Shortly before my wedding I stumbled upon an unusual sight: My fiancé, Andrew, was sitting on our couch. But instead of watching a Yankee game or a golf tournament, he was reading Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, a self-help book recommended by Rabbi John Rosove, our officiant. We'd decided to have a Jewish wedding and a week earlier has met with the rabbi at Temple Israel of Hollywood to discuss the nature of our relationship. Apparently, Andrew was taking the homework seriously.
The average American engagement lasts 14.5 months, and couples spend most of it focused on planning the most special, personal, kick-ass party celebrating their decision to spend their lives together. What gets less attention is what happens afterward, when that life beings. In the lead-up to the big day, friends and family ask about flowers and the dress but never about how you envision your future together or whether you have a savings plan. Occasionally, one may throw out a perfunctory "Are you excited to be married?"
Still, those hard questions need solid answers before you walk the aisle, and that's where premarital counseling comes in. "The main purpose is for the bride and groom to say things aloud that they hadn't before and to unearth any areas of concern," explains Rosove, who spends two to three hour-long sessions with engaged couples. "There's no perfect relationship. You need to address troublesome issues because they don't go away."
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This may sound like work, and the process isn't always comfortable. (It wasn't for us, especially when the rabbi's questions about finances were met with nervous giggling. Ah, creative freelance types.) But it can provide critical tools for the future. "It's not meant to be a burden," says Reverend David Monteleone of Saint Joseph Roman Catholic Church in Mendham, New Jersey, whose Pre-Cana program — the Catholic church's premarital counseling — includes a long questionnaire given to the bride and groom separately, then graded and flagged for follow-up, and a sit-down session with a married couple, priest, or deacon, individually and as a couple. "It should enrich your life and help your enter marriage without false expectations."
For me, what was most illuminating about the process was the way Andrew threw himself into it; I saw how committed he'd be to keeping our marriage strong.
A similar thing happened to my friend Devon Whitney, who was starry-eyed over her fiancé, Stefan, when they began two intensive days of counseling with the Episcopal priest at Stefan's childhood church. "The priest encouraged us to get real about how we'd share money and domestic roles or handle a crisis," she says. "I don't know if there's any way to anticipate the hurdles you'll face, but it's useful to have someone knock you out of the fog and ensure that your love can withstand hard and unexpected problems.
Nora Zelevansky is the author of the novel Semi-Charmed Life and has written for Vanity Fair, Elle, and T magazine. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, Andrew, her one-year-old daughter, Estella, and a big-boned cat named Waldo.
This article originally appeared in the April/May 2015 issue of BRIDES.