So Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux just announced their split after two and a half years of marriage. As a couples therapist, what I always think when I hear of a short duration like that is that the seeds of discontent were already present by the time of the engagement, and most likely a lot sooner.
That’s why I’m a proponent of premarital counseling.
If you’ve never heard of it but you’re thinking about marriage, planning for it, or just hoping, you might want to read on.Premarital counseling is a therapy that is designed to prepare you for marriage. Some therapists do this in a structured way, with specific handouts or questionnaires, but whatever the method, the goal is to help you recognize areas of strength and weakness in your relationship.
Yes, no matter how happy you are, there are some weaknesses, or maybe a better world is vulnerabilities. If you think of your relationship as a rope, there are certain parts that are more frayed than others. In premarital counseling, you can identify in a specific way what those parts are, and figure how to lend additional support.
Every couple has positive and negative dynamics. When you’re under stress, the negative dynamics will tend to show themselves most clearly. It might be that you tend to seek closeness, and he tends to withdraw, or vice versa. But these are repetitive ways of interacting that can be become problematic over time–either because they’re more frequent or more intense or both.
So with premarital counseling, you’re essentially kicking the tires, and then if you need to, you can work on how to fill them up with more air. That decreases the odds of them going flat, and you ending up divorced.
One of the reasons that premarital counseling is so effective is reflected by the old adage: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. You can learn to recognize and anticipate. You also normalize–you realize that every couple has their problematic dynamics; it’s about how you manage them. It’s about staying a team no matter what.
Another reason premarital counseling tends to be effective is because your investment level is high. Too often I see couples after one of them has lost his or her commitment to the marriage; this doesn’t mean infidelity, it just means being checked out. One of them is no longer invested in staying together, and is just going through the motions with one foot out the door. Sometimes they’re showing up for counseling because they think it’s what they’re supposed to do so they can say they’ve done everything; it eases their guilty conscience. They can say they’ve tried but really, they’re not prepared to do the work to restore their relationship. They’re out of love, and out of gas.
But when you’re engaged, you’re preparing to tell the world that your relationship is fit to last forever – that you want it to last forever. Premarital counseling helps you do the work that will increase the likelihood that you’ll get the happy ending you seek.