Is love enough? Unfortunately, we know the statistics. Divorce rates vary, but most have the rate in the low 40% range. Not quite the 50% that everyone talks about, but still an alarmingly high rate. So it seems like love alone is not enough, at least 40% of the time. Sorry, don't shoot the messenger.
Love may not be enough on its own, but it's a good start. When you are considering a serious commitment like marriage, you want to be thoughtful and honest about your relationship. The questions that are usually pondered are: Do I love this person? Can I see myself with this person for the rest of my life? Am I getting married for the right reasons?
How do you answer these questions? What's the right answer? Is there a right answer? Whether it's mutual love, similar interests, or "chemistry", you have to dig deeper into your relationship for the answers. This is my advice. If you ever find yourself thinking that things will get better after marriage, take a step back, a big step back.
How do you dig deeper? One option is premarital counseling. Studies show that premarital counseling reduces the risk of divorce by 30%. The goal of premarital counseling is not to find flaws in one another and point out what issues are going to be a problem. Instead, premarital counseling provides an opportunity to have a meaningful dialogue about what works in your relationship, what areas you can improve on, and what to be aware of if you choose to move forward together.
For many couples, premarital counseling is a welcomed relief. There may be life issues that have been avoided such as children, religion, family dynamics, living situation, and finances. At a deeper level, issues like communication style, stress management techniques, and personality characteristics can be openly explored and better understood by each partner. Conflict will happen, but the resolution can be easier if you truly know your partner. Part of knowing your partner is having open conversations about similarities-differences, strengths-weaknesses, and tendencies-aversions.
One potential issue for couples is misinterpreting your partner. That is, misinterpreting your partner's intentions. If your partner walks away from a conversation to think or gather their thoughts, you might misconstrue the walking away as not caring about the conversation (or relationship). If you are confused by a statement, action, or response then ask for clarification. Many potential blow-ups are avoided by simply stating, "I'm a little confused, can you say more about what you just said."
Communication style can be another major obstacle for couples. Some people like to talk immediately about a problem, while others like to have time to gather their thoughts and then come back to the issue. Generally speaking, men typically want to fix the problem, whereas women want to "talk it out." Counseling can help a couple achieve balance between these approaches or at least help the couple communicate more effectively.
Premarital counseling provides an opportunity to practice how to communicate with one another about serious issues. Confronting conflict may feel scary, but it can actually build confidence in yourself, your partner, and your relationship. The more you practice, the less anxiety, stress, and fear you will experience in the future when a difficult topic arises. You and your partner will be more aware of each other's communication styles, stress management skills, and nonverbal cues (e.g., eye-rolling, head-scratching, etc.)
Take a moment and try this exercise. Reflect on how you felt reading this post, maybe read it again. Which emotions and thoughts did you experience? Now imagine what it would be like to read this with your partner sitting beside you. Would there be tension, discomfort, fear? If the idea of reading this with your partner makes you anxious or brings to consciousness a serious but ignored issue in your relationship, then maybe this post will help open dialogue between the two of you.
I've talked exclusively about premarital counseling, but these same concepts apply to any relationship. It's never too late to improve yourself or your relationship.
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Salmaan Toor is a licensed clinical psychologist practicing in Knoxville, TN. If you are interested in being notified of future posts, you can “like” The Family Center of Knoxville on facebook here or can follow me on Twitter here. Thanks for your support!