Tying the Knot in a Meaningful and Memorable Way (Without Losing Our Savings or Sanity)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Couples Counseling

One of the things I regret most about our wedding planning process is the fact that we didn't prioritize or seek out couples' counseling. We have since attended a really helpful one-day class for couples-to-be (we were the only married couple there), which gave us good strategies for dealing with conflict, maintaining the fun in our marriage, and watching out for hidden issues.

But we both want to be even more proactive about building a solid foundation for our relationship. Here are some of the things we're working on:
  1. Equally distributing household responsibilities: Because we both work full-time, we pretty much divide chores evenly. We made a list of everything that has to get done on a weekly basis and split it into two lists. One week someone will clean the kitchen, take out the compost, wipe down all the table surfaces, and clean slobber off our windows. The other person will clean the entire bathroom, shake out the rugs, and vacuum. The next week, we swap tasks. Then we each have our list of weekly chores that remain constant. I empty the dishwasher, do the laundry, coordinate our finances, and run Hoss four times a week. Matt does the yard work, runs Hoss two times a week, checks on the chickens daily, and cleans out the coop once a week. Once a month, someone will wipe off the baseboards, dust the office and bedroom, and wipe out the fridge. The other person will wash the rugs, dust the living and dining room, and sweep the front porch. The next month we switch. This kind of system works really well for us because neither of us gets resentful or bitter about the fact that the other person is doing more.
  2. Fighting in constructive rather than destructive ways: Matt and I fight about a variety of things, but we use different strategies to attempt to turn our fights into problem-solving conversations rather than assaults. If we're both tired, for example, we try to stop the fight and say, "Let's come back to this when we're not so emotional." We will also occasionally repeat back what the other person is saying to ensure that we are really listening and understanding.
  3. Agreeing on an approach to money: Matt and I combined our finances a few months before we got married. Then we sat down together and created a monthly savings plan. We asked ourselves: How much can we set aside each month for: a mortgage? a baby? retirement? a car? home repairs? eating out? groceries? vacation? Then we set up automatic transfers each month, so our savings accumulate without much thought. We try to keep ourselves on a very specific budget for expenses related to joint entertainment, eating out, groceries, and dog care. We also give ourselves $70 each every month to spend however we want. Of course we still get in disagreements occasionally about what should be considered a joint expense versus an individual expense (mainly because I'm stingy and Matt is generous), but our system works pretty well for us.
  4. Making time for each other. With my penchant for taking on more projects than I can handle and Matt's addiction to running, it can be hard to find time for each other sometimes. We try to be home to cook dinner together or eat out by 6:30 every night, and we try to plan fun things on the weekends.
  5. Figuring out an intimacy frequency that works for both of us: Matt wants sex more than I do, so we constantly talk about how to help him feel satiated without making me feel obligated. It's definitely something we're still working on.
  6. Making time to cultivate our selves outside of our marriage: We try to encourage each other to spend time with friends and colleagues without being joined at the hip.
  7. Showing appreciation. It can be easy to fall into a pattern of taking each other for granted. Matt and I try to verbalize our appreciation for each other (for both big and small things) on a daily basis.
We really want to continue to strengthen our relationship, and I'm not sure about the best way to do it. Couples counseling is not included in our insurance (why is preventative stuff so disregarded in our culture? Argh!). Perhaps we could find more classes, or we could work through books like Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts.

It shouldn't be this hard to find proactive opportunities to strengthen one's marriage. Hmph!


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26 comments:

Karuna said...

