As I was sitting down and planning what I wanted to post about this year, I realised that I haven’t done a relationship post in forever! Considering that the hubby and I just celebrated 5 years together, I thought it was definitely time for another one. If you want some background information on our relationship so far, take a read of Our Love Story. So as I contemplated what to write about, the idea for this post seemed to make a lot of sense.
I feel so blessed with the 5 years we’ve had together. Yes we’ve had some issues and annoyances but altogether it’s been amazing! I don’t believe that’s just luck. Some might say we’re just a good match but I would account the success so far to our premarital counselling. So I want to take you on a bit of a journey to discuss what I learned from premarital counselling, how it’s helped my marriage and why I think its so important that I’d recommend it to everyone.
What is Premarital Counselling?
If you don’t know what premarital counselling is, then let me enlighten you. It is a type of therapy that engaged couples undertake to help them prepare for marriage. Often provided by licensed therapists, the aim of premarital counselling is to help ensure a strong, healthy relationship. Thus giving you a better chance for a stable and satisfying marriage. The goal is to discover and address early on, any potential areas of conflict in a relationship before they become serious concerns. Partners are taught effective strategies for discussing and resolving conflict. It can also help participants better understand their expectations about marriage and address any significant differences in a safe and neutral environment.
Premarital counselling might be offered through religious institutions as well. In fact, some spiritual leaders require it before conducting a marriage ceremony. This was the case for our wedding but we also chose to complete more in depth counselling as well.
Why is Premarital Counselling So Important?
Counselling in general has a bit of a bad rep. Why are we so afraid to get a little help? We all seem to believe that we should be able to get along with this person who has captured our heart because there is something special between us. While this can be true sometimes, it is just about impossible to connect your life to another and not have significant disagreements. (Foley, 2011) It seems to me that people these days feel like they shouldn’t need help in this area of their life. If they do need help than they think they aren’t strong enough or aren’t a good match anyway.
This notion that you have to find the right match to have a successful marriage just isn’t true! There is no one person that you have to find in order for you to have a fulfilling marriage. There are many possible mates that could all work out well, what makes the difference is preparing for your marriage. Premarital counselling does just that, helps you prepare for your marriage.
If you were at university you wouldn’t assume you would just pass and get by without preparing for an exam. Why should marriage be any different? In the same way it’s like preparing for a marathon. You wouldn’t just show up on the day and run it without any training. You most likely wouldn’t last too long. It’s exactly the same with marriage. Not preparing for your marriage is the reason that so many fall apart.
Unlike many other western nations who have a 50% divorce rate, Australian marriages are a little more resilient, with about one-third ending in divorce. (CMLawyers, 2016) The crude divorce rate decreased from 2.0 divorces per 1,000 in 2015 to 1.9 divorces per 1,000 in 2016. Even though the number of divorces is on the way down with a 1,913 (-3.9%) decrease in 2016, our country still sees 46,000 divorces per year. (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2016) While these rates aren’t as high as they could be they are still considerably higher than they should be. While we are talking percentages a survey published in the Journal of Family Psychology says, couples with premarital education reported higher levels of marital satisfaction and experienced a 30% decline in the likelihood of divorce over five years. (Naylor, 2017)
Living together prior to marriage has become more and more common these days. But this can actually increase the likelihood of getting divorced by up to 40%. (CMLawyers, 2016) I believe this is because living together before marriage is essentially like practicing divorce. The more relationships you have where you move in together, only to leave when things don’t go well, the more you are deepening the groove in your mind of divorce. So it’s not surprising that when you do get married that the first instinct when things get truly tough is to walk away from the relationship. Premarital counselling helps to break this cycle. It reprograms your mind, so to speak, with other coping mechanisms.
Most people don’t go into marriage with the intention of getting divorced. So the fact that this still happens so often suggests to me that there is a major issue here. Premarital counselling sets out to uncover and fix whatever that major issue may be within your relationship before it becomes just that, a major issue. It sets you up for the best possible marriage you can have and who doesn’t want that? I know I want my marriage to be as good as it can be! Premarital counselling builds a solid foundation for you to build on as you go through life together. If the foundation isn’t there then everything that comes after it will be that much more unstable.
