Hours spent on wedding plans: Hundreds
Dollars spent on wedding vendors: Thousands
Time spent on Marriage Preparation: Priceless

The average couple will spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars preparing for their wedding day. I get it. It’s an important lovely day. It’s a party for family and friends and, in some cases, an opportunity for the bride’s childhood dreams to come true. Over 50% of these well-spent couples will end up divorced. There doesn’t appear to be any correlation between the lavishness of the wedding and the health and longevity of the marriage.
So, while you’re doing everything you can to prepare for your wedding day, you might want to consider the 50 years that you’ll, hopefully, be spending together after the honeymoon. Consider adding some Marriage Preparation to your Wedding Planning.
Statistics show that couples who do some premarital counseling, divorce approximately 30% less than those who don’t! It’s like buying insurance.
I can hear you saying, “But we’re in love. We don’t need therapy”. And you may not.
Premarital Counseling is not always therapy in the classic sense. Yes, some couples do come in needing to resolve certain issues that surface in the face of wedding planning. I’m thinking specifically of financial pressures, religious differences and family dynamics. But even if you’re not exactly struggling with one another, now is a good time to learn better communication skills and put some important tools in your Marriage Toolbox to give your new marriage every opportunity to succeed.
Did you know, for example, that relationships unfold in predictable stages? In the Romantic Stage, nature helps us out with a chemical cocktail to get us going. We are flooded with cortisol, dopamine, oxytocin and vasopressin. These hormones increase our alertness, pleasure, motivation, trust, attachment, sexual arousal, attraction, and obsessive thinking, while decreasing our sadness, fear, and boredom. This is where we fall in love, believing that we’ve found our soulmate and that nothing could ever go wrong. For a lot of people, this stage is where the decision to marry and the proposal takes place.
For better or worse, this stage is not meant to last. After several months (up to 2 years) it is replaced with the next stage, the Power Struggle phase. At this point, the chemicals wear off and we slowly (or suddenly) begin to see that our partners are not actually perfect. We may begin a campaign to get them to change back to the way that they were when we were in the Romantic Stage. The only problem is that this is their true selves. We’ve just lost our chemically induced rose-colored glasses.
Research tells us that the average amount of time that a couple waits to seek counseling after they begin the Power Struggle phase is 6 years. This means that they will experience a significant degree of discomfort and unhappiness while trying to negotiate the natural ups and downs of their relationship dynamic…usually without the right tools!
Research also shows that there is a window of opportunity during the year before the wedding and the six months or so after when couples can receive the optimum benefit from marriage preparation. Later, under stress, negative habits and relationship patterns may become established and be much harder to resolve.
If you can get premarital counseling, either before or during the Power Struggle
stage of your relationship, you can avoid much pain and agony, as well as circumvent the formation of bad relationship habits. With guidance from a trained Relationship Therapist, you can learn an effective way to communicate better, resolve conflicts and deepen intimacy. In other words, you can leave the Power Struggle behind and move toward Stage 3: Mature Love.
The thing that you will learn in the pursuit of deep and lasting love with your partner is that we don’t get married to be happy. While being happy is nice, actually, marriage has a higher mission. It’s mission is to assist each other in transformation. When we experience conflict it is the opportunity for growth and expansion of our highest selves. Our spouse becomes our ally in helping us to reach our highest potential as human beings. Your marriage becomes like a living laboratory where our deepest wounds are triggered and, hopefully, healed. The healing, however, can only take place when you have the right tools. Arguing and fighting about or burying and ignoring issues, will not promote healing. In fact, this is more likely to cause even deeper wounding with the person you love most.

So what are these tools?

Deep listening without judgment
Connection through touch and eye contact
Curiosity about your partner’s world
Zero negativity
Learning and speaking your spouse’s love language
Creating sacred relationship space
Mutual goal setting

In an ideal world we would all have the capacity to stay centered and present in the face of our spouse’s upsetting behaviors. We would be able to employ these tools easily without emotional reactivity. The truth, however, is that it’s difficult and requires coaching and practice.
John Gottman, PhD, a leading researcher in marital relationships has found that couples who stay married work to keep criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling (refusing to discuss) out of their relationships. He calls these “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”. Indeed, these patterns can become apocalyptic in your relationship, especially when repeated over time. In premarital counseling, you can begin replacing those habits with good, healthy communication patterns including the tools listed above.
So what are the topics to discuss in premarital counseling?
Now you know that it is important to get some help learning and using good communication tools before the wedding. But what are the topics you’ll want to address with your fiance during your marriage preparation? Start with these:

Shared goals
Lifestyle Expectations
Sexuality and Intimacy
Families of Origin
Religion and Values
Personality Traits

Couples today face more demands and have less support than ever before. The typical marriage is complex and includes managing two careers while rearing children without much extended family support. Gone are the days where Mom and Dad live next door and are available to help in tangible ways. Parents are likely to still be young and vital enough to be working, traveling and pursuing their own interests. It is more necessary than ever to build a strong foundation with your spouse that will get you through the stresses and strains of modern life.
Marriage preparation functions as an immunization that boosts your capacity to handle potential difficulties. Why not give yourself every advantage to succeed?

Author's Bio: 

Mary Kay Cocharo is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Certified Imago Relationship Therapist in Santa Monica, California. She has been working with couples before marriage for 23 years. In addition to weekly sessions, she offers one and two day intensives for couples to prepare for their marriage. She also facilitates one day Imago workshops for engaged couples, called Start Right, Stay Connected. You can reach her at 310.828.2624 or at mkcocharo@ gmail.com.