By Jonathan D. Sherman, LMFT
Please share this with someone you know who is contemplating marriage, is engaged or recently married. You may save them years of unnecessary frustration and sorrow.
Most people get married to stay married. However, with fifty percent of first marriages and sixty-five percent of second marriages ending in divorce, it seems like a dicey proposition at best. The good news is that approximately two-thirds of divorces could be prevented with education and intervention. One of the absolute best ways to prevent divorce is to get that education and intervention as soon as possible—even before the problems arise.
The main problem most divorced couples report was their inability to manage and resolve conflict around various issues (most commonly: finances, parenting, in-laws and sex). The issues themselves, however, are less important than the impact of the conflict on both adults and children. For example, some of the deleterious effects of marital conflict are:
- Destructive parental conflict is a key risk factor for both children and adults developing physical and emotional problems. Stress and conflict have major impacts on our physiological and emotional systems.
- Poorly managed conflict is a predictor of marital distress, divorce and children’s acting out behaviors (such as aggressiveness, depression and anxiety).
- Marital conflict can impact work productivity, increase stress and decrease life satisfaction.
Conversely, marriage researchers and therapists Jerry M. Lewis, M.D. and John T. Gossett, Ph.D. (Disarming the Past, 1999) define eight characteristics of a healthy marriage:
- Both partners work together to define the relationship
- The marital bond balances both closeness and time apart
- Both being interested in the other’s thoughts and feelings.
- Expressing feelings is encouraged.
- Managing conflicts so they do not escalate out of control or become overly discouraging.
- Well-developed problem-solving skills.
- Sharing common values.
- Well-developed ability to manage stress
Marriage education (either through counseling or workshops) works to help couples both prevent unnecessary conflict and manage necessary conflict more effectively so they can put their time and energy into the reason they got married in the first place: to enjoy one another’s company throughout their lives together.
So what is learned in premarital education? Couples learn the guiding principles (knowledge) and practical techniques (skills) to create, maintain and enhance a great marriage such as:
- How to improve communication and understanding skills
- How to improve conflict management and problem solving skills by learning how to “fight fair.”
- How to balance love as a feeling with love as a behavior.
- How to develop couple stress management strategies.
- Learning to work together as a team.
- Learning how to harness the power of acceptance and forgiveness.
- Learning relationship enhancement skills such as appreciation, sacrifice, deep listening, friendship building
- Learning the benefits of a healthy marriage and the impact on children. (such as happily married couples: live on average seven years longer; earn and save more money; tend to be more independent and less reliant on government services; have greater sexual satisfaction than unmarried people (really!); are safer as they experience less violence in the home. Children in happily married homes: tend to do better academically; are more likely to develop long-lasting marriages themselves; experience less violence and neglect; fare better emotionally and physically, and engage in fewer risky behaviors (i.e., sex, substance abuse, delinquency and suicide).
- Learning what to expect in the course of your marriage. Removing blind spots and having realistic expectations can prevent a lot of headaches. Such as: dealing with the in-laws (yes you are marrying his/her family); negotiating and balancing work and family needs; understanding and responding to sexual differences; adjusting to becoming parents and figuring out how to develop “our” parenting style.
- How to control finances so finances don’t control your marriage.
- How to put each other first in all things.
Just as buying a car and then never maintaining it isn’t enough to keep it running, falling in love and living “happily ever after” isn’t enough to maintain a marriage. No marriage is guaranteed and marriage in and of itself is not the answer. How we relate to each other and treat our marriage is the answer. We must then do everything we can to make our marriages as strong as they can possibly be. I realize that not all marriages can and should be saved. However, there are many that can be saved and since you got married to stay married why not learn all you can to actually make that happen?
My encouragement to you is to look before you leap. Marriage education gives people a chance to take a good hard look at their relationship to see if marriage at this time with this person is really a good idea or not. And if you have already leapt learn all you can to make it rock solid and absolutely great.
Join me for the fun, upbeat and informative “Pre-Marital Workshop: Prepare for your marriage, not just your wedding.” This workshop is perfect for recently married couples, too. Space will be limited. This workshop will begin when class size is full. Call 801.787.8014, contact jonathan@MarriageEnvy.com or visit MarriageEnvy.com/marriageprep to register and for more details.
Jonathan Sherman is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and Relationship Coach specializing in creating "greatness in relationships." He is experienced in assisting people learn how to improve their marriages, their parenting and themselves through skill development, life coaching, overcoming depression and anxiety, stress and anger management, and addiction recovery. He teaches extensively on a wide range of relationship topics. He is the founder of MarriageEnvy.com and The Relationship Wellness Series