Along with building a solid foundation, premarital counselling also gives you the tools and knowledge necessary to deal with any potential conflicts in a healthy and productive way. By dealing with your disagreements in the best way possible you will avoid a lot of heartache in the future. You might even be able to avoid that fight altogether. Counselling helps you to heal any past hurts that have taken hold in your life that could rear their ugly heads in the future. Men and women couldn’t be more different. I’m sure you’ve all heard of the old adage that men are from Mars and women are from Venus. Premarital counselling will help you to get a greater understanding of each others points of view and pinpoint how each of your minds work differently. It helps to make sure you are on the same page in all aspects of your life.
I have read some pros and cons articles written about premarital counselling. The biggest disadvantages are apparently that it might create bigger problems and you may wind up calling the wedding off. I’d prefer to find out before I got married that it wasn’t going to work out in the long run. The issues that might get brought up in premarital counselling are still going to be issues even if you don’t talk about them before you get married. Isn’t it better to get them sorted and out of the way?
Dealing with them early on tends to be more effective than letting them stew for years on end. At the beginning of a relationship, it’s easy to rationalize or minimize the negative aspects but they’re still there nonetheless. If you tackle the hard issues with a good counselor, you and your partner will become stronger. At the very least you’ll recognize where both people in the relationship stand.
When you’re engaged it can be easy to spend all your time thinking about and planning your perfect wedding day. Premarital counselling takes the focus off just planning a blissful wedding. Instead it helps you prepare for a lifetime of companionship because getting married should be more about the marriage then the wedding.
Premarital counselling facilitates discussion about all the important issues in a relationship like money, children and work-life balance just to name a few. Through this discussion, you are asked all the questions that are important to talk about but that may not be on your radar yet. Throughout your premarital sessions your expectations will be adjusted to make sure they’re realistic and achievable to prevent future disappointment. Essentially premarital counselling in like a cheat sheet on tested and proven best practices for your marriage.
What I Learned From My Premarital Counselling
Throughout our premarital counselling, there was such a wealth of knowledge gained that I’m not sure I could mention it all. But these are some of the wisdoms that stood out to me and that I still remember now. Human relationships are such a complex thing. It’s just about impossible to learn all there is to learn. I certainly don’t feel like I’m an expert and have it all figured out yet but having these tools and this knowledge in place has helped me to no end throughout my 5 years of marriage. I hope they well help you to and that they will encourage you go through premarital counselling yourself.
Unbearable feelings or UBFs, one of David Riddell’s central concepts, were a big part of my premarital epiphany. In simple terms, UBFs are a deep, old bruise of the heart. This is a bruise that we will literally do anything to avoid bumping. Most (or all) of our crazy behavior (often exhibited in a relationship) is caused by us trying to avoid our bruises instead of facing up to them and healing them. These can be a particular problem in relationships when each partner has conflicting UBFs. For example, one partner shouts because they are can’t stand feeling unheard and the other hates feeling shouted at or abused. Or perhaps one hates to feel distrusted, while the other can’t stand the feeling of powerlessness that comes with delegating.
You can see how these combinations would stand to make some massive conflicts within a relationship. Even when a couple’s UBFs aren’t conflicting they can still cause a great deal of trouble when one partner unwittingly pushes a button they had no idea was there, that causes an excessive response. It can leave them feeling confused as to what they have done and unsure how to fix it.
You can recognise a UBF at work in your life by looking out for an over-reaction or shut-down and loss of rationality and reasonableness. Rage, over-compensation, or stubborn silence whenever the feeling is triggered is also common. An immediate loss of communication and ability to communicate is a big indicator that there might be a UBF hiding under the surface. Think back to the last time when you over-reacted, went really silent, raged with anger or just couldn’t communicate. Your unbearable feeling probably got triggered.
