From the latter part of the 20th century, the institution of Marriage has seen a progressive decline. Studies have shown that since 1970, divorce rates have trebled. 20% of all marriages end in divorce. Another 20% of couples living under the same roof are emotionally divorced from each other.
“Getting married is easy,” says Flack, “Staying married is more difficult. Staying married for a lifetime should be considered a Fine Art.”
There are many reasons why marriage has been devalued. Some consider it an “oppressive institution.” It is much more convenient to live-in with a partner, with no shackles that bind. The very concept of permanence is anathema to young people. Changing partners is much more fun.
Yet for those who still believe that marriage is the very foundation of family and society, premarital counseling is an important step to ensure stability, security and permanence of the union. Much money, time and energy goes into planning of a wedding. But no serious time is spent preparing for the lifelong vocation of marriage. The more thought and preparation goes into planning one’s future, the greater the likelihood of growing old together.
The marriage counselor is a trained professional. He is sometimes a pastor who is theologically sound and is secure in his own marriage and family relationships. The counselor allows the couple to explore different areas of the relationship. He makes them introspect on their fitness, maturity and readiness to make a commitment to each other. Is this attraction true love or just lust or a magnificent obsession?
The counselor listens carefully to both parties and helps them discuss their expectations, disagreements, communication issues and other problems that might crop up after marriage. The counselor brings these issues to light and helps them decide whether they would make compatible partners or whether their attitudes are so divergent that entering into marriage would be a disaster. Counseling would help them realize that they never knew each other well enough.
Scope of Premarital Counseling:
• Compels introspection. Are you ready to face responsibility and mature enough to cope with the otherness of your mate?
• Why marry? Ask yourself the reasons why you want to get married. Is it because your friends have all married? Or do you want to escape from parental supervision? Or you just long to have a home and family of your own? Perhaps the man is looking for a cook and the woman wants a provider.
• Values: Do you have similar values or do they clash? If so, marriage will be a tug of war.
• Character: Manners are important. Is the person you intend marrying over possessive, have controlling behaviour, suspicious, or the type who clings?
Self centeredness is also detrimental to marriage. Is he/she addicted to drugs, alcohol or other substances?
• Determine the qualities you want in a mate. Behaviour traits, relationships, health, ambitions, goals, career plans must all be considered.
• In-law relationships: Take a good look at the family. Is it a stable family? How are women treated? Will you have to live in a joint family? In-laws can often be toxic and create problems for the couple.
• Occupation of the spouse: Absentee husbands, working wives, high-tech jobs, salaries, are some of the issues that must be discussed.
• Understanding your roles. Who will be responsible for what, within and outside the home?
• Culture and religion: If of different religions, decisions must be made regarding expressions of faith. Which faith will the children follow?
• Children: Size of the family, contraception, abortion, family planning, infertility, adoptions.
• Finance: Who will control the purse strings? Insurance, debts, illnesses- how will these be tackled? People with high financial status may be reluctant to share their wealth with their mates. Film stars are notorious for their pre-nuptial agreements. But in most home, keeping money separate- the “yours” and “mine” mentality will lead to tension.
• Dowry: In Eastern and Asian countries, the problem of dowry harassment is a major stumbling block. Wives are tortured or even killed if dowry demands are not met. Many desperate women commit suicide.
• Importance of Sex in marriage: Prudish? Oversexed? It takes time to develop a mature and satisfying sexual relationship. This cannot happen overnight. Time will be needed for adjustments. Both must be aware of the variability of desire.
• Past relationships: Both must be emotionally unencumbered by their past relationships. Bringing the ghosts of past relationships into marriage will invite suspicion and deter bonding.
Outcome of Premarital Counseling:
The couple gets a clear idea of whether or not they agree on major issues. “Can two walk together unless they are agreed?” Are there too many incompatibilities and irreconcilable differences? If so, it would be best not to marry. The counselor will outline the pitfalls of entering such a marriage. If the counselor is a pastor, he will be well within his rights to refuse them a church wedding.
If the differences are minor, they must have a mutually agreed plan on how to solve future disputes. Awareness makes it easier during such times.
In 1992, when a hurricane hit South Florida, buildings were all flattened except for one house that stood upright. TV crew asked the owner how he had managed this feat. He said that he had built his house according to the Florida Building Code which could withstand any hurricane. Obviously the others had not followed the code.
Couples need to follow the Marriage Building Code if they want to weather the storms of life. One counselor called pre-marital counseling a “vaccination against a sick marriage.” Another called it a “marriage boot camp”. Professional guidance is given over a period of five to eight sessions, so that all issues are sorted out. Each is reminded that the responsibility of staying together belongs equally to both.
As the Book of Proverbs says, “Plans fail for lack of counsel.”
by Eva Bell