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

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Guest Post: Premarital Counseling--A Report from the Field

Guest post by
Kristen Walker

I've always liked the idea of couples counseling ... for other people.

When our relationship hit a rough patch, though, the first thought that went through my head was, Oh God, don't only doomed couples go to counseling???

Our rough patch took the form of me having a melt down after not getting a surprise, fantasy marriage proposal after precisely 3.0 years of couple-dom. For some reason, 3 years was my magic number, and when it didn't happen, I went a little cuckoo (and mind you, I am not someone who ever thought I wanted to get married!) Andy, my beloved partner, was on the 5-year plan, not the 3-year plan, so we decided to get some couples counseling to navigate this new landscape of thinking about marriage (and being on slightly different pages about it).

It took a few sessions, but slowly, things started to get better. Our counselor helped us start airing our fears and grievances about marriage and started opening those oh so important lines of communication. One of the big points that our counselor stressed was that our values are very similar, and that with similar values, you can work through a lot and stay happily together through the years.

The counseling went well – actually, really well – and after 4 months, Andy asked me the big question (woo hoo!). That's when our counseling sessions officially turned into “premarital” counseling sessions, and we made a list of topics we wanted to talk about which included some of these fun favorites:

  • money

  • sex

  • religion

  • friendships

  • kids/parenting styles

We could have done this at home on our bed while eating Chinese take-out, saved some money, and not had to open ourselves up to a third party, but there are some really valuable aspects to going all out and seeing an experienced premarital counselor. Here are a few:

1) You are committing to someone for life, don't you want to know that they'll show up to a counseling session during bumpy times? Premarital counseling is a great practice run. I have a dear friend who just celebrated her 50th wedding anniversary, and her advice about how they've been happily married for so long has always been that they “keep doing the work." And that flies right in the face of my below-the-surface beliefs that true love doesn't involve "work", but the trick to marital longevity seems to have something to do with tending the garden of wedded bliss instead of going on auto-pilot. If the weeds are taking over, I want to be with someone who isn't opposed to going to the garden shed, getting out some rakes and hoes with me, and doing the work needed to get things back to a happier state. Going through some premarital counseling sessions is a great way to see if your partner is up for this.

2) Counselors have seen around corners you haven't even thought of yet. Having the benefit of working with many couples whose happily-ever-after-boats have been rocked by differing parenting styles, money troubles, infidelity and in-laws, our counselor was able to take us straight to the hot spots of marital seismic activity and held our hands as we explored.

3) Talking about important things can be easier when guided. Why is it that touchy topics like money and kids can be so tricky to bring up? It seems like it is never a good time – do I ask him how we are planning on handling money as a couple before or after dinner? Should I bring up the kids question on this romantic weekend or wait till we are cleaning out our closets? When you go to a counseling session you both know what you are there for, and having an objective, experienced third party to help guide things productively tends to help the honesty level in the room go up as you navigate some sensitive territory. A third party can also be helpful in pointing out patterns or helping to explain the other person's point of view in a way that is easier to understand, and they can also give you great tips that lead to long term happiness.

I think the biggest reason I was reluctant to go through premarital counseling was that I was afraid we'd dig up some stuff that I'd rather leave hidden safely under the rug, and who wants to dig stuff up when you can throw yourself wholeheartedly into the high of being engaged and planning a wedding? For me personally, I chose to go through premarital counseling because it really is about a lot more than a wedding day – it is about every day that follows the wedding day.

And, as we all know, the stuff hidden under the rug is going to come out eventually ... and the longer it festers, the uglier it tends to be when it shows up.

Do you want to walk down the aisle knowing there are things you haven't really talked about? Or do you want to glow, from head to toe, as you walk towards your partner, knowing you are going to be sharing your life with someone who will really show up for you – in a counselor's office, in a wedding ceremony, and in life?

Kristen Walker is an artist, web surfer, wave surfer, and educational website developer who lives in Santa Barbara with her fiancé Andy, labrador Honey Bear, and striped tiger, Meme. She keeps a blog at kristenwalker.com.

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krista said...

this was immensely helpful to me! while i'm not engaged, my partner and i are currently facing some big decisions (influenced by the fact that i recently had to leave canada to come back to the u.s. because my visa extension got denied in canada). we're trying to decide what to do long-term, and this peek into how counseling might help really resonated with me. thanks!

Kristen (kristenwalker.com) said...

Hi Krista - yay, so glad this was helpful to you, that makes my day. I highly recommend counseling as a way to tread rough territory. I hope everything works out for you!


Cara said...

Great post! I enjoyed the tidbit about weeding the garden. My husband and I attended a few sessions of counseling about 9 months into marriage to hash out some of the weeds (chores, expectations of each other as spouses, and how to deescalate arguments). It was nice to know that we were on the same page, but had different ways of communicating and timing, and have for the last year been able to put what we learned into practice.

Alanna said...

Thanks for a great post! We've gone to counseling in the past and it's really really helped. We haven't yet started premarital counseling, but I definitely think it's a great idea. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I can relate! My fiance and I have had a few rough patches. Were doing marriage preparation and I'm super excited. The hardest part about getting married is having to compromise.

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