What do you think of when you hear the words "pre-marital counseling?"
For many, the traditional Catholic pre-cana comes to mind — a series of meetings with the parish priest, sometimes in a group environment with other couples that involve talking about how you're going to integrate the Catholic faith in your future married life. Most other religions require some one-on-one or couples sessions with a rabbi, priest or pastor, before you can be married in that synagogue or church.
While religious counseling plays an important role for many brides and grooms, actual relationship counseling for the engaged couple is even more important to the health of the marriage, says Elizabeth Carroll of WEtv's Marriage Boot Camp, who is also the co-director (with her husband Jim Carroll) of the real-life Marriage Boot Camp program for couples.
So why doesn't every couple choose to invest some time in relationship therapy before they exchange vows that purportedly bind them to one another for the rest of their lives? Probably because of judgmental friends who assume a relationship is in serious trouble if they find out the bride and groom have gone to counseling. In fact, I always had the opinion that if you can't figure out your relationship without professional help, you probably shouldn't get married. Apparently, I was very wrong.
"There's no stigma to relationship counseling anymore," Carroll says. Psychologists and therapists are an everyday thing for many Americans, who rely on having a professional sounding board to help them keep their lives on track. In fact, taking the proactive step to sign up for pre-marital counseling gives many couples a leg up on their friends who try to struggle through the incredibly life-changing event of marriage without any professional guidance.
"Pre-marital counseling helps couples address topics that might be difficult to bring up with each other, and it addresses topics that some brides and grooms haven't even considered," Carroll says. While we might assume that every couple has talked through their long-term life goals, that isn't always the case.
For example, if one partner really wants a houseful of children, and the other just says "maybe" to kids, they're setting themselves up for conflict from day one. If one half of the couple is blinded enough by love to hear "maybe" as "eventually," they could end up heartbroken in the not-so-distant future.
Another major relationship roadblock can be either half of the couple's attachment to their hometown. If one person plans to live there forever, while the other has a budding career that could involve relocation, at some point, the relationship will crumble. It's okay for one person to be family-focused, and the other to be career-focused, if they mutually understand, and agree to, their life goals.
*Sandy Malone is the owner of Sandy Malone Weddings & Events and author of * How to Plan Your Own Destination Wedding: Do-It-Yourself Tips from an Experienced Professional. Sandy is the star of TLC's reality show Wedding Island, about her destination wedding planning company, Weddings in Vieques.