Santa Barbara Premarital Counseling

Lovers don't finally meet somewhere. They are in each other all along.

What is Premarital Counseling?

To really love another in a deep way makes life worth living. We can experience many achievements during our lifetime but without the experience of losing ourselves in love, the successes can feel shallow.

In finding a soul mate we often experience deep feelings that we somehow have known this person even before they entered our lives. It can seem incomprehensible to understand but we know we feel we have found "that someone" who makes us feel more complete as a human being, our "other half."

"falling in love" has it paradoxes
"falling in love" has it paradoxes

In our culture love is often connected to romantic love. The great western romantic myth of Tristan and Iseult indicates how "falling in love" has it paradoxes.

On the one hand romance enlivens us, moves us beyond our mundane lives to "feel the excitement of connecting to someone outside of ourselves." When we are in love our world seems brighter and we often have euphoric emotions - life is fantastic, we feel "fully alive".

The other side of romantic love is the search for the ideal, the person that we hope will transform our lives. The problematic illusion is how we often believe that it is the responsibility of the one we love to make us happy and fulfilled. This illusion has led to many unhappy marriages.

The dark side of romantic love is believing that love should serve us. Not the other way around. We become more in love with love than with a real person.

Certainly romance is essential to the ongoing vibrancy of any relationship. But there has to be more. After the initial excitement of "falling in love", there has to be more to sustain and enrich a couple when they face the realities of daily life.

Premarital counseling helps couples prepare for marriage. The process includes the celebration of romance but also assists in "doing the work" to develop a strong and healthy relationship --- giving a couple a better chance for a successful marriage.

Throughout history many religions have required premarital counseling before conducting a marriage ceremony because of the belief that counseling should occur before two people make a commitment to make sure they are compatible and understand the essential elements of creating a successful marriage.

It is important for individuals in love to have a place to reflect on both their strengths and weaknesses. To assess how these strengths and weaknesses will affect their marriage. This type of openness leads to less serious problems later. Sometimes "love is blind" and it is helpful to have an unbiased professional to help a couple "see" what might lie ahead.

What happens during Premarital Counseling?

Love does not consist of gazing at each other, but in looking outward in the same direction.
- Antoine De Saint-Exupery

Couples will be asked to complete a brief marital inventory
Couples will be asked to complete a brief marital inventory

Couples will be asked to complete a brief marital inventory to give focus to the counseling sessions. The focus of the sessions will be on the skills necessary to create a vibrant and satisfying relationship.

Premarital Counseling is usually completed in six to eight visits. However, depending on the needs of a couple, it can occur in a shorter or longer time period. Often a couple will want a few visits after the marriage to keep "on the right track."

Some of the general questions and focus during Premarital Counseling include, but are not limited to:

1. Why our we getting married?

During Premarital Counseling there is exploration of the essential reasons for getting married. The reasons can range from, or be a mixture of, "that's what I am supposed to do" to "I want to spend the rest of my life with this person."

2. Are our values complementary?

Opposites do attract. Couples often come from various backgrounds and have differing outlooks on life. Exploration of attitudes about gender roles, religion and spirituality, ethnicity, and what commitment means, are essential for the future success of a relationship.

Over the years it seems the question of having children or how to raise children have become very important for discussion prior to marriage. The "child question" often leads to further exploration of cultural values and religious and spiritual orientations. Agreements in advance on the "child question" can avoid problems later in the marriage.

It is important to consider a Meaningful Ritual
It is important to consider a Meaningful Ritual

Value decisions can come quickly even before the marriage vows. This can occur with decisions related to the type of ceremony (or not) each person would like for their marriage day. In a society where there is often an absence of meaningful ritual, it is important to explore the type of "rite of passage" that each person envisions for their wedding day.

Even a simple civil ceremony can have tremendous meaning if done with mutuality and awareness of the importance of the event. Beyond the legal oath, it is important for the couple to ask one another, "what is the real oath that we want to make to each other?"

Other value issues that often occur for discussion relate to money and finances, career and work, sexuality, friendships, and family.

3. How will our lives change?

Everyone enters marriage with expectations about how life will be after the marriage ceremony is completed. This can even occur for couples who have lived together. There is something about the ritual and legality of a marriage ceremony that changes a couple.

For those that haven't lived together, discussing the development of a household is important. Making basic decisions about location, use of personal items, household routine, chore responsibilities, and the new daily structure are important issues to discuss prior to the wedding.

It is amazing how simple routine can become problematic when original agreements about the new household have not occurred. Developing a mutually agreement upon living arrangement is essential for creating a healthy physical environment that also provides an atmosphere for emotional health and growth.

The reality is that life is going to change after marriage. The important point is to be conscious of "how" and to develop strategies that make the transition mutually supportive.

4. Are we sexually compatible?

It is important for couples to assess their sexual compatibility before marriage
It is important for couples to assess their sexual compatibility before marriage

Although this can be a very personal, and sometimes difficult question to discuss, it is important for couples to assess their sexual compatibility before marriage. This can be especially important for couples, who because of their values or religious beliefs, have not had sexual relations prior to marriage.

A major issue that can become problematic relates to the intensity of sexual desire. There are no prescriptions about how often sexual intercourse or sexual activity should occur. However problems do happen when sexual needs differ significantly or when openness to sexual experimentation beyond intercourse is different for each person.