I LOVE this post! I think counseling gets a "bad rap" and people think there needs to be something wrong or something that you "haven's already figured out" in the time spent dating or cohabitating before getting hitched. My husband and I hit a stumbling block only months before we were to have our "paper wedding" and found ourselves stumped over "how we lost touch". I am a full time paramedic student and working full time as well. He is a full time medic and picks up over time often to help offset my school expenses and save for the "real wedding" in Sept. We were happy and healthy and everything seemed to be great. Until we found ourselves disconnected and wondering a. how it happened and b. how to get past it and back to the happy-go-lucky couple we were previously. We were fortunate enough to find a guy who specializes in "first responder couples" meaning EMS, Police and Fire. He was so great. We spent 99% of the time working on what he called pre-marital strength training. Working on building tools for the tough stuff and expressing clearly things that were previously "understood but not specified". He said 90% of the work of the relationship is just staying up-to-date on needs, plans, goals and feelings of one another. He helped us define how we talk about those things so that we are using a common language. This may seem silly but G and I found that there were some misunderstandings in the unspoken stuff. It wasn't through malice or negligence we were just operating under different assumptions. It has been so very helpful to go to that tool box and pull out common language and tools when we have to have a talk about money or family or most recently, our three year plan for school, finances and family. It seems to have taken some of the emotional angst out of things to know that we are on the same page. That (for me) came from sitting there together in the office comitting to work on things together and as a team. My husband is a "modern man" and self identifies as a feminist but none the less the message he sent by going to counseling was huge and the impact has been greater than I could have anticipated. The trust I now feel in him and our ability to work through the tough stuff and get help when we need it really allows me to relax on a fundamental level. And now he knows that "counseling" won't kill him. Anyway, long story short, I think couple's counseling can "save your marriage before it starts". It has been a real bright spot for us already!

Karuna said...

Oh I almost forgot...This is an awesome book for this topic. Not too sappy or religiously oriented.
http://www.amazon.com/Seven-Principles-Making-Marriage-Work/dp/0609805797/ref=pd_sim_b_1

Sarah said...

I am having problems finding a secular premarital wedding class and I think this is one of those things that'll just fall by the wayside as well, unfortunately, We did work through a few books about relationships that were suggested on various websites-- 1001 questions to ask before getting married (VERY conservative-- we skipped questions that offended us) and some of Gottman's books.

Now we're working through a prenup and I would love to see a post about those!

Tiffany said...

When you come to an agreement on the intimacy frequency issue, please post it. I'd love some insight as my fiance and I are going through the same thing and I worry that he worries that it will only get worse. He's incredibly understanding but I feel guilty on the nights we aren't physically intimate.

miss fancy pants (the bride) said...

Yeah, in our hometown, inexpensive and secular premarital counseling doesn't exist. Literally. We took a couple sessions of just plain 'ol relationship counseling and I loved it, but they cost $100 each, and we simply don't have it in the budget right now. Books on the subject sounds like a great alternative for now though, until we can hopefully find something more affordable.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Sara - and I agree with Tiffany that a post about physical intimacy would be great. We, too, are experiencing that hurdle, particularly with out April wedding approaching. Surely brides have varying experiences on this one, but we've found that our sex frequency has decreased significantly while planning the wedding and in conjunction with the stress of it all. Much of it is "good stress," but stress nonetheless has taken its toll. He has been understanding, but I know he wonders whether we have leveled out and whether our (non)frequency will continue after the wedding.

evi said...

What a great post, thank you! My husband-to-be is from Chile, where counseling is the LAST thing one would consider. You have family or a priest for those things - that's what he thinks. So I probably won't get him into one of those classes. But still, I am aware of the work a marriage actually is and I try to talktalktalk about things. At times, I might be overdoing it so I am watching myself closely.
I agree: please do a post about the frequency of intimacy! I am desperate for it (as my fiance is for more sex than I am...)! ;-)

midwesterngal said...

Great post! My fiance and I live in Iowa, and although it's a fairly liberal-ish state (yay for legalizing gay marriage!!) it's still pretty bible-belty...which we don't have a problem with, of course, but it's impossible to find a secular premarital class. We started going through Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts and we also bought the workbooks (there is one for the guy and one for the girl...but they're exactly the same just insert "wifey" or "hubby"...so you could really just go with one) and we've really enjoyed it! I would definitely give it a try if you're unable to find any more classes or counseling.

Brittany said...

Great post! This give me some things to think about. B and I are doing premarital counseling through our church, maybe you can find something like that.

Kristen said...

I'd like to jump on the premarital counseling bandwagon. We're paying a regular old therapist to meet with us once a month as we get closer to the May wedding. It's pricey - $90 a session, but we live in NYC and she's giving us a discount so it's not terrible. There are times I feel like it's the best investment in our relationship that we've ever made, but I'm shocked at the people who think we're doing it because we already have problems, etc. Such stigma!

