Most individuals who get into marriage life do so with expectations, mostly being happily married ever after ending. People hope to grow together loving each other, loving their children and having a peaceful life.
While it is normal to expect things to go well, it is important to understand that being happily married ever after is dependent on many factors. Some of those include; the kind of families that each partner came from, the kind of personal development investment they have done on themselves previously in their single life, general relationships that they have had previously. The kind of values the people getting married hold were mainly learnt in their families.
Much as the families the two grew up in have a critical role to play in how the marriage turns out, this is not cast on stone. One other important factor that determines what a marriage becomes is the kind of investment done by the two before marriage.
Improving the outcome of a marriage can be achieved through investing in personal development which can be in form of the books and materials they read, what they watch, the forums they attend, the people they surround themselves with, etc. Whatever gaps people have in their upbringing can be adequately covered by investing in personal development.
Premarital programs or premarital counseling is a viable way to shorten the learning curve. Post marital programs are also helpful in stabilizing the marriage relationship. In this context, we will talk about premarital counseling.
Premarital counseling is a type of counseling that is intended to improve and enhance premarital relationships or support relationships prior to marriage, leading to more pleasing and established marriages. Pre-marital counseling works better when conducted by individuals who are trained and understand the factors that shape human behavior.
When premarital counseling is done professionally, the counselor helps the two individuals intending to get married to work through the behaviours learnt throughout life that are not beneficial to the union that they intend to form.
Why do premarital counseling?
1. Helps the couple to appreciate one another for who they are
Individuals intending to get into a marriage benefit from the knowledge that they share different backgrounds and that their view of issues and life is different. This means that some of the behavior learnt and internalized and personalities of these people are different. While each partner has a responsibility to work around their own growth and development, there are certain perspectives that might never change.
Premarital programs such as premarital counseling brings that realization. The realization helps couples to work at appreciating diversity and accommodating each other. Each partner in the marriage learns to appreciate the other person’s uniqueness and support each other become the best they can be. They do not try to change each other in order to be identical in their beliefs and practices.
2. Empowers the couple to understand that they have areas they need to grow as individuals if marriage has to be successful
There are no perfect individuals. No one has had a perfect life right from childhood to adulthood. Each human being has some “baggage” that they are dealing with at any one time. Baggage in this case means undesired beliefs and behavior that we have picked somewhere within the course of life. These negative aspects of us can only be handled by us and not our spouses.
When we fail to invest in personal development, we expect others to change and meet our deficiencies. Clearly, that does not work. An example is when a child did not have parental love, they miss out on a very important aspect of their lives, parental attachment. This healthy attachment between the parent and child produces nurture and this nurture is what brings the reality of love and emotional bonding.
When a child lacks that aspect of emotional bonding, then they have deficiencies in their lives. Unless this person grows to be able to handle their deficiencies, they will expect a spouse to meet the deficiencies that their parents did not meet as well as offer the affection and intimacy that a spouse is meant to offer. This does not work. It is an overload, undermining the marriage. Two people who have worked on their baggage become well-adjusted and are more likely to have a more productive marriage.
Norman Wright puts it this way; a lasting marriage relationship is more possible if both partners continue to grow and develop. If either the husband or wife uses the spouse to further the attainment of their personal dreams, then the other loses their own dream, their uniqueness and their potential, stagnating the growth of the marriage. Eventually both gets dissatisfied, destroying the relationship.
For any marriage to be successful both partners have to work towards their own personal growth and personal development. This can be started early and premarital counselling would be very helpful as part of this journey.
3. Identification of similarities and differences
No two people can be the same, even in the same family. Some of the theories of mate selection bring out perspectives such as “like attracts like”. This means that people with similar characteristics attract one another.” Opposite attracts”. This means that two individuals who have different characteristics also attract.
This means that it is possible to be attracted to a person who you have similarities with but also one who you have differences with. Naturally because two individuals who are preparing for marriage are at “in love” stage, they are so much aware of their similarities and unaware of their differences. The similarities naturally happen because they help two people bond. The differences even when they pop up are likely to be overlooked because differences cause instability.
Premarital counseling helps the two individuals intending to get married acknowledge their differences and work around them so that these differences become a strength in their marriage as opposed to being the source of conflict. Strong marriages are built when similarities are acknowledged and differences worked around. Differences should never be downplayed or ignored.
4. Setting up couple dynamics that will uniquely work for them
Naturally, each individual would like to run their home the way they saw their own homes run or do it extremely differently if they did not like how their home was run. Either way, the influence is their own homes or families where they were brought up. Two separate individuals will bring two separate ways of operation and that becomes a source of conflict.
To the both individuals, their personal methods are the best because that is what has been tried and seen to work in their previous environments. The way mummy or daddy did it is the best way to do it, forgetting that the other partner also believes in the way his or her own mummy or daddy did it. Each individual has blind corners they are not able to see beyond because of the limited experiences of their own upbringing. Without awareness creation, one might not be able to give a chance to the partner’s way.
I have especially seen couples conflict over the methods of discipline on children where one believes spanking produces better results in kids’ discipline and the other believes that dialogue works. In other setups, couples conflict over how many relatives to host and for how long – whereby ones’ view of hosting relatives is a sign of love and to the other view is invasion of privacy.
