Sacramento Area Therapist Offers Pre-Engagement Counseling
Illustration © sx70/istockphoto.com
With the wedding season well under way, couples are rushing to squeeze premarital counseling in before their big day. These last-minute couples are often younger, haven’t been married before, are idealistically optimistic, and have unrealistic expectations of marriage—although they usually say otherwise. They’re a joy to work with, but by the time we meet, most have already said “I do” emotionally, and have difficulty processing their relationship with honest introspection. The most effective premarital counseling is really “pre-engagement counseling” while the couple is still deciding if they want to spend the rest of their lives together. This is when couples are still open to feedback and information. The following represents the most common questions last-minute couples ask me.
Q: I’ve always dreamed of getting married and have practically been planning my wedding since I was a little girl. I think my boyfriend will propose soon, but how do I know if he’s really “the one”?
BOB: The idea that there is (only) one, or a soulmate, is a dangerous myth told and retold, throughout literature, music, movies and fairy tales. A danger of the “soulmate myth” is the focus on an emotional experience, which leads to unrealistic expectations and disappointment, while strength of character, mutual values and secure attachment are often overlooked. The passion people feel early in relationships is wonderful, but regardless of who you marry or how intense your feelings of love, fireworks fade if the relationship isn’t actively nurtured to grow into a more secure, mature and committed love. If you’re wondering if he’s the one, address these issues with a therapist before planning your wedding.
Q: The minister performing our ceremony requires couples to participate in premarital counseling. We’re deeply in love and don’t have many problems. Would we really benefit from counseling?
BOB: The purpose of premarital counseling is to prepare couples for a lifetime commitment to each other. According to a survey published in the Journal of Family Psychology, couples with premarital counseling reported higher marital satisfaction and were 30 percent less likely to divorce after five years. Through interviews and testing, I assess a couple’s relationship, identify values, expectations, areas of relational strength and areas needing growth, and teach specific skills to enhance their communication, bonding and marriage satisfaction.
Q: We’re getting married at the end of this month, and I’m worried we waited too long to start premarital counseling. Is it too late for counseling to be effective?
BOB: Although not ideal, last-minute premarital counseling can still be helpful. For couples needing to work through a number of significant issues, a few sessions shortly before the ceremony won’t be enough, as they likely aren’t ready for nuptials anyway. However, healthier last-minute couples with fewer “red flags” often start counseling before the wedding, but schedule any remaining sessions for shortly after the honeymoon. Not only are they more likely to benefit from premarital counseling with less stress, the added post-nuptial support helps them cement their new skills after starting their life together, and addresses any new, unhealthy habits before they take root.
Bob Parkins is a licensed marriage and family therapist. He can be reached at 916-337-5406, firstname.lastname@example.org or bobparkinslmft.com.