A Los Angeles Love said...

we're lucky that our progessive synagogue requires counseling the wedding (though temple membership isn't cheap either) but we've been working through books in the meantime (specifically 1001 Questions to Ask Before You Get Married). It's helpful, definitely, though we're also looking forward to the human third-party perspective. I've been looking around in LA for inexpensive secular options, but the best I've found are paid counseling sessions too.

Thanks for a great article. I'm emailing it to my partner right now...

Michelle said...

Thank you so much for this post! We are getting married at the end of May, and were planning on having a friend of the family who is a Rabbi but he is going to be out of the country. We are instead having a friend marry us, but that means no pre-marital counseling. I am so happy that you reminded me that we need to have these conversations. I just ordered a few of the suggested books on Amazon.

Also want to thank you for putting into words your issues with physical intimacy! Would love to know if you come up with somthing... I hadn't been able to put words to what I was really feeling, and obligation is a very good start.

I'm new to your blog, and LOVE it!

Anonymous said...

I found this post and the comments very interesting. I personally don't care for pre-marital counseling, mainly because of its religious affiliation and cost (I can't imagine paying someone to assure me that I should marry my fiance!). I do, however, think it's a good idea for people that have dated for a year or two prior to marriage or have not lived together prior to marriage. Having dated longer than that and lived with my fiance for the past year, I can look back and see that only two years ago I did not KNOW us as I do now. Time is the ultimate assurance.
But I think that your ideas of looking at books on that subject would not be a bad idea even prior to my marriage, and I will probably check some out!
I would also like to hear more on the sex topic. I suppose I'm pretty sexual for a girl (at least compared to my friends), and I could not get enough the first year or two. But there's definitely a decrease in sex over time, for whatever reason. It's not a problem now, but I can't help wonder if it'll get worse. For me, the problem is familiarity because everytime we go on a trip, I get in the mood again. :) I'm curious to see what triggers others.

Anonymous said...

I found this post and the comments very interesting. I personally don't care for pre-marital counseling, mainly because of its religious affiliation and cost (I can't imagine paying someone to assure me that I should marry my fiance!). I do, however, think it's a good idea for people that have dated for a year or two prior to marriage or have not lived together prior to marriage. Having dated longer than that and lived with my fiance for the past year, I can look back and see that only two years ago I did not KNOW us as I do now. Time is the ultimate assurance.
But I think that your ideas of looking at books on that subject would not be a bad idea even prior to my marriage, and I will probably check some out!
I would also like to hear more on the sex topic. I suppose I'm pretty sexual for a girl (at least compared to my friends), and I could not get enough the first year or two. But there's definitely a decrease in sex over time, for whatever reason. It's not a problem now, but I can't help wonder if it'll get worse. For me, the problem is familiarity because everytime we go on a trip, I get in the mood again. :) I'm curious to see what triggers others.

Lane said...

I'm engaged and I feel like our relationship is strong, but there are always areas you can improve and work on. And it's definitely better to address problems before they get out of control. I wanted to do some sort of secular pre-marital counseling, but it is cost prohibitive and my fiance isn't too excited about doing a group workshop where we would be discussing our relationship in front of other people. We decided to go the book route. Right now we're reading Emotional Fitness for Couples: 10 Minutes a Day to a Better Relationship. I like how it has specific tasks for you to work on. Other relationship books I looked at seemed to have advice, but didn't give practical ways to put the advice into action. I'll have to check out Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts.

Mo said...

We're getting married in July and I would really like to go to counseling. I really have no excuse like previous commenters about how there isn't any available secular counseling, we've just been so busy.

Your great post reminds me that we need to take the time to think and talk about the relationship too, not just the pretty flowers or what beer the bar will be serving. Thanks.

Kelsey said...

Thanks for being so open and being willing to post about finances and sex! These are things every couple deals with but I find many people don't talk about it so if things get difficult people don't know that they aren't the only ones!

Sarah and Kenny said...

