I read with great interest last week that Prince William and Kate Middleton are to have premarital counselling before they get married in April. They will receive this counselling from the Bishop of London, Dr. Richard Chartres, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams. This is a couple that will have enormous pressure placed on their marriage. From having their relationship analysed, dissected and speculated about endlessly in the press and by demanding jobs that require long periods of time away from each other, I guess they are going to need all the help and support they can get.
But what about us ordinary mortals? Why should we bother with marriage counselling before we are even married? Having worked with couples in crisis it is becoming more and more apparent to me that learning “relationship skills” at the beginning of the journey can save a great deal of pain, upset and distress further down the road.
In this post I will outline five reasons I think all couples, straight or gay, who intend to make a long term commitment to each other should consider premarital counselling.
Pre-marriage counselling can teach you how to talk to each other. The central focus of my work with couples is teaching them how to talk to each other so both can stay safe, both feel heard and both learn to listen. Learning these skills at any stage of the relationship is going to be transformative. Why not learn it at the beginning rather than when things get tough? I teach couples Imago couples dialogue to do this, other therapists may use different techniques.
Pre-marriage counselling can explain why you chose each other in the first place. In Imago Relationship Therapy, the theory is that we choose our partner to allow ourselves to heal childhood wounds. In order to do this we have to choose someone with both good and bad attributes of our parents and key influencers in childhood (read more about this in Dr. Adam Sheck’s post here) . The down side of this is that once we have made the commitment to stay in a relationship, such as marriage, it’s likely that we are going to start noticing the negative stuff our partner displays more than the positive stuff. If we have had pre-marriage counselling and understand this will happen and why it will happen, it allows us to ride it out and appreciate that it’s at this point in our relationship that we have our best opportunity for growth.
You learn about what events in the journey are likely to test you out as a couple. For straight couples this could be the birth of the first child or a new role as a step-parent, for gay couples it may be dealing with family pressures or how to manage homophobia directed your way as a couple. What ever it is, pre-marriage counselling gives you a “heads up” and creates a space for you to plan some strategies to put in place should the issue come your way.
You will learn about how to resolve disagreements. We all learnt strategies to get our needs met as children. As adults these strategies may not be appropriate any more. Pre-marital counselling teaches how to deal with differences of opinion or even downright disagreements. In Imago Relationship Therapy the technique you would learn to do this is called a “behaviour change request”. It’s a safe way of communicating your needs and desires to your partner and listening in turn to theirs. It gives both partners the information needed to change their behaviour as a gift for their partner.
- You get to express your feelings of love and affection for your partner. That’s why you’re making a long term commitment to each other in the first place right? In Imago “appreciation dialogues” give the opportunity to thank your partner for things they have done for you that you’re really liked and just outright tell your partner how great they are! If you can get into that habit at the beginning of your relationship, you’re on the road to success straight away!
Premarital counselling is much more common in the USA than in the UK and I would love to change that. It amazes me that we go into something as important as marriage or civil partnership without preparing in any way for the emotional difficulties that are inevitable in a long term union with another human being. So, for the price of a wedding cake, go invest in a pre-marriage workshop or set of counselling sessions in your local area – it may be the best investment you could ever make.