This article on premarital counseling is based on the book, Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts (SYMBIS), by Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott
So you are planning to get married. Congratulations! You might not realize it yet, but despite what The Beatles sang, love is not all you need!Being in a successful marriage can greatly increase your overall happiness. People in successful marriages report feeling more consistently happy, experience more positive emotions, and find a deep level of satisfaction in life. In addition, having a spouse can provide you with a trusted partner when making life decisions and a friend, support, and confidant during trials.
Here are some statistics to consider:
- 87% of adults age 18 to 30 plan to marry eventually and 82% expect to be married for life.
- In spite of the high number of divorces that these young adults have witnessed – often up close and personal – most still hold the belief that they will marry for life.
- 76% of married couples say they wish they had premarital education.
- 86% of Americans over 18 say all couples considering marriage should get pre-marriage education.
- Couples who do not receive pre-marriage education are more likely to see their problems as atypical and unsolvable.
- 41% of divorced couples say lack of premarital preparation contributed to their divorce.
Does Premarital Counseling Really Work?
Research has found that couples are 31% less likely to divorce if they get some type of premarital training prior to marrying. Couples who participate in premarital training report a 30% higher level of satisfaction and enjoyment than those who do not participate. Going through premarital training is an important step in safeguarding your relationship.
“There is no more lovely, friendly, and charming relationship, communion or company than a good marriage.” – Martin Luther
The typical couple spends over $25,000 on the wedding. They may spend months planning the wedding ceremony and honeymoon in great detail. But all that preparation for the ceremony does not ensure that the marriage will be a success.In fact, a recent study found that couples who spend less on their wedding tend to have longer-lasting marriages than those who splurge. Specifically, the study found that women whose wedding cost more than $20,000 divorced at a rate roughly 1.6 times higher than women whose wedding cost between $5,000 and $10,000. And couples who spent $1,000 or less on their big day had a lower than average rate of divorce. Your investment in premarital counseling could pay off for a lifetime.
Saving Your Marriage Before it Starts
The premarital training I offer is based on the work of Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott – relationship researchers from Seattle Pacific University and authors of the book, Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts (SYMBIS).
They have developed a SYMBIS premarital assessment for couples to take. This assessment is based on a wide range of research about nearly two dozen dimensions related to healthy marriage relationships. Over one million couples around the world have taken this assessment. It has a high degree of reliability and validity.
Once a couple completes the SYMBIS assessment, the results come to me for review. I then work with the couple for several sessions, carefully talking through all the intricacies of the results. In the review, we will discuss what each partner brings to the relationship, areas of common ground, areas of difference, and any potential red flags. In some cases, one or both partners might be referred for some individual counseling to resolve any issues that might hinder future success of the marriage.
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.– Genesis 2:24
One key area that is assessed is marriage momentum. This is a composite of four factors: marriage mindset, wellbeing, context, and personality dynamics.
Let’s take a moment to look at each of these:
Marriage mindset reflects the way each partner thinks, feels, and believes about marriage. Mindset is impacted by many factors, including childhood family background, values, life goals, attitudes about divorce, educational level, and ethnicity.
SYMBIS identifies five mindsets: Resolute (22% of the population), Rational (23%), Romantic (19%), Restless (22%), and Reluctant (14%). Discussing each partner’s marriage mindset helps them to develop self-awareness and awareness of each other.
Wellbeing is a gauge of the psychological health of each partner. Wellbeing is a reflection of self-concept, maturity, and level of independence from parents. This is a part of the assessment where any red flags can be identified.
Here is a list of potential red flags that might indicate the need for individual counseling: anger, anxiety, depression, addiction, stress, eating disorder, suspicious, sexual promiscuity, pornography, physical illness, abuse between parents, abuse by someone, current abuse, annoying habits or unrealistic expectations.
We also explore relationship wellbeing by discussing the length of the couple’s dating relationship, the quality of the dating relationship, and their common core values. Research indicates that we are most compatible with a partner who shares the same core values.
Context has to do with the “baggage” each partner brings to the relationship. In this part of the assessment, we discuss the social context. This includes the degree of friends and family each have, the relationships with future in-laws, how each relates to the other partner’s friend group, and if applicable – an exploration of the couple’s faith community.
We also look at the financial context – how each handles money, their general outlook on finances, and the financial skills each bring to the relationship. Since money issues are often a source of conflict for many couples, it is important to gain a thorough understanding of their financial context.Finally, we explore the expectation context. In this section of the assessment, the couple and I discuss how day to day tasks were handled in their family of origin and then what expectations each of them have for how tasks will be handled in the marriage. All couples have certain expectations about who will do what in their future marriage – who will cut the grass, who puts gas in the car, who prepares meals, etc. It is critical to discuss these expectations prior to marrying.
If one or both partners have been married before, an additional section for context will be added. It is critical for anyone who is remarrying to clear up any unresolved issues with their former spouse or in-laws, tackle any remaining legal or financial issues, and to properly grieve the end of the previous marriage.
We will also take time to discuss their ideas regarding blending a family if one or both are bringing children into the marriage. This is a critical area of the assessment. Remarrying and blending a family presents some unique challenges and complicating factors that need to be discussed in order for the new marriage to have a strong chance of success.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. – 1 Corinthians 13:4-5
Another key area we discuss from the SYMBIS assessment is Dynamics. This is the section where we really dive into personality and other very features unique to each individual. We discuss:
- Love and sex
- Attitudes toward challenges
- Bridging the gender gap
- Managing conflict
- Spiritual intimacy
This is such an exciting section. When two unique people come together, they form a couple like no other. As we process through the unique dynamics, we discuss eight different personality types: achieving, pioneering, energizing, affirming, cooperating, unwavering, deliberating and analyzing. We will also take a look at two continuums regarding personality – fast paced vs. slow paced and people vs. task orientation. In this section, we also look at problem-solving style.
A great marriage is not when the ‘perfect couple’ comes together. It is when an imperfect couple learns to enjoy their differences.– Dave Meurer
Next we look at perspectives regarding love and sexuality. We will discuss when each partner feels most loved. We will also look at expectations regarding sexuality – elements of sexual desire and attraction, expectations regarding who will initiate sex, and ways to talk about sexuality in a healthy way.
Another area we will explore is each partner’s attitude about challenges. It is unrealistic to believe that once a couple says “I do,” that they will magically be happy. There is often an initial increase to happiness but studies show this tends to fade after two years. At this point, some couples start to question the marriage or whether something is wrong with them. Resiliency and optimism are key attributes that help a couple adjust and deal with life challenges.We will then turn our focus to communication. Studies show that 97% of couples who rate their communication as excellent are happily married. The SYMBIS assessment shows each partner’s talk style, how each partner likes to be spoken to, plus areas each partner has identified as an area for improvement.
We also talk about healthy ways to manage conflict. Couples need to view conflict as a normal part of a close relationship. Some couples believe that conflict is an indicator of problems in the relationship. However, no couple can live 24/7 under the same roof and not have some moments where conflict will erupt. We will really dig into details in this section to try to thoroughly equip the couple with skills to manage conflicts – both large and small. We look at processing issues as they arise, how to manage high emotion, and how to keep resentment from building up. We will explore issues that are most likely to prompt disagreement as well.
Be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.– Ephesians 4:32
Faith and Spirituality
In the final section of the assessment, we evaluate and discuss the importance of spirituality and faith for the couple. It is key for each partner to understand the other’s view on faith and spirituality, what faith practices are part of their lives, how they see their unique perspectives on spirituality impacting the relationship, and any areas related to spirituality that have caused conflict.
I love working with couples on premarital counseling. For many couples, this is their first experience attending counseling. My goal is to create a comfortable and relaxed environment where each partner can be open and honest. I want them to know that seeing a counselor is good and fruitful at any point in their relationship. In fact, I encourage couples to return for follow-up check-ins after the wedding. You don’t know what you don’t know until you are actually married. By returning to counseling three months or six months after the wedding, we can work together to address any issues that have cropped up. Issues are so much easier to tackle when they have not gone unaddressed for a long span of time.
Perhaps you are in a serious relationship and considering marriage. Why not take the important step of starting premarital counseling? While the wedding ceremony lasts only a few hours, the positive impact of premarital counseling can last for years and years. I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and a trained SYMBIS facilitator. I would love to help you get your marriage off to a great start.
“In love,” courtesy of chelseashell, pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Sunset Cliffs,” courtesy of Taylor L. Spurgeon, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Wedded Bliss,” courtesy of Tom the Photographer, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Holding Hands,” courtesy of Timothy Kolczak, unsplash.com, CC0 License