Welcome to engagement season, the magical time between Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day. You may have noticed your Facebook feed flooded with “I SAID YES!” announcements over the last few months–I know I have. Many of us are aware of the phenomenon of the social media “highlight reel” and the effect it can have on our emotional well-being. It’s natural for us to want to convey the celebratory moments with our friends and families; however, there is one aspect I wish was more popular on these virtual platforms and that is the work that it took to get there.
As a therapist, and even moreso as a human being, I tend to notice how we talk about premarital and couples counseling. It’s often referenced as a last resort, a last-ditch effort to repair years of hurt brought on by concerns related to intimacy, trust and communication. While this approach can still be beneficial and addressed thoughtfully throughout the therapeutic process, there is so much benefit to proactive care verses reactive repair.
In the heady early months and years of a relationships, you may find yourself thinking, “We are so happy and we get along so well. Why would we need to go to therapy if we never argue?” Premarital counseling can be effective in setting the tone for resilience in your marriage is when the going gets tough. The wedding lasts for one day, but the marriage is intended to last forever. I often remind my clients that they probably did not agree to marriage with the motivation of it leading to separation or divorce. Learning to stay connected to each other is often easier to do when things are going well, rather than when intense emotions are running high.
I like to think of premarital counseling as building a solid foundation while demonstrating that your relationship is a priority even when things are going well. Imagine you buy a house to remodel it, and it has ugly, stained carpet, with damaged floors, outdated paint colors, cabinetry, etc. But you can see the potential in the home by addressing these cosmetic concerns. Now imagine there is a crack in the foundation of the house. It won’t matter how pretty it is on the inside if the cracked foundation means the house can come crashing down later.
Here are some concepts addressed in premarital therapy that can help reinforce the foundation of your relationship.
- Fear. Some people are worried that premarital counseling can shed light on concerns that may have never been exposed, and avoid the counseling in order to avoid potential disagreements. However, the fact is that addressing challenges early on can help couples learn to resolve conflict or get their needs met quickly and effectively. In my experience, couples who have demonstrated this kind of avoidance can eventually become dissatisfied in their marriage, and these relationships may be more susceptible to emotional infidelity as partners find that their needs are being met by someone outside the relationship. Let’s banish the fear that talking about the relationship will cause more problems.
- Communication. In addition to learning to communicate and resolve conflict, premarital counseling can help couples navigate important questions about their lives together, as well as increase insight about their own motivations toward marriage. This can help solidify commitment as partners develop a deeper understanding of each others needs as well as their own on topics like spiritual beliefs, financial management, relationship roles, affection, sexuality, family and friends–and a clearer understanding of how these needs can be met.
- Establishment of Therapy as a Resource. Collaborating with a premarital therapist creates a connection with a trusted professional in the area of romantic relationships. As you move forward with your marriage and challenges inevitably arise, having a connection with someone who knows you and your relationship makes it much easier to schedule an appointment sooner rather than later. When feelings of hurt go unaddressed for too long, they can lead to tougher, more intractable feelings like resentment and defensiveness–common themes in reactive care.
- Investment. Money can be one of the biggest barriers to premarital counseling. It is a big expense to add on top of diamonds, fancy attire, venues, catering, etc. Premarital counseling gives you a return on your investment while helping you prepare for your lifetime of marriage. There are several approaches your therapist can offer when it comes to navigating this topic. Initiate a conversation about how to seek financial reimbursement from your insurance company or develop a suitable fee schedule with your therapist. It may sound trite, but it is still true that therapists are cheaper than divorce attorneys.
Whether your “house” needs cosmetic work or a deep foundational overhaul, we welcome you to reach out to schedule a complimentary 15-minute phone consultation with myself or any one of my knowledgeable colleagues at Lindsey Hoskins & Associates. Learn how we can provide you with the type of care that best meets your relationship needs. In the meantime, happy engagement season!
Lindsay Enright, MS, LCMFT provides couple, family, and individual therapy at our downtown Bethesda office. Call or email today to set up your first appointment or a complimentary telephone consultation with Lindsay.