Building a Strong Foundation

If marriage therapists were surveyed on the question of whether premarital counseling should be a requirement prior to granting marriage licenses — just as the department of motor vehicles requires training behind the wheel before issuing a driver's license and animal shelters make sure pet owners know how to care for a dog or cat before permitting adoptions — there's no doubt that 100 percent of therapists would vote “yes.”

Fact

Once you accept that marriages are from time to time hard work, finding new ways to deal with the problems you cannot resolve by yourselves is the purpose of marital counseling. The therapist brings new ideas and fresh prospective to the problems. If you do not get new ideas or fresh approaches from your marriage counselor, perhaps you need to find a new therapist.

Unfortunately, premarital education isn't a prerequisite to marriage, and divorce statistics remain abysmally high. All marriages have difficult times. It's safe to say that in 99 percent of marriages one or both partners have at some time considered divorce or separation as a solution to the stress all married partners go through. Considering divorce or separation is not strange or unusual. In fact, the opposite is true. It is unusual for married couples not to contemplate breaking up when tough issues seem irresolvable.

The larger point of concern is that many couples — who marry at many different ages — get all the way to the altar without probing very far into each other's hearts and minds, and without knowing enough about what love was, and wasn't. Neither do many couples have the required skills to get past those scary moments when love disappears and hatred takes its place. In short, they don't know how to make their marriage happy.

There is no more important time to get professional help than during the first year of marriage. This is the time to establish your marital agreements about money, children, household management, and your future goals together. This is also the time to tune up your communication skills and share the most intimate parts of yourselves with each other, including your core wounds and any lasting hurts you carry forward into adulthood, as well as your hopes and dreams. This is critical information for you to know about yourself — and your partner — if you are going to work together as a team and create the kind of lives you envision as committed partners. Then, as time passes, you will need new approaches to keep your marriage invigorated. You must embrace change, and you must keep communicating about each and every change, paying special attention to making the transitions in your marriage smooth.

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