They Lived Happily Ever After
Divorce-proofing your marriage
Other Important Issues
Other issues include in-laws, religion, interracial relationships and children. “Cultural or religious differences often emerge when planning a wedding,” says Patrick Gannon. “A common stumbling block is what faith to raise the kids in.” That leads to the question of how many kids to have or whether to have kids at all. “Engagements are rarely cancelled,” says Michelle Gannon, “but when they are, it’s usually over the issue of children.” She remembers one couple where the man had had a vasectomy at 19, yet his fiancée kept waiting for him to reverse it. She pressured him with the old “If you love me, you’ll do this for me,” and her tactic backfired—he called off the wedding.
Wylie often works on reconciling peoples’ inherited ideas about how to be a partner in marriage. “Many couples pattern their roles and expectations after those of their parents, so we’re talking about two separate—and sometimes conflicting—styles,” she says. These stylistic differences may not be problematic early on, when the couple is so much in love they believe they can work through anything together. But at some point the reality of their differences hits home. “Premarital counseling can help them develop a common set of skills to fall back on when trouble arises,” Wylie explains.
The “Pre-Engaged” and The Seven Year Itch
Currently, an estimated 60% of engaged couples are already living together, giving rise to an intriguing group that Patrick Gannon calls “the pre-engaged.” These are people who’ve been living together, sometimes for years, and are already past the honeymoon stage before they even get formally engaged. In fact, they’ve been together long enough for differences to crystallize—the kind of differences that can strain a relationship beyond repair.
“They’re at the ‘Seven Year Itch’ stage,” he says, “which in reality most often appears in the fifth year. People start asking themselves the question, ‘Did I make the right choice?’” Gannon says the question and what prompts it are normal in a long-term relationship. “The skill is in knowing what to do at this point. The worst thing to do is avoid issues. Couples can become strangers to each other as they tiptoe around problems.”
How Do Counseling Sessions Work?
Nancy Landrum, a pastoral counselor based in Anaheim Hills, leads classes with her husband, Jim, and conducts personal sessions by herself. “The first thing I do is take a ‘relationship inventory’ of a couple’s attitudes,” she says. “It will often reveal assumptions that may not be mutual, such as having children.”
She and her husband are very directive, even to the point of assigning homework, including reading, exercises and basic skills to practice. At their workshops, the Landrums team up to present skits based on their personal experiences. “When others see the foibles and problems we’re illustrating, it puts them at ease and gives them hope that their own problems are solvable,” says Landrum.
Rebecca Herrero, at Creative Transformation in San Anselmo, offers counseling over 10 one-hour sessions. At the beginning, she and the couple create a plan that covers topics of interest to them. “I like to take a complete family history and learn what family roles and myths each person experienced,” she says. “A typical question I might ask is, ‘How did your parents argue or fight? Did they shout or shut down and sulk?’ This invariably has an impact on the marital relationship.”
Herrero’s approach, which she calls Conjoint Couples Therapy, takes a slightly different direction than other counseling strategies. “I work mostly with one person in the couple, while their partner is present and listening. This process often allows the listening partner to hear new things while in a non-defensive mode.” She also offers Passionate Partner seminars, where she helps couples do away with their fear that marriage will mean the end of romance. “I teach that the opposite is quite possible.”
Counselors agree that one of the most gratifying parts of their work is when couples come back and thank them for their help. “They say that the premarital process we shared deepened their appreciation of marriage and equipped them with tools which enhanced the skills they already had,” says Herrero.