitting down for counseling before the big day, should more engaged couples be considering a marriage counselor as part of the wedding planning process?
"People tend to think of counseling as the thing you do when something is wrong," says Sarah Harrison, senior editor and VP of content for love and relationship website YourTango.com. "People are only thinking of the good things before they get married. They even overlook the difficult things. This can be a deal-breaker in the long run."
According to a YourTango.com survey, 78 percent of married respondents think premarital counseling helped their marriages, yet only 39 percent of those surveyed were seeking professional help before their wedding. Of the married respondents who didn't bother with premarital counseling, 76 percent said they wish they had done so before getting married.
"People will spend thousands of dollars on a prenuptial agreement to protect their money, but why not put that effort into protecting our love?" says Roseann Adams, a Chicago-based licensed clinical social worker.
"We get feedback from a lot of readers who believe marriage is supposed to be easy," adds Harrison. "Single women think that once they get married, life will get better. But it hasn't solved problems. It creates different ones."
Harrison suggests engaged couples ask themselves the following questions to decide if premarital counseling would be a good fit.
•Do you know how you would handle things if one of you loses your job?
•How do you feel about job relocation?
•What if you have an ailing parent? Would they move in with you?
•Do you share the same core values?
•Have you even talked about religion or whether you will bring that into raising your kids?
•How was your spouse treated by his or her parents when they were disciplined?
"These are things people aren't considering in the honeymoon phase, but they need to be addressed head on," says Harrison. "If you differ on even one of these, you might want to consider a counselor."
So how does someone go about choosing the right counselor, especially if you and your fiancé aren't in agreement about seeking help?
"Find someone who has a history of working with couples and individuals," says Adams. "And we're not talking about long-term therapy here—most of the time it's six or eight sessions. If one person is resisting, it doesn't hurt for the other to come. Even if one person deepens their understanding and recognizes their downfalls, it has to make the marriage better."
And there's even some research data to back up that idea.
"There is a study from the National Directory of Marriage and Family Counseling that says premarital counseling can reduce the risk of divorce by 30 percent," says Adams. "If we know half of all marriages end in divorce, why prevent ourselves from doing something [to prevent it] ahead of time?"
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