Every single UBF is an unpleasant feeling but just because you don’t enjoy having to be patient, doesn’t mean that is your unbearable feeling. The word is “unbearable”. In the search for your UBF look for feelings that you go out of your way to avoid and that you just can’t deal with rationally. It’s also important to note, you can have more that one unbearable feeling, but it is likely they will affect you with differing strengths.
A real world example for you, the unbearable feelings I identified in my life were feeling humiliated, exposed or embarrassed followed by feeling ill-equipped, unprepared or caught out. I originally thought my second one was feeling inadequate or stupid but looking back I realised I was just using the word stupid to describe myself when I felt unprepared.
There is a massive list of potential UBFs that we went through within premarital counselling. I don’t have space to add them all here and this post isn’t meant to stand in place of getting premarital counselling so if you want to know more you will just have to go along and do it yourselves. If you happen to be in the Brisbane area, I would highly recommended Gina Dearman. She is who we did our counselling with and she will be able to guide you through the process of uncovering your UBFs and healing them.
Truth coaches go hand in hand with unbearable feelings. They are the way to heal the bruises on your heart and change the thought patterns in your mind. Every time one of your UBFs is set off and you react in an excessive manor, you are deepening that groove within your brain. When it happens again, it’s only natural for your thoughts to go down that same path. After a decade, these thought patterns are so deep and ingrained that it’s much harder to control your reactions. Mental patterns flow like rivers. Trickles run into streams, that run into rivers and into bigger rivers, carving out deeper ruts all along the way. Corbin Humble explains the analogy perfectly.
“The way your brain works is very similar. You have probably seen images on TV or in movies of electrical impulses shooting through chains of neurons in the brain. When you have a thought, there is a chain reaction of electrical impulses along a series of brain cells. When you use the same series of cells over and over again, the brain wraps that chain in what is called a Myelin Sheath. Basically, it is an insulator that creates an information super highway. It is why toddlers wobble around when they learn to walk, but now you can walk without even thinking about it. It also explains why past hurts that you have dwelt on or critical thoughts you have told yourself repeatedly can now be triggered so easily. Anything vaguely reminiscent of the originating situation almost instantly leads to the same emotional reaction.
So how do you stop that river flowing? If you took a moment to consider that question, almost everyone says something along the lines of, “Dig a new path,” and/or “Block off the old river.” That’s right. You have to stop the water going down the old path and dig a new path. I’m pretty sure you have never been tasked with changing the course of a river before, but you knew how to do it. Why? Because it is simple. But would it be easy? Heck no. That is a lot of back breaking work. It is simple, but not easy. You know how to do it, you just have to do the work. Changing your thinking patterns is the same way.
And consider the river again. When you start digging a new path, will that make much of a difference? No. And will the first few sandbags in the old river slow it down any? No. There is likely to be no noticeable change at first. But, if you keep at it, slowly but surely, that old path will start to dry up. And as more water goes down the new path, it starts to do the work for you deepening the rut. After a while, that is the new normal.” (Humble, 2017)
Truth coaches are the sand bags that were mentioned above. They are truthful sayings that you repeat to yourself to stop yourself from going down the main way of the river, which usually leads to hurt and regret. Say them to yourself enough and eventually the other path, the other reaction will become a deeper groove. Then it won’t be as great of a struggle for your mind to go down.
Just like Humble says above it is not an easy fix. It does take time but I can honestly say that it does make a difference. I haven’t had an over reaction to being embarrassed for quite some time now. At the very least if I do, I know what caused it, as does Michael. This leads to a much faster relationship restoration. Understanding why we react certain ways to certain things is incredibly valuable in itself. Truth coaches are the next step to banishing your UBFs for good.
My Truth Coach Examples:
- I need to take my self-worth out of others hands because it gives them too much power over me
- If others give me my self-worth then they can take it off me any time they like. That is too dangerous for me now
- If a thing is worth doing its worth doing badly while I get better
- In God’s playground he allows room to fail, so we learn from it
- Feeling embarrassed and humiliated is out of date now. It’s just a feeling and it cannot hurt me.