I'd like to say thank you for all of your wonderful posts! Including this one! Specifically because of one of your posts, I asked fiance if we could go to premarital counseling. Luckily he works for a university, so through his employee benefits were were able to get five free sessions of secular counseling. And they have been AMAZING! Not that we don't already have a great relationship, but we talked a lot about communication styles and conflict resolution. I thought we'd be talking about specific things--who does what when we have children--but as Karuna mentioned, we're finding tools to put in our tool box for when we need them.

So I wanted to say thank you! And I want to suggest to all of you out there to check with your jobs to see if they have employee assistance programs. Usually you get some sort of free counseling and you can use it for what ever. We used our for premarital counseling and it has been wonderful!

katie joe said...

it's so comforting and encouraging to hear (er, read i guess!) you talk so openly and assuredly about the benefits and importance of counseling. My family has always been pro-counseling and open about communication. My fiance's family is the exact opposite, therefore J was really resistant to the idea. We've experienced a disconnection, much like what Karuna described. I finally confronted myself about what I was really feeling then took it to J. It felt like pulling teeth at some points, but he opened up and we worked out a plan for couples counseling as well as some individual counseling for him. We are both relieved, hopeful and trusting that this is the best thing for us. Also, I am, too, interested in an intimacy plan update. J and I are opposite of you and Matt, and I constantly worry about J feeling guilty or obligated. I try and stay aware of my reactions and expectations so that i don't make things worse, but sometimes it's difficult. Any help in that area would be fantastic!

GalFromAway said...

I'm another who is very glad to have read this post. My FH and I would love to do pre-marital counseling, but don't want to do it through a church (we're not overly religious), and we're not sure where to start looking to find a counselor to work with. Hopefully we can find someone between now and our wedding in August.

In the meantime, I will share this post with him as a good conversation starter. And maybe in the next couple of months we'll be able to get something going.

Michele said...

A piece of advice (from my bestie who is an MFT) for those of you who are looking for secular counseling: Seek out a therapist who utilizes the PREPARE/ENRICH method. It is a truly amazing approach to pre-marital counseling, and oftentimes these therapists will do small-group classes if the demand is there.

Wedding Costs said...

This was a wonderful post. What came across was the honesty and love you have for one another. Felt those little butterflies myself.

You also approached it with such calm, it almost made me feel calmer about the day.

If you click on the title I added a website which i have found useful, it does include the actual venue cost, but i removed that. It gave us an idea on cost and we budgeted accordingly. Because we were mindful of costs we actually ended up haveing a little extra for our honeymoon.

Did I mention your photo's, you look soooo happy. Congratulations, i would raise a glass but its only 10am.... oh what the hell. CHEERS

cait said...

I really appreciate this post! As a newlywed--a lot of what you talk about resonates with me! so thank you!

Natasha said...

Thank you for this post!
I am a huge supporter of making sure your relationship is looked at and improved where it needs to be.
Shaun and I do an annual Relationship Assessment, where we each full out questionnaires about our relationship, this brings up "discussion topics" which we focus on.
It really helps

Marina said...

We did premarital counseling and loved it, mostly because we got along really well with our officiant. She basically said, "Ok, here's some things I've seen other couples who are in a similar situation have trouble with, what do you think about it?" She came up with some stuff I just never would have thought of, and even though the husband and I usually agreed on everything pretty quickly and easily, it was great to have things consciously discussed and on the table.

Since we got married (7 months ago now! wow!) I honestly haven't worried about consciously building our relationship--I think mostly because we've had enough issues come up that we've been working on our relationship almost automatically. Well, automatically is a bad word for it, but it's come up naturally, I guess. We've always both been fairly reflective people, and have conversations about our values and dreams often enough just cause that's what we like to talk about that I haven't felt a need to do anything more formal.

I also would love more discussion of sexual intimacy issues. :)

Northern Bride said...

Thanks for this post. My fiance's dad is a minister and is requiring us to do premarital counseling because of all the people he's seen get divorced. I was a little angry, but now I understand how important it is to go. There are so many things I don't know about my fiance, even after 4 years. I'm feeling a lot better about going, especially after reading the comments and realizing that other people went as well. I thought it was a thing of the past.

Thanks!

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