They Lived Happily Ever After
Divorce-proofing your marriage
by HCTG Staff Writer Patrick Totty, Illustrations by Michael Tse
Do These Two People Have What It Takes To Stay Married?
She thinks: “He’s my soulmate. He listens to me, he’s passionate—but tender when I need him to be—and he’s so good-looking. My girlfriends adore him. There are a few small things I’d like him to change, but I’m sure that will happen once we’re married.”
He thinks: “She’s so beautiful that my heart stops every time she walks in the room. And she loves me! She even likes watching sports! We never argue about anything. Being married to her is going to be like living in paradise.”
A potent combination of love, desire and giddiness have inspired this pair—and many more like them—to envision a perfect future together. What else could they possibly need?
Well, it turns out there is one more thing: premarital counseling. Despite the elation of having found Mr. or Ms. Right, many couples are realizing that love is not always enough once the honeymoon is over and their marriage settles down into a long-haul partnership.
“Most people know somebody who’s been divorced, including members of their own family,” says Michelle Gannon, a San Francisco-based psychologist who has counseled pre-marrieds for 15 years. “They really want to make sure their relationship is going to last, and they see counseling sessions or workshops as a kind of marriage insurance.”
Gannon and her husband, Patrick Gannon, conduct private sessions as well as a weekend workshop for couples called Marriage Prep 101. The course teaches the same communication techniques that research says most happily married couples use to stay together.
Beyond concerns with divorce, says Patrick Gannon, “people realize that it’s not all about love and lust.” Those two elemental forces are fine for creating and sustaining a couple’s initial attraction, but for relationship longevity they have to be accompanied by something more. That “something,” says counselor Mary Pat “MP” Wylie, Ph.D., is a set of practical skills. Wylie, founder of Irvine-based Wylie Relationship Systems, says, “The more skills couples have going into a marriage, the better prepared they are for the hurdles that inevitably come up.”
Identifying Potential Problems Early
Those hurdles often exist even before the wedding ceremony. “According to a Creighton University study, sex, money and time are the big three issues that surface during premarital sessions,” says Patrick Gannon. “With sex, the concern is maintaining a mutually satisfying sex life not just during year one, but throughout the entire marriage.”
“Money issues tend to come up after marriage,” he says. “That’s when the person who’s earning more may become possessive or controlling about where money goes.” Even so, says Michelle Gannon, many couples grapple with money concerns well before they tie the knot. “In much of California they have to face the high cost of supporting a household in an expensive urban area. And they often have to resolve the issue of credit card debt: do they share it or not? pay it off before the wedding or bring it into the marriage?” She also sees couples getting mired in debt even before they’ve begun married life by plunking down a small fortune on their wedding—often as much as $30,000 or $40,000.
The third most common issue, time, usually comes up around work, especially if one partner perceives the other is spending—or will be spending—too much time working. On the other hand, couples also have to determine what they think is enough time together and enough time apart to keep the relationship happy. Time also impinges on sex. “Is there as much lovemaking as both partners desire?” asks Michelle Gannon. She teaches that, as unromantic as it sounds, married couples eventually need to schedule sex. “That’s just the reality of married life once routines and responsibilities impose themselves.”
Otherwise, she warns, newlyweds can become part of a gloomy statistic: 20% of married couples make love 10 or fewer times per year. Or they may drift into affairs—current statistics show that 44% of married men and 25% of married women will have one. “We suggest that sex doesn’t always require fireworks, and it doesn’t always have to end in intercourse or orgasm. Simple affection is sometimes all you need at the moment.”