Although developing a satifying sexual life is essential to a successful marriage, human sexuality is not just a physical act. Our sexuality with another person allows us to experience the deeper human emotions of trust, intimacy, vulnerability, and the ability to give oneself openly to another person. Having these deeper emotional experiences are ultimately what keeps a relationship alive and enriched.

5. How will we Deal with Conflict and The Difficult Times?

Conflict is inevitable and necessary for a successful marriage
Conflict is inevitable and necessary for a successful marriage

As the saying goes, "life is one darn thing after another." No marriage goes smoothly. The question is how to maintain a strong relationship through the tough times.

It is important to explore the quality of each person's communication skills and how a couple plans to handle conflict. We are not born with good communication skills, we learn how to communicate effectively.

Conflict is inevitable and necessary for a successful marriage. Conflict can be constructive or destructive. Those couples that learn to fight fairly often have the best marriages.

There can also be difficult times resulting from a significant challenges or crises inside or outside of the relationship. It is helpful to have some preparation regarding how to handle these difficult periods in advance of their occurrence.

New Systems for Financial Management are necessary
New Systems for Financial Management are necessary

Some examples of marital challenges include financial problems, the arrival of a new baby, the inability to have children, loss of a job, health problems, death of a loved one, sexual problems, physical or verbal abuse, an extramarital affair, or substance abuse and addiction.

In order to overcome the challenges that will affect a marriage, couples need a strong early commitment to face future problems together, to be open to learning ways to strengthen, not weaken, the marital bond when the marriage isn't going well. It's also important to learn ways to give and receive emotional support when life isn't easy. A strong partnership can turn a crisis into a new opportunity for marital growth.

6. How will we Deal with our Families?

Although parents want to be perfect, there are no perfect parents. It is important for couples to examine the ways their parents have been both strong and weak role models for their upcoming marriage.

It is easy to repeat both the good and bad elements of parental relationships without knowing that we are unconsciously following in our parents footsteps. It is essential for couples to examine the past and to consciously decide what type of marriage they want for themselves.

You don't marry an individual you marry a family
You don't marry an individual you marry a family

We don't marry an individual we marry a family. An important question is whether the in-laws (and often siblings and relatives) support the marriage. Examining family relationships is crucial to the success of a marriage.

In-laws, siblings, and relatives can provide a strong support system or a divisive and toxic barrier to a strong marriage. Many marriages thrive with little in-law and family support. It is simply important to know where each family stands on the upcoming marriage because familial attitudes can have a significant influence on the marriage in the days ahead.

Evaluating the level of family involvement each partner wants, or needs, before the marriage can avoid future marital discord. It will also provides a clear message to the couples' families regarding what role and supports they want from their families in the future.

Many families are "blended" meaning that two previous families "get married". This can be an adjustment not only for the newlyweds but for the children and families of both families.

In this case it is essential to examine not only the response of the in-laws, but for the children that will be involved in creating a new family and a new life. In this case family counseling prior to, and after, the marriage may be helpful.

7. Will we have the Time to Create a Successful Marriage?

Are you willing to make a time commitment for a successful marriage?
Are you willing to make a time commitment for a successful marriage?

In modern life we often hear people say, "I have no time for the important things in my life" or "There just aren't enough hours in the day." Successful marriages make time to regularly reflect on their marriage.

For a marriage to work successfully over a long period of time, it is important from the very beginning of a marriage that a couple make a commitment to each other to set aside some period of time to regularly assess and evaluate the state of their marriage.

In this regard it's important not to assume that your spouse has the same feelings the same as you. Many times when someone asks their spouse for a divorce, the other person will say, "I had no idea there was any problem." Typically in these cases the couple had not developed the time or forum to communicate what was really happening in their marriage.

Each couple needs to develop their own unique forums to assess ways to preserve and improve the quality of their marriage. For some it might be regular daily "check-ins" about their day and what they need from each other. For others it might be a regular "night out" away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. Whatever the method, it is important that couples establish a process early in a marriage to find the time to build a strong marriage.

Is Premarital Counseling Effective?

For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all tasks; the ultimate, the last tests and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.
- Rainer Maria Rilke

There is much more research on the effectiveness of marital therapy than premarital counseling. More research is needed in this area. However in reviewing the literature on premarital counseling, the overriding indicator of premarital counseling effectiveness is a couple's commitment to the process.

You will need to find new ways to give and receive love
You will need to find new ways to give and receive love

Committing to the process means developing essential skills during the counseling sessions to deal with some of the recognized challenges of marriage. These include, but not limited to, looking at the reasons for getting married, assessing the impact of values in marital decisions, coping with change, improving communication skills and learning how to handle conflict in a healthy way, evaluating sexual compatibility, handling extended family issues, and creating time for ongoing improvement of the marriage.

If a couple addresses these issues before marriage, it is safe to say that there will be positive outcomes for their marriage.

Ultimately what "puts our life" finally together, and which is ironically one of our most difficult tasks, is to find ways to give and receive love. In the moments that this occurs there is a feeling of magic and deep fulfillment. Taking the time in counseling to prepare for the great task of marriage can only help on the amazing journey of finding fulfilled love.

If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change the way you think about it.
Mary Englebreit

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