Premarital counseling may be simply a formality for the purpose of getting permission from the clergy performing the ceremony or it may be for real prevention and relational education.
The first goal should be to track emotional patterns on each side of the couple for their understanding of where the problems will arise.
The second goal is to teach couples, if they don’t know, how to talk to each other productively.
The third goal is to talk about expectations, parenting styles, what each is expecting from the marriage and each other and to attempt to educate about the differences between reality and romanticism.
Most people have conflict to win. Couples need education in negotiation and conflict resolution. They must tell the truth, talk about what is bothersome, fight to understand what they are doing wrong, and hear the message or, in other words, negotiate something of what is being asked.
Couples talk about whether they are comparable or not. Actually, the more similar a couples’ value system , the easier the negotiations.
However, none of us are “compatible”. We negotiate our differences. Many people don’t understand that.
The issues that people fight about all fall into one of four categories. How they approach these four categories is dépendant on the rules from the families from which they come.
- How to resolve conflict—the screamers, the door slammers, and the stonewallers. After all the noise or silence, couples must sit down and talk calmly about problem resolution.
- How much closeness and/or distance is wanted in the relationship. That is, whether you sit in the kitchen while I make dinner or you go running while I cook. What people want or expect has much to do with repeating or reversing what they grew up with. Couples must make their own rules.
- Who is included in the relationship. To whom is it ok to tell what to. How do we make decisions—who is asked? Who goes out with us?
- How do we parent? We must be a team. We must be consistent and calm. Again, negotiating. This can be especially difficult if someone grew up with a protective parent and a strict parent, not a team.
Premarital counseling needs to cover these issues while talking about the fantasies and realities of marriage.
For example, marriage is a friendship and a business alliance that people bring closer with sexuality. Infatuation doesn’t last forever. There are marriages with great moments but not marriages filled with ecstasy all the time. Love is a feeling. It ebbs and flows.
Romantics leave relationships when they think they don’t feel love. In fact, we stay because we said we would not because we stopped feeling « love ». The absence of the feeling simply means the connection is lost. That is a signal that the conversation in the marriage is suffering. Lying or distance may be the culprit. Or, fighting to win or ignoring requests. These are repairable. Premarital counseling teaches couples about signs of trouble and what to do. It teaches people HOW to say things so that they can get heard. This means DESCRIBING negative emotion without acting it out.
Anger sounds keep people from being heard. There are rules and guidelines for how couples can deal best with each other. Many of them are described in my Universal Truths found on my website.