Do you count yourself among the ranks of savvy engaged couples that have enrolled in pre-marital counseling? If so congratulations, not just on your engagement but your commitment to entering your marriage as intentionally as possible! As you begin your pre-marital counseling sessions, your therapist will likely ask for input in shaping treatment goals and choosing what topic areas to cover. Make sure to include these four:
1) Fighting Fair
All couples fight. In fact, studies by couples therapists like John Gottman have shown that most couples will have the same fight over “unresolvable” issues for the duration of the relationship. This may sound like a red flag, but in actuality it’s not. Think about it- you marry a person whose experience of the world is different from our own, so it makes sense that there will be at least one or two fundamental areas the two of you disagree on. It might be something small: differences in levels of preferred cleanliness, or it might be larger: differences in whether or not you want kids. The difference between healthy and unhealthy couples lies in how they fight. “Fighting fair” allows everyone to be heard, and gives each partner the tools to give love despite disagreement. Pre-marital counseling is a great place to uncover your existing communication patterns, and practice new strategies for fighting fair.
What are your goals around money? What’s your approach to talking about it? The scripts we learn about money are specific to our families, and often transparently discussing money brings up all kinds of strong emotions: fear, resentment, shame and envy to name a few. Pre-marital counseling can be a great place to understand your partner’s relationship to money and how they envision structuring financial decisions in your relationship. For instance: how much do each of you expect to save out of every paycheck? How much money can each of you spend before you need to check in with your spouse? If you run into financial distress, are you comfortable asking for help from banks, family or friends? To what extent? Your pre-marital counselor can provide an impartial eye as you and your partner try to map out these decisions.
3) Hopes for the relationship
Another common stumbling block for marriages is disparate hopes for the relationship. If one partner wants to “live for the moment” and the other wants to “work for the future”, this will impact how they envision the purpose and goals of the marriage. The partner who “lives for the moment” may seek to use weekends for unstructured leisure time with their spouse, and want to set aside some of their earnings to go on trips or create memories together. The partner who “works for the future” may see the marriage as way to work more efficiently toward a secure retirement, and be less interested in spending or leisure time, trusting that they’ll be able to enjoy their partner fully “when the work is done.” This can lead to some fundamental misunderstandings, and feeling unappreciated or unsupported. Pre-marital counseling can provide a safe space to explore what you and your partner each envision for marriage, and what you hope to give to and get from the relationship.
While it’s likely that you and your partner have discussed the issue of children, and even how many you’d like as a pre-requisite for getting engaged, this isn’t the case for everyone. More importantly, you may not have discussed some of the more value-based decisions that go into parenting. How will childcare be split? Will one parent stay home? If you are able to pay for childcare, which parent will be on-call in case your kid(s) get sick or need to come home early? How will the division of house-work shift (or not) once children are born? What kind of parent do you envision yourself as? Do you believe in letting kids learn through making mistakes, or through discipline? Many of our values around parenting styles are intuitive, and come from or in response to how we were raised. Pre-marital counseling offers up structured conversation to examine and share attitudes around child-rearing.
Talk to your partner about the list, and add your own “must-discuss” items. When you bring them with you to your first pre-marital counseling session, your pre-marital counselor will appreciate your intentionality and clarification of goals. Call the Center for Growth today at 215-570-8614 or visit www.sextherapyinphiladelphia.com to set up a pre-marital counseling session with a qualified therapist.