Written by: Rebecca Hirsch, AMFT
Getting engaged can be one of the happiest and most exciting times of your life. When your partner pops the question or you two mutually decide that you’re both ready, excitement and joy fill you up. You get to share your love and joy with your families and close friends and celebrate your relationship. That excitement and joy can often quickly turn into stress and feeling spread too thin with wedding planning, appeasing families, and discovering what a financial burden weddings can be. Amongst wedding planning chaos, couples often have a “power through it” mentality and avoid or ignore issues that will inevitably pop-up. Planning a wedding can uncover differences amongst the couple and their families, such as financial expectations, boundaries with family members, and communication differences. They often see addressing their own issues as something that can be sidelined until after the wedding, because adding one more thing to their to-do list may seem over-whelming or just too much stress.
I will sometimes hear clients in couples therapy discuss that they felt embarrassed to attend therapy before they got married because that must have meant something was really wrong with the relationship, or they thought the stress would subside after the wedding and things would just improve on their own. This is simply not the case. Premarital counseling is not just for couples who have major issues in their relationship and stress and resentment do not magically disappear overnight. Premarital counseling is beneficial for any and every couple, no matter how healthy the relationship is.
What couples therapists often see are couples who get engaged during the “honeymoon phase” or the “infatuation stage” of a relationship. When you fall in love with someone, chemicals are released in your brain that says, “This feels GREAT!” These are the same chemicals that are associated with addiction. Your body is actually becoming addicted to this person which tells you, “I need you” and “I can’t live without you”. Pair that with a society that already places high value on romantic love and being married by a certain age, and you can’t help but think, “This is it.” The infatuation stage can last anywhere between six months and two years. That is a long time!
The timeline of how long the infatuation stage is especially important in a culture, such as ours, that places expectations about being married or “settled down” by a certain age. As people enter their mid-20’s and 30’s, they can’t help but feel pressure to find their special someone and tie the knot. These two factors (the timeline of the infatuation stage and the pressure to settle down) influence couples to get engaged, and often times before they are truly ready to take that next step in their relationship. As they plan their wedding, which adds more stress to the relationship, the infatuation stage can begin to wear off. “Real” issues come up, which may be new to the relationship. When issues arise when they haven’t before, this can feel really scary and foreign to a couple, and they often do not know how to cope with it. They blame it on wedding stress and do not address the issues in effective and healthy ways. Over time, unresolved issues can increase resentment in the relationship and can cause more friction and conflict. When issues do not go away and the infatuation stage has worn off, couples question their decision if they married the right person.
The scenario depicted above is not true to every couple, but happens more often than couples therapists would like. Premarital counseling is helpful for couples to get ahead of issues that will inevitably arise in their relationship. It is also useful to get a better understanding of how your partner communicates about tough topics, especially if tough topics haven’t been brought up yet, such as money, sex, boundaries with in-laws, religion, and parenting. Premarital counseling offers a safe space to discuss difficult issues as well as an objective third party to ask questions that you may not even have thought about. Going to premarital counseling does not mean that there is something wrong with your relationship. Attending premarital counseling is a way to learn more about your partner and their background as well as to be better equipped to handle stress and conflict that will eventually come up in the relationship.
If you are interested in learning more about premarital counseling or setting up an appointment with one of our couples therapists, contact Symmetry Counseling.