Suzanne Pratt is a Certified Gottman Method Couples’ Therapist and owner of CloserCouples.com.
Because divorce statistics have become seriously sobering, many young couples are making the choice to attend premarital counseling before they tie the knot. As couples postpone marriage in order to attend college, to begin careers, and as medical technology allows for family formation much later than ever before, we are seeing the median age for brides and grooms increase. And this is the good news: as couples age beyond 24, their risk of divorce decreases.
What Leads To Divorce?
What leads to such high rates of divorce? Many believe that divorce is a result of irreconcilable differences, incompatibilities, and what
couples are fighting about. According to research by John Gottman, it isn’t what
couples fight about, but how
When criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling are introduced into a couple’s conversation, bonds corrode and marriages fail.
As children, we are taught to be skillful debaters. We are told by our teachers, “Pick a side of an argument—any side—and then back it up strongly with facts, figures and logic.” We learn to do this from an early age, and those of us who are good at it get better grades, larger paychecks, and more prestige. Since we are so positively rewarded for our debating skills, we often use these skills at home, with our parents, siblings, and eventually, with our spouses. If we saw our parents debating, sometimes even with hostility, this is what we do, too. We rely on our templates, laid down in early years, for how differences are met.
But while winning an argument and having your way can work sometimes in professional life, it is disastrous for intimate relationships. Couples need tools for moving away from debate and into diplomacy. Diplomacy skills undo a person’s need for the other to conform. Differences that are honored and handled well make for each person’s personal growth and stronger bonds. According to systems theory, a system is only as sophisticated as its ability to integrate differences (Agazarian, 2000). For example, imagine a child with two parents of different faiths. As she sees her parents engaged in mutual respect, this child can “belong” to more than one community and is better equipped to accommodate differences she perceives among her peers. Extreme value differences and strong feelings, even anger, are not, in and of themselves, harmful to a marriage at all. If expressed with diplomacy, strong feelings and big differences actually can make the family stronger.
Why Engage In Pre-Marital Counseling?
Don’t engage in premarital counseling to find out whether you’re compatible—you will DEFINITELY have major differences no matter whom you marry. Engage in premarital couples counseling to eradicate predictors of divorce. Engage in counseling before marriage to learn communication skills that serve your true goal, which is not to win that fight but to keep the relationship strong for life.
By attending premarital counseling with a well-trained clinician you will:
- Gain an understanding that all couples have intractable issues that cannot be immediately, if ever, resolved.
- Learn to recognize behaviors that predict divorce and have tools for eradicating them from your interaction.
- Strengthen your bond by using exercises that strengthen your friendship.
- Make your marriage affair-proof by learning why and when they can happen.
Recognize that your job as a mate isn’t to marry the person who gives you the feeling of being in love. Rather, you can choose to actively love your partner so that the feelings will follow, not just now, but in the decades to come.
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