To other couples, a family member who is enabled economically becomes the source of conflict to the other family members and to the spouse. Each adult needs to strive to be financially empowered to meet their own financial obligations. A spouse with a close family member with addiction issues is at risk of having a codependent relationship with the addict, meaning that they support and cover for the addict and are defensive about it.
Each person will argue that the methods they are recommending is the way they were brought up and they turned out just fine, whatever they mean by turning out fine since no one is perfect and some are more damaged than others.
Premarital counseling helps the couple to discuss the different strategies used in the two families of origin, weigh the advantages and disadvantages and pick the methods that benefit the family they intend to form, separately from their original families.
5. Helps the couple to identify and make use of each other’s strengths and weaknesses
Even when there are very many similarities in a couple, they share different strengths and weakness. They both have different personalities. Human beings tend to focus on the weaknesses and magnify the weaknesses than they do the strengths. Our society also conditions individuals to see the negatives more than the positives.
Most people I have interacted with agree that their parents spent more time pointing to their weaknesses than appreciating their strengths. That by extension makes us keen on picking on weaknesses and working at improving them as opposed to focusing on the strengths.
A couple that takes note of their strengths and uses them makes a better team than one than spends time trying to improve on one another’s weaknesses. In fact many marriages are destroyed by the efforts of couples to make each other improve.
Weaknesses can be improved because all human beings are in the process of growth and each individual tends to move towards self-actualization. Acknowledging each other’s strengths and allowing each other to thrive in the areas of their strength makes the marriage partnership better and stronger. People who feel appreciated are likely to be motivated to improve themselves, unlike those who are continually criticized in an effort to make them improve their weaknesses.
6. Empowered to work on healthy boundaries
Boundaries are invisible lines of demarcation in an individual’s life, a couple or a family. When two people are working towards getting married, it is important to understand that each person needs to have their individuality respected. No two people can believe and practice the exact same things. They also need their own personal space for different purposes and one of them is to recharge. Two people who are married to each other will never do the exact same things.
As a couple works on their personal space the marriage needs to be taken care of so that it does not suffer. Balanced living means that there is space for the couple without interference of the outside world and there is also space and time for the outside world.
Depending on how each individual’s upbringing was, these boundaries can be unclear. When a couple is working towards marriage, there is a very important need for defining boundaries so that it is clear what works for the individuals in a marriage, what works for the couple and to what extent they allow the world into their space.
When that part is not clear then the marriage becomes challenged. There are consistent arguments on who comes first in an individual’s life, is it the spouse or the parent/sibling/friends? Other arguments are on whether individuals who get married are supposed to let go friends or retain them, where and when to draw the line between his relatives, her relatives and the couple?
A healthy marriage has support systems outside the marriage; parents, siblings, friends, colleagues, etc. Getting married does not mean that one neglects or abandons these support systems but puts healthy boundaries in place. A married person who discusses each and every challenge in the marriage with a third party is challenged and the marriage is not healthy.
7. Learning communication, conflict resolution, decision making, and other skills required in marriage
Conflicts are normal for every marriage. When two people experience conflict, it means that their perspectives are different. That is a healthy part of marriage. Some people especially those who promote unhealthy religious or cultural views criminalize conflicts in marriage, often promoting an unhealthy state where the wife has no say in the relationship. That robs both partners of a chance to learn and grow, eventually destroying the relationship.
Conflict resolution skills are critical for a healthy marriage. Premarital counseling offers couples a way to identify potential areas of conflict and how to develop the skills to resolve the issues before their environment gets toxic. When conflicts are resolved, decisions are automatically made on the way forward.
Decision making is an important skill a couple needs to learn because they will need to make decisions from time to time. When partners make decisions together, they achieve more, improve their relationship and their intimacy too.
Decision making and resolving conflicts is not possible without communication skills. Premarital counseling helps each of them to work on having a healthy self-esteem which is the foundation of healthy communication. They learn how to talk to each other openly and express their thoughts and feelings in a healthy manner. When channels of communication are open, a couple can identify issues and address them early before the relationship is strained.
In an unhealthy marriage, one party makes decisions that affect the family without consultation, or one party uses force to bulldoze his or her way, most likely intimidating the other to comply. Feelings are hurt and the relationship gradually falls apart.
8. Managing expectations
Every person gets into marriage with expectations and there is nothing wrong with one having expectations. Expectations is what keeps a couple working at their marriage. People will have expectations in the roles of the other partner, in the area of sex, in the way family finances will be handled, how the other family/the in laws will behave and generally expectations in all areas. Failure is unmet expectations.
It is very difficult for human beings to meet expectations that they are not aware of. Premarital counseling helps a couple to work towards communicating their expectations to one other, understanding each other’s expectations and giving feedback on whether the expectations are realistic or not. They learn how to compromise unrealistic expectations and strategize ways of meeting the realistic expectations without loosing themselves in the marriage.
These are issues that premarital counseling seeks to empower a couple to handle. A couple who invests in professional premarital therapy is likely to minimize areas of conflicts and to also minimize the damage caused by differences. Marriages can have better outcomes if couples give premarital counseling the seriousness it deserves.