- So what if I’m embarrassed or do something stupid. I will survive it.
- Feeling stupid is not unbearable just uncomfortable and I allow myself to feel it and heal it.
Each spouse has different expectations going into a marriage and trouble generally arises when those expectations don’t align. That’s why it’s important to discuss your expectations right from the beginning and figure out ways you can both compromise. “Exceedingly high expectations can be hard to satisfy, and if we don’t adjust what we expect from our marriage to reflect reality, we run the risk of being continually disappointed.” (Pascale & Primavera, 2016) I really like it how Temple puts it, “A soul mate is someone that you become. It is a process that takes place in a marriage, over time. You don’t start there. Rather than expecting your spouse to naturally fulfill all of your needs as soon as you enter into marriage, go in with the expectation that, over time, you will become all you can be for each other.” (Foley, 2011)
Fairly early on in our premarital counselling the husband and I were asked to write a few lists. The first was all the things our fathers did around the house. Then we had to write another detailing all the responsibilities that our mothers oversaw. The allocation of the mother-father responsibilities in the house you grew up in generally sets the standard for how you expect the chores to be divided up in your own marriage. The issue is they don’t always match up with your future spouse. That’s when you need to sit down and explain to each other how you expect roles and responsibilities to play out in your own marriage. Reach a common resolution and compromise on some of the expectations that didn’t line up so you can move forward.
It’s also a good idea to each make a list about any and all expectations you have going into marriage. You might find you have some unrealistic views that need to be adjusted. Here are 3 unrealistic expectations that I think need to be addressed today.
False Expectation #1
Once We’re Married We’ll Live Happily Ever After
Most little girls are taught from a young age that once you get married you’ll live happily ever after. How stupid is that! There is no such thing as happily ever after in the real world. You won’t always be happy in marriage. No part of life is like that so why would you expect marriage to be like that? Plus you need to have the downs to actually make the ups as good as they are. If you didn’t have valleys it would just be a massive flat plain and that would get boring fast.
You shouldn’t go into marriage expecting your spouse to always make you happy. “If you are waiting on someone else to make your life meaningful and happy, you will almost certainly be disappointed,” says Todd Clements and Kim Beair, authors of First Comes Love, Then What? In a study published by the Australian government’s Institute of Family Studies, the longest-married couples were pragmatic. They didn’t expect a perfect marriage and focused on enjoying their relationship while accommodating their differences.
False Expectations #2
If My Spouse Loves Me They Will Never Hurt Me
Both parties in a marriage generally have the greatest of intentions. But we are flawed people who will make mistakes. So it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when we’ll make mistakes. When your spouse hurts you, in most cases they didn’t intend to. This obviously isn’t the case with abuse. That’s a different story.
False Expectation #3
Marriage is a Contract
A lot of people go into marriage thinking of it as a contract with their spouse. If he makes me happy and provides for our household then I will take care of and love him etc. As soon as the contractual obligations you had in your head are no longer being met then the contract is considered null and void. You want out! “Basically the signers of a contract agree to hold up their ends as long as the other signatories hold up theirs too.” (NewCREEations Ministries, 2018) But that is not what marriage was designed to be.
Instead it should be thought of like a covenant. “With a covenant, both parties agree to hold up their ends regardless of whether the other party keeps their part. A violation by one party doesn’t matter as far as the other party’s responsibility to continue to do what they agreed to do.” (NewCREEations Ministries, 2018) In this way expect to be with your partner until the end as this is what you are promising to do within marriage, even when you’re furious or disappointed. You’re with them until the end. This expectation also helps you realize that you might as well make your marriage as good as it can be because you’re in it for the long haul. (Merrill, 2017)
Redefining expectations within a marriage can be a constant process. Our counsellor suggested having a pre-planned dinner date every month to discuss the marriage and how it’s going. Bring any issues you have to the table in an amicable setting. That way you can deal with them before they become a bigger problem. When your issues aren’t brought up in the heat of the moment, you’re better able to resolve them without arguing. When discussing potential issues take special note of your tone of voice. It’s amazing the difference it can make. You can say the exact same thing but with different tones of voices it can be taken completely differently. How much more likely are you to get defensive if your partner says you don’t do enough cleaning in an accusatory tone then if he calmly and lovingly brought it up?
It’s been said many times before, at just about every wedding I’ve been to, but communication is key. Rephrasing what your spouse has said to you and repeating it back to them to make sure that you completely understand what they are trying to say can help you avoid many arguments. This is a practice which is well worth getting into the habit of doing.
Love and Respect
“So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” Ephesians 5:33Love and Respect is a course Michael and I completed before we got married. It was what our pastor required of us before he agreed to marry us. It’s not just for engaged couples. Those who are married, divorced, separated, dating and single will all find it helpful. It can also be beneficial to any relationship in your life. The main premise the whole course is based around is that men fundamentally need respect while women need love. These two words surface in social research and the bible as the two key ingredients for a successful marriage.
There are three very important truths we can take away from this scripture; we are called to love and respect, men run on respect while women run on love and both are powerful to produce change. (Wilson, 2015) We are told to do these two things because they are things we might not do unless we are told. If we were doing these things naturally, why mention it? Husbands are told to love their wives because it is easy for them not to. In the same way wives are told to honor their husbands because it’s easy for them not to do so.
Women in general are better at loving than men are whereas men do well at respecting. If we need something in a relationship we automatically assume that our partner needs it too. We are much more inclined to show it to them. Thus you get women showing their husbands love, which is all well and good, you should show your husband love but what he really needs is respect.
“Research reveals that during marital conflict a husband most often reacts unlovingly when feeling disrespected, and a wife reacts disrespectfully when feeling unloved. We asked 7,000 people the question, ‘When you are in a conflict with your spouse or significant other, do you feel unloved or disrespected?’ 83% of the men said ‘disrespected’ and 72% of the women said ‘unloved.'” (Eggerichs, 2018)
The Love and Respect course and book goes into this in much greater detail. It also talks about dealing with the negative reactions (the crazy cycle), how to motivate each other by meeting each other’s need (the energizing cycle) and lastly something to aim towards (the rewarded cycle). The rewarded cycle emulates God’s love for us. There is a misconception out there that marriage is a 50-50 relationship. In reality both people should be giving 100%. This is how you reach the rewarded cycle.
Everyone has their ups and downs. Sometimes you just won’t be able to give it a full 100%. But when that is what you are aiming for your marriage is going to better off for it. I would definitely recommend you look into this if you are interested. You can buy the book online and read through it yourself accompanied by the workbook if there isn’t a course being held near you.
Here’s one final thought that didn’t really seem to fit anywhere else in this post. If you want your relationship to be like it was in the beginning, do what you did in the beginning. Keep dating and pursuing your spouse no matter how long you’ve been together. If you do this you will stay flirty teenagers well into your old age. I also want to mention, you shouldn’t be afraid to go to post-marital counselling too if you feel the need. When we went to premarital, we were still in the new stages of a relationship. We didn’t really fight at all. Gina still gave us the tools and methods to fight properly. But it’s not quite the same fighting over a pretend issue as it is when a real issue comes up.
How Premarital Counselling Has Helped My Marriage
Equipped with the knowledge we learned from our premarital counselling, we have had a wonderful first 5 years of marriage. Despite not having lived together before we got married, we were prepared for which responsibilities we would each take on. We had a plan of attack so to speak for the future. We haven’t had too many fights or disagreements and the ones we have had were not over major issues. They were also able to be resolved fairly quickly. We have been able to understand why we each do and react the way we do. This helps us to encourage one another in areas in which we struggle. We are also more careful around unbearable feelings.
The photo below was taken at Glengariff Historic Estate 5 years and 1 week after we first got married there. We were lucky enough to go back for another friend’s wedding. We look slightly older and wiser but I’d say we look just as in love as on our wedding day. Tell me in the comments, did you have premarital counselling? What did you learn from yours? Do you have any advice to give engaged couples?