Our team at The Marriage Recovery Center recently had the delightful experience of doing extensive, in-depth pre-marriage counseling with a couple intent on saving their marriage before it began.
“Over the top,” you might say. Perhaps. “Overly cautious and idealistic,” you might suggest. We don’t think so.
Consider the stark statistics, of which we are all too familiar. We all know and have experienced personally the impact of divorce. Perhaps you have been the victim of divorce, have initiated a divorce because of violence or abuse in your marriage, or have simply watched as friends and family divorced. You’ve seen the personal and collateral damage done, often leaving traces of pain for years.
It was surprising to hear the story of Jeb and Marlys and their unusual request.
“We’ve been dating for six months,” Marlys said during her telephone inquiry. “We’ve both been married a few times before and we don’t want to make the same mistakes. We want to make sure we’re really ready for love.”
“I’m impressed at what you’re trying to do, Marlys,” I said. “Tell me some more about yourselves and what you want to have happen during your Pre-Marriage Intensive.”
“Well, we’re crazy about each other,” she began, hardly able to contain her enthusiasm. “We’ve only known each other several months, but we entered the relationship with the intention of only dating people who were also serious about the relationship leading to the alter. But, we’re both afraid. We’ve said this before.”
There was a long pause on the other end of the line.
“I’m ashamed at what I’ve been through,” she said slowly. “Jeb is afraid and embarrassed that he, too has been through several failed marriages. There has got to be a way to guard against this one failing too.”
“Yes, Marlys,” I said. “There are ways and we can walk you through them.”
“While we are really in love with each other,” she said, “we’ve kept our relationship free from sexuality so that we can become friends and really get to know each other.”
“That’s incredible,” I said. “Most wouldn’t use that kind of self-control, as you know. You’re already making some very wise decisions.”
“Trying to,” she said.
With that we arranged for our first Pre-Marriage Intensive, with the specific goal of helping this couple consider where they’ve been, how they got there, the obstacles to watch out for and how to ensure success—assuming this relationship was viable.
During their three days with us, my co-therapist and myself thoroughly explored the following issues:
First, take a Fearless Relationship History. As difficult as it is, we must consider where we’ve been, and more specifically, what we have been like to live with. We are often not the best people to assess our relationship skills and so feedback from others is often necessary. Look back and consider why any previous relationships have failed? What has been your part in those failures? Knowing yourself and your needs/ values is a critical beginning place for relationship.
Second, consider places of vulnerability. Are you particularly sensitive to rejection? Do you have problems with jealousy? Are you prone to angry outbursts? Consider each ‘raw spot’ and trace it back as far as you can. When do you first remember having these feelings? Do you understand your ‘raw spots’ and can you share them with others?
Third, consider how you are with intimacy—or “into me see.” Are you able to share your most vulnerable feelings with another, or are you guarded, protecting yourself from harm? What feelings are you comfortable in sharing and which ones do you push away? Are you a “stuffer” or “exploder?” Do you retreat when you get too close?
Fourth, consider how you resolve conflict. Do you lean into conflict or push away from it? Are you capable of talking through issues until you arrive at an agreed upon resolution, or do you avoid conflict? Do you retreat when your feelings are hurt or are you able to sit down and share, collaborating upon a solution?
Fifth, when it comes to attachment, do you prefer a little space or do you like to get close? As you consider the relationship you are involved in, do you push away or do you strive to become closer and closer to your mate? On a continuum of detachment and attachment, where would you say you are? Where is your mate? Do you have the same goals when it comes to enjoying a relationship?
Finally, are you able to celebrate friends, family and faith? These are often critical areas that will draw you into closer relationship or become divisive. Do you share friends and do you enjoy each other’s family? Have you thoroughly discussed your faith and how you want to live that out with your mate?
When it comes to being really ready for love, a little work at the front end will alleviate serious heartache down the road. Take the time to become emotionally and spiritually healthy and expect the same from your mate. Contact me if you would like further information on a Pre-Marriage Intensive and how it can help you in your relationship.
Dr. Hawkins and his team of therapists assist individuals and couples to resolve emotional baggage and prepare for dating and love with their Readiness for Love Personal Intensive.