I’m a big proponent for pre-marital counseling, although I don’t market myself specifically as a premarital counselor, (and there are some therapists who do specify their work as towards this) I definitely believe that taking the time to plan and discuss things, particularly goals and expectations, is absolutely necessary for long term relationships, whether it involves marriage or just cohabitating together. It’s important to know what we are getting into, who we are getting into it with, what their expectations are for the short term and the long term, whether they want children, parenting styles, who will work, who will stay home, do they want a career, and so on and so forth… And it also helps to get to know ourselves. What do we want and expect from the relationship, and what do we expect from ourselves within a relationship?
We have this idea, an idealistic ideology which suggests that “love is all you need,” well sure, yes love is good, but we also need more practical things, yes, I know, less romantic things as well, such as commitment, communication, and understanding. It also helps to know what your partner’s expectations are, as well as what your expectations are before jumping feet first into a long-term commitment of some sort. We have these romantic notions that love will help us work everything out, but that is often only the case if true commitment is there and comparable ideals and goals.
Dr. Helen Fischer, PhD did a lot of research on the subject of love. She cites three phases of love: Lust, Romantic Love and the long term Attachment Phase Love. The basic notions are that the early stages of lust and romantic love trigger synapses in our brains which release chemicals and/or hormones which mimic the state of being high, as though one is on cocaine. This could explain why in our society where we put such a heavy weight on falling in love that there is also such a thing now-a-days as “love addiction.” People, in essence are chasing the high of falling in love, i.e. the stages of Lust and/or Romantic love. As a sex therapist, in my office, I see this all too often, fear and panic sets in as the romantic love wanes and lends its way towards attachment phase love. People wonder, “What is happening to our sex life, and/ or sex drive?” When in all actuality, this is natural. Most passion, romance and excitement is apparent in the first 18 months of the relationship. After that, what is really happening is that the long term, attachment phase love is kicking in. Dr. Fischer also cites this phase as biology’s way of making us ready to procreate. After all, when we are in a state of being high, as though we are on cocaine, we are not very well cut out to be parents. This is why the final phase of love, the attachment, security, call it what you will phase is a natural part of life and love. Besides who would want to be high all the time anyway?
Here is the thing. You cannot account for everything. On a day-to-day matter in marriage there are always going to be things which you did not account for. For example, “I had no idea that my husband loves to travel,” should not be something you realize after he’s gone on trip #4 without you, or “I had no idea my wife hates swimming,” if you’re an avid beach go-er. These are just examples, and you’re probably laughing, saying you would know this stuff. But you would be surprised how little people often know about each other. There is bigger more serious stuff, like having children, staying home to raise the children, save money for a bigger house or for a better vacation. These are just some examples of things you should know about before saying, “I do.”
Another thing to account for is that people change. Premarital counseling as a concept suggests that counseling needs to happen before the commitment is made, however I would like to remind that as people we are constantly growing, changing, ebbing and flowing, that our desires change, our wants change, our ideas change, our expectations change and our minds change. Sure, your husband said may have said one thing, about one month into the relationship or during premarital counseling, but the part that he forgot to mention, or the part that you refused to hear was that his expectations for a girlfriend and a wife are quite different. It helps to sit down and talk about these in a setting where you will both be listening as well as communicating. Premarital counseling is a lot about expectations, and getting to know your partner. In the sense that people are constantly growing and changing, we should consider doing “premarital counseling” often and regularly, so that we may grow and change with our partner.
Doing premarital counseling early can save a lot of confusion, frustration and anger down the road, and doing premarital counseling often can save your relationship in the long term.
© Copyright 2011 by Mou Wilson. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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