It’s wedding season, which means we are in the thick of bridal showers, bachelor/bachelorette parties, and wedding ceremonies. I’ve even noticed an uptick in conversations about weddings in my counseling sessions! People who are not yet married are seeing all the hustle and bustle of planning a wedding, and often wishing that could be them. Being around weddings can make women especially dream about their own engagement and wedding.
While this time of the year is sweet and lovely and full of fairy tales, it’s also important to discuss the reality of a marriage. Once a couple is engaged, there is often a rush to the church alter, without a lot of time to process the leap both are getting ready to make. The divorce rate is high at 50%. I would encourage any couples considering marriage to slow down and be intentional about your commitment to one another.
Have you dated long enough?
One of the things I love about the SYMBIS assessment for marriage (for more info about SYMBIS, click here), is that it assesses couples for marriage readiness. One aspect of this is how long a couple has known one another and dated. There is a direct correlation between the years dating and how successful a marriage will be.
According to Psychology Today, dating 1-2 years drops a couple’s chance of divorce by 20%, while dating 3 or more years decreases it by 50% (Francis-Tan & Mialon, 2015)! Why is this?
Dating longer means you have a chance to REALLY get to know the other person. It means that you have encountered more obstacles, and been able to work through them. It also means that you have been able to see the other person—the good, the bad, and the ugly—and you still feel confident in making a life with them. Time can definitely give you a higher success rate in marriage. Slowing down an engagement buys you a little more time. This can help you determine if this person really is the person you believe them to be.
Have you had some tough conversations?
It’s not unusual for couples to come to therapy a few years into the marriage, and many things have gone wrong. What we usually discover is that they did minimal premarital counseling (if any at all), and don’t know how to communicate about tough things. It’s not unusual for couples to get married, have a honeymoon phase, and then reality hits.
Marriage is going to bring up a myriad of topics that you never imagined. One of my husband and I’s biggest fights as newlyweds was how to fold towels. That may seem ridiculous, but when you mesh two people from two different backgrounds, with two different opinions, there will be conflict.
Make sure that you are discussing tough topics. Do you know where the other person stands on topics such as money, politics, religion, child-rearing, household responsibilities, etc.? Do you have goals together, both personally and financially? If you haven’t discussed any or all of these things, I would suggest slowing down your engagement, get professional help, and learn to communicate to one another.
Are you getting married for the right reasons?
Why are you getting married? This may seem like a silly question, but you would be surprised by some of the answers I hear. If you are settling because you are getting desperate, that is not a reason to get married. I especially hear this from women, “I’m getting older, I want a family, and there doesn’t seem to be anyone better”. Does this sound like the beginning of a marriage that’s going to last?
If you are getting married because someone else thinks you should, or thinks this is the right person for you, it’s not going to work long-term. This is called codependency, and it’s being a people pleaser. You should never get married because someone else thinks this is in your best interest.
Other wrong reasons to get married include chasing financial stability, getting away from your own family, and marrying for looks only. I would recommend asking yourself why you are getting married. If the answer isn’t positive and about loving the other person, you probably need to slow down the engagement and wedding!
Are there some major red flags?
If there are major red flags now, getting married is not going to fix it. In fact, it’s probably going to exacerbate the issues. What are your biggest disagreements about now? Are you able to communicate, and compromise? Or do issues get swept under the rug, never to be dealt with?
Other major red flags include mental health issues, family issues, money, job and work ethic, household help and responsibilities, shared interests, etc. If you are not on the same page with most of these topics, they may create problems later.
If your partner is unkind, and arguments escalate to name-calling and belittling, it’s not going to suddenly get better once you are married. Slow down the engagement, buy yourself some time, seek professional help, and work together to see if some of these issues can be dealt with. If they can’t, you may save yourself from marrying someone you probably shouldn’t.
Do you have time for premarital counseling?
I’ve mentioned seeking premarital counseling a lot, but it’s because it truly can make a difference. I often say that counseling, while a time and financial commitment, is about the long-term gain. Carve out time during your engagement to seek the professional help of a third-party. Make sure that it is intensive, and that you work through an assessment like SYMBIS or something comparable. Don’t just skim over issues because they are uncomfortable. Find a therapist who will be honest with you both, and won’t minimize your issues.
Give yourselves enough time for a minimum of 6 sessions of premarital counseling, with room to add more if needed. Defer to the professional’s opinion on what you both need moving forward.
If you find yourself in any of the above scenarios, please reach out for help. Make sure your marriage is starting off with the best chances for success.
Written by Christy Fogg, MSW, LCSW
*Christy Fogg, MSW, LCSW is a licensed therapist at Journey to Joy Counseling in Carmel, Indiana. Christy enjoys doing marriage/couples counseling, individual counseling, premarital counseling. She also provides family counseling, teen and adolescent counseling.