[This is a guest post by Randy Hamm from The Marriage Mentor. He has been working with premarital and married couples for over 10 years.]
“Um, to be honest, what would we talk to a mentor about for 6 hours?”
I had just explained that I usually recommend a minimum of three, 2-hour sessions (for a total of 6 hours) for premarital mentoring. The bride-to-be (let’s call her Kate) on the other end of the line couldn’t imagine needing to talk for so long about their relationship. I had them complete an online assessment, and once they began to see their assessment results, they decided that it couldn’t hurt. Halfway through the second session they, specifically the guy (let’s call him Will), commented how much they enjoyed the process: exploring their differences, looking at the families they came from and their styles of communication. Now they are eager to get to the next topics of discussion (finances, sexuality, kids, etc).
With estimates of over 10,000 weddings per year in the Vancouver area and the vast majority of them going ahead without any thought of marriage preparation, I can see why it’s hard for many to consider this option.
Why should someone consider marriage preparation? Here is a top 5 list of reasons:
5. Your communication can always get better.
Much of marriage preparation is identifying your strengths and growth areas as a couple. You’ll have the opportunity to build on the strengths you have and find tools to improve on the weaker areas. Communication is a tricky thing. It’s something we usually do well, but learning what can turn it into conflict and how we deal with that isn’t easy. This is something you’ll have to do for the rest of your life together – it makes sense to get a little help with it.
4. It’s much cheaper than a divorce.
A friend of mine told me how much his divorce cost him. Aside from tens of thousands of dollars there was also the individual pain and separation of his relationship with his kids. He wishes he had done some good marriage preparation. Maybe it would’ve helped avoid what he never imagined would happen. A church program may cost you nothing but time. Meeting with a mentor or counsellor may cost somewhere between $150-1000, depending on the number of sessions. I think it’s worth it.
3. Studies show that with marriage preparation, marriages have a 30% increase chance of being long-lasting and satisfying.
Couples who participate in premarital programs experience a 30% increase in marital success (study by Carrol and Doherty, 2003).There are a number of marriage preparation options out there: a weekend conference hearing from a speaker, a video series put on by a church, seeing a professional counsellor, or perhaps a few sessions with a pastor. Barnabas, which is a retreat centre on Keats Island, hosts an excellent premarital weekend. The best approach I’ve seen is focused mentoring with the premarital couple (either with an individual mentor or a mentor couple), enabling true communication about the core areas of the marriage relationship. Finding something that isn’t just to check off your list, but a good fit for you, is important.
2. You don’t know what is to come in your life.
Nothing will cause me to question my love for my partner. Do you agree or disagree? Most premarital couples would agree, until we begin to talk through realities that couples face in marriage. “Oh, that won’t happen to us,” is often the response. It’s worth talking through some of these potential realities and how you might react. Our expectations, usually quite high, will likely set us up for disillusionment. But talking them through can bring an acceptance of the complexity that marriage offers.
1. You don’t know each other as well as you think you do.
Most of us fall prey to the myth that we know each other, almost completely. The reality is, as you get older you even learn so much more about yourself as an individual. As we prepare to give ourselves to someone in marriage, it’s a great time to have someone guide you through exploring where you and your partner have come from (family of origin) and how that has affected how you’ll respond in marriage. This gives you the opportunity to offer even more grace to the other when they act completely different than you’d expect.
A favourite question of mine is “What would the marriage of the groom’s father with the bride’s mother be like?” And if the answer is, “Oh that would be a train wreck!”, I remind them that they both bring aspects of their parents into this relationship.
Another favourite question of mine to ask is, “Is love all you need for a happy marriage?” Most would answer like you probably have – no, there has to be more than romantic love. But what does that look like?
Marriage is an amazing relationship. I love doing weddings and seeing the joy of two people coming together in a lifelong covenant. The shared joys, companionship and deep love bring a smile to my face. Yet, I love to see a couple ready for all the years ahead; ready to face all that marriage has to offer.
Taking some time before you get married or in your first couple of years to prepare for your marriage will pay off. It doesn’t have to happen in those stressful months right before your wedding, but anytime, from pre-engagement to the first years of your marriage. And ladies, if you can’t get your guy to read this, drag him to some kind of marriage preparation. 80% of the time it’s the women who initiate it, it’s just how we’re wired. And men – you’ll be surprised how beneficial it is.
Our couple from the beginning story, Will and Kate, will be getting married under “their tree” soon, and their community will dance a jig in support of their marriage (during the ceremony.) And I will rest assured that they are well prepared for all that will come their way in marriage.
[Randy Hamm and his wife, Hannah, have been married for 17 years and have three amazing kids. They love biking around Vancouver, traveling, gardening, great stories and living life to the full. As a family, they’ve survived road trips to NYC and California and a trip to China to work with disabled children. They know the importance of commitment and the hard work it takes to stay happily married in the midst of daily pressures. Randy has been working with premarital and married couples for over 10 years. You can find out more about what he does over at The Marriage Mentor.]