You put a ring on it, you’ve made it Facebook official, and now planning all the wedding details is in full swing. Marriage is an exciting time; the venue, the décor, the celebration, and the honeymoon! Another key part of making a lifelong commitment is preparing for the future of your relationship. Premarital counseling is an excellent way to launch a lifetime of love. With the guidance of a counselor and a program created for couples, like SYMBIS (Save Your Marriage Before It Starts), you and your partner can create a personalized roadmap for a strong, passionate, and successful relationship.
Proactive Plan for Succuss
The research supports the positive impact premarital counseling and education have on the future success of a relationship. Getting pre-marriage training helps lower couples’ rate of divorce by 31% and increases marital satisfaction and fulfillment by 30% (Parrott & Parrott, 2019). Being prepared for marriage is about relational readiness and knowing your strengths, growth areas and creating a roadmap that will help support continued strength.
Knowledge is Power
There’s never been a marriage like yours before.
(Les & Leslie Parrott)
Working with a counselor and taking an assessment, like the SYMBIS assessment, helps arm you with personalized details about yourself and your relationship. You and your partner will gain unique insights that you can leverage to support the type of partner you want to be and the kind of relationship you want to have. During premarital counseling, you will explore topics like:
Finances and your money management style
Family of origin
Values and spirituality
Love languages and intimate connection
Longings and dreams
Get Started Before the Big Day
Start now to build a foundation that will last a lifetime. Premarital counseling will vary by counselor, but most take approximately 6-8 sessions (spread over about 2-3 months). If you live in Texas, you can qualify for $60 off your marriage license and waive the 72-hr waiting period when you complete an approved premarital training course with a Twogether in Texas facilitator.
Throughout the process, you and your partner will engage in meaningful dialogue about key topics and issues couples face. Start building a culture of empathy and appreciation that will help you navigate whatever twists and turns the future holds. Then set sail on a lifetime of love!
I personally didn’t ever expect myself to marry a military soldier due to being afraid of the possible distance. It is emotionally draining being away from your partner for months or maybe even years. No matter how many times the separation occurs, it seems to be just as intimidating. Here are some helpful hints to get in a positive groove with your military spouse or even a long distance partner.
1. Talk about the upcoming separation
Before it even happens, it’s extremely important to sit together and share what your fears are about the soon-to-be distance. Allow each partner to share without interruption and brainstorm ideas together to make them feel less scary. Throughout the separation continue talking and bringing up new fears and emotions that pop up before they become a bigger problem.
2. Keep active and stay busy
Whether that’s picking up a new hobby, being outside with nature, surrounding yourself with loved ones, or creating a daily routine, do whatever you can to distract yourself so you don’t feel alone at your own home.
3. Discuss how you will stay in touch
Schedule a daily or weekly time to talk on the phone or video sessions. It gives you a positive part of your day to connect and look forward to together. Even talk about the type of communication you would feel closest to.
4. Continue to make plans together
Plan vacations that you will take together once reunited again. Plan smaller activities you took for granted and want to do together again, such as biking, kayaking, or taking the dog on a walk. This really helps with providing reassurance that life will be back to normal again some day.
5. Kicking it back to pen pals
Write letters to each other and send care packages. Share about your day or how much they mean to you or what emotions are coming up for you as you’re writing. Receiving mail from your partner is a way to make anyone smile and think of you.
6. Seek support if needed
This could mean staying at a family’s house or seeing friends over the weekends. This could also mean seeking a therapist for an additional safe space to process.
7. Distance gives you the opportunity for the heart to grow fonder
This is the chance to really test your communication skills and prove yourself as a couple. You will learn how to communicate about aspects that haven’t come up before. This distance is also a reminder of the good times and how thankful you are for them.
8. Be flexible and open-minded
The military will control your partner’s schedule and it will be frustrating when you just want to see or talk to them. If you don’t already know, ask and understand why your partner is in the military and how it benefits both of you.
9. Have shared experiences together
Read the same book or listen to the same music playlists and compare notes and opinions. Use technology to watch movies or shows together or even play games online at the same time. This provides some type of normalcy of being together even if it’s through a screen.
10. Acknowledge this is not easy
This is an experience not everyone goes through and is extremely hard. The best way to get through this time is to work together as a couple. Establish mutual trust, honesty, respect, and remember you are both going through a challenging time. Remind your partner that you love them.
As a couples therapist, I see couples who are struggling to re-invigorate their sex life, they are struggling with finances, they have trouble raising their children, etc. Having these reasons in mind as to why many of my couples come in on the brink of divorce, researcher Dr. John Gottman says that the main reasons why couples divorce is due to sex, finances, and raising children. I must say that though Dr. Gottman has a point, I disagree—couples divorce due to lack of emotional connection.
If you are not emotionally connected and engaged in your marriage, you will not be able to manage a sex life together, manage money together, or create a safe parenting space together. Dr. Sue Johnson, creator of the dynamic Emotionally-Focused Couples Therapy, says that the erosion of an emotional bond between two partners is the beginning of the end to their relationship. As humans, we are wired to connect in a safe and emotionally healthy way. If we do not have this in a marriage, we will slowly disconnect and eventually divorce if no action for couples therapy is taken.
Disconnection can look like many different things. Maybe you and your spouse keep arguing about household chores or who will walk the dog next. Perhaps a spouse can feel unsupported in their idea to switch careers. Maybe there is just an overall feeling of loneliness on both parts in the marriage. The main point to understand on a general disconnect in the marriage is that it can be understood and helped. Much of what we do in couples therapy at Austin Family Counseling is strengthen the emotional bond between partners as well as create a safe space for re-engagement and for couples to work on issues that have been reasons for feelings of disconnection in their marriage. Basically, a general feeling of disconnection is not a valid reason to divorce when there are many resources and tools to help build and strengthen your marriage. Rarely do couples come to me with the presenting problem of lack of engagement and leave the therapeutic process unhealed, reassured, and optimistic about their exciting new opportunities to re-spark their romantic life.
Extreme cases, however, can absolutely be reasons to separate. In my years of practice, I have seen such reasons for a therapist to recommend separation as physical abuse, emotional/verbal abuse, and active addiction.
This is perhaps the main reason that couples should divorce. Physical abuse of any kind is not acceptable in a marriage or any other kind of relationship. Physical abuse is seen in marriages where one partner has significant anger issues and has not managed their emotion to the point of it being unsafe to be close and vulnerable to this person. Women who stay married to physically aggressive men are very likely to have come from abusive households where they see abuse as a “natural” thing.
According to the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, since the stay-at-home order has been put into effect in 2020, an alarming increase of domestic violence cases has occurred in the US. More partners are shut into their homes with their spouse, putting them more at risk of physical danger when the aggressive partner becomes triggered. Other effects that are brought on by the stay-at-home order are alcohol abuse, depression, and symptoms of post-traumatic stress, all VERY easy triggers of physical abuse.
If you are involved in a physically abusive marriage, I urge you to reach out for help and escape from a dangerous situation as soon as possible within your boundaries of safety. If you are in Austin, the Salvation Army’s Austin Shelter for Women and Children, the SAFE Children’s Center, and Casa Marianella are all places where women and families can go for refuge from a physically abuse situation. As a couples therapist who becomes aware of physical abuse, I am ethically bound to stop couples therapy immediately and let the abusive partner know they need to do their own counseling and anger management if couples therapy ever resumes.
Aside from physical abuse, verbal and emotional abuse is another form of abuse that is sadly much harder to spot. Physical wounds leave visible marks, but emotional wounds can go unseen for sometimes decades. Emotional abuse is defined as any form of emotionally manipulative behavior perpetrated by one person to another that can cause PTSD, stress, or anxiety. Some forms of it are below:
Gaslighting: making the partner being gaslit think something is different than they actually experienced it. Example: “Something must be wrong with your memory because I never said that!”
Minimizing: making someone feel inadequate or unworthy based merely on how they are feeling Example: “I don’t know why you’re feeling that way, you didn’t have it that bad!”
Intimidation: using threatening language to reinforce a sense of control by the partner through invoking fear. Example: “I will hit you if you say that to me one more time!”
Though no form of abuse is ever acceptable, there tends to be more hope for emotional abuse than physical abuse in the couples I see. Sometimes, separation is key for partners where verbal abuse is going on before they are able to come back together and make the decision to either stay together or divorce. However, in my sessions with couples, a hard boundary I hold is to have no gaslighting, minimizing, intimidation, or name-calling in session. If you believe your partner has narcissistic qualities in them, definitely seek help for mental health as these can have longlasting negative effects on someone’s sense of self.
Though many treatment modalities indicate couples can survive an active or recovering addiction, in extreme cases a marriage cannot always survive. If a partner is currently abusing alcohol and becomes physically or emotionally abusive, it is in the other partner’s best interest to leave when the marriage becomes an unsafe place. Unless the addicted partner commits to going to AA or therapy to work on their addiction, the marriage will become an unsafe place for both people, triggering an abusive cycle that both partners will be feeding into.
When a partner is addicted to an illegal substance (i.e. cocaine, methamphetamine, heroine, etc.), the marriage is further complicated due to the unlawful possession of illegal substances in a household. Not only is the marriage riddled with addiction and addictive patterns, but this presents the marriage with far more dangers and reasons to divorce. Though only one partner is using, both spouses when living together are subject to legal ramifications that puts the non-addicted partner in a very precarious position.
When couples come to me with an addiction present, I hold a firm boundary that the person who is addicted seek help through groups (i.e. AA, NA, SLAA, etc.), separate individual counseling, or in further cases checking into a detox and addictions treatment center for couples therapy to continue. It is unethical to do couples counseling while a noticeable addiction is going on due to the fact that the vulnerability needed in couples therapy can at times exacerbate the addicted spouse’s addiction.