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Elisabeth: Why Marriage Requires a Number Two Pencil


by Elisabeth, Contributing Editor

Elisabeth: Why Marriage Requires a Number Two Pencil | A Practical Wedding

This post. I’m so in love with this post. In one fell swoop it sums up why we hired Elisabeth as a 2013 writing intern. It’s one of those giggle-quietly-to-yourself-while-hoping-no-one-notices-while-thinking-about-things kind of… moments of magic, really. Plus, it makes you fall in love with her (if you didn’t already two weeks ago, with her body image post). When I quoted David the line, “But how can I take you at your word if there are so many words?” he just looked at me meaningfully.

Meg

Elisabeth: Why Marriage Requires a Number Two Pencil | A Practical Wedding

K and I were both interested when our awesome priest (words I feel weird saying, but that’s another blog post) gave us our first assignment as part of our mandatory pre-marital counseling. “It’s a relationship assessment Scantron test that’s guaranteed to give you at least seventy-eight conversation starters about your relationship,” W said. I wondered why we needed seventy-eight more conversation starters, while K gleefully mused, “It’s like getting to take the ACT all over again! I love tests!”

“No cheating,” W admonished us, “I’ll be able to tell if you talk to each other and decide to answer in the same way.” Dutifully, we only spoke in vague tongues about the test, although truthfully, the possibility of answering in the same was unlikely. Since we began this poignant and profound journey of planning our wedding, guess what K and I have agreed on? Exactly nothing. Seriously. Here’s how K decided to marry me, in mostly her own words:

1. “I came home from our first date and g-chatted Denny to ask if it was too early to invite you to Chincoteague for summer vacation.” (Writer’s Note: summer vacation was three months later. This is what we lesbians call the U-Haul. PS: Absolutely too early, and I totally freaked.)

2. “I eventually determined I liked sleeping next to you and was interested in always sleeping next to you.”

3. “Here’s this syllabus I made called ‘Graduate DTR Seminar’ with a list of different topics we should discuss like family, cats, and long-term health care. And then at the end we’ll see how we do and decide if we want to be together forever.”

Can you even handle this adorable accountant?! She is so many facts to my feelings! We are a delicious yin and yang of pocket protector meets processing! Where she speaks in binary black and whites, I speak in emotional grays. Where she mulls things over in a calm, robotic orderly fashion and comes to a conclusion three days later, I say everything I’m feeling immediately, emphasizing that these potentially conflicting emotions and thoughts are all true because I’m feeling them all. The other night K asked me, piteously, “But how can I take you at your word if there are so many words?” I just looked at her meaningfully.

Our communication styles aren’t our only differences. We have wildly different families of origin, different views of marriage and how or why we, as a queer couple, should participate in a tradition that continues to exclude us. In fact, we can’t even agree on what to call this current nebulous period, as in, the time when we’ve decided to get married and are planning a wedding party and letting our friends in on it. You know what that’s been called since the voyage of the Dawn Treader? An engagement. Since we can’t agree, I’ve resorted to calling it our Initial Public Offering, as if we’re a plucky start up negotiating with Wall Street. (Wedding Planning Conflict: not just for straights anymore!)

Soooooo, we have not exactly been in sync with each other while planning this wedding. We’re both coming to these conversations with a lot of baggage, politics, and emotion. And those conversations beget more conversations, and we both end up holding so tightly to what we want, or thought we wanted, that we can’t seem to inch a step closer to the middle. How can K acquiesce and let me call it an enga(y)gement when this feels like a negation of her moral code? And if I, so accustomed to celebrating every milestone large and small with my community, agree that we don’t need to mark it as a moment in time, will I feel like I’ve missed out?

Being as in touch with my feelings as I am, I thought I’d breeze through the test, merrily filling in bubbles about my beloved. But wow, was I wrong:

“The romantic love of our relationship will fade over the years.” Agree/Disagree/Undecided

Well I DISAGREE, since I’ll always love her, but I AGREE since someday I may not fervently love her as much as I do right now, but I don’t want to say that and hurt her so what the hell am I getting a divorce if I answer this.

Good news, though! I ultimately decided to be honest in my answers, and soon we were back in W’s office listening to our results.

It turns out that while we both found sections of the test a little lame (“Do you think your partner is pregnant?” WE’RE LESBIANS, TEST!), the umpteen personality, couple, family, and relationship dynamic scores it spit out were enlightening. Equally helpful was having a neutral third party there to take us through it, to congratulate us on spots where we scored high as a couple, and to point out sections where our discrepancies showed room for change. As W took us through the reasons why K might be feeling emotionally triggered about stepping into a mainstream system she felt ostracized her, and the reasons it was absolutely okay and important that our friends insisted on delighting in our joy, I realized we were both nodding our heads. We both listened intently as she said, “You both are right.”

There have been easily a dozen insights we’ve gotten from our mandatory, and incredibly valuable, premarital counseling. Those conversations, the hard ones where we feel most vulnerable about putting some control of our lives into someone else’s hands, feel so much safer with W sitting there ready to help interpret if we need it. I never leave without feeling closer to K, even if one of us is a little teary about some of the hard stuff that comes up. But the reminder that we both are right, even when we can’t agree, and what we have to stay is worthy of being heard, stays with me as perhaps the biggest lesson of all. It’s so simple, in fact, that I feel a little disappointed in myself for forgetting this very basic courtesy.

Waiting for the other person to finish and take a breath, so you can sneak in there with your next persuasive argument, is nothing like the basic act of listening to someone and witnessing them. Being mindful to stop and listen to what the other has to say, whether we’re talking about what to have for dinner or the difficult decisions about her tiny family and my sprawling one, has made the business of wedding planning easier than it was even a few months ago. Our results, a thick handbook of bar charts and statistics, sits on our living room coffee table, where we can see it every time we flop down to negotiate whether it’ll be Mad Men or House Hunters, and I suspect we’ll keep it there long after our stock goes public.

Photo by APW Sponsor Gabriel Harber

Elisabeth

Elisabeth is an MPH working in public health in New York City. Her old okcupid profile said she’s really good at: fixing socially awkward situations at parties, return trips to Ikea, whipping up excellent mac and cheese on camping trips, leaping into the ocean, being chronically late, and having Friday night adventures all over Brooklyn. In September 2013, she married her introverted, punctual K.

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  • http://theatreprojects.blogspot.com Jessamarie

    I remember that test. It was much longer than I expected. I decided to tackle it what night when W wasn’t home I broke out my pencil and a glass of wine to sip while working. Like I said though, it was VERY long. W came home to find me sitting cross legged on the floor, 3/4 of a bottle of wine gone. I looked up to him and giggled tipsily, “I took the wedding test, it is very long.” All he could do was laugh at me.

  • LIZ (SINCE 1982)

    Ummmm, I hope you really have a literal, actual handbook of bar charts and statistics, because that is AWESOME.

    Two things jumped out at me:

    “But how can I take you at your word if there are so many words?” Ha! Hilarious and yet so true. I have yet to find a way to explain “they’re all true because I’m feeling them all” to my fiancé in a way that makes sense to him. I suspect this is a common issue to many couples.

    Waiting for the other person to finish and take a breath, so you can sneak in there with your next persuasive argument, is nothing like the basic act of listening to someone and witnessing them. Wow! Yes! This is something I struggle with more frequently than I like to admit. I come from a large family where everyone’s always talking over each other and you sometimes have to shout to be heard, so my instinct is always to rush in to make sure I can get a word in edgewise. I’m really having to consciously retrain myself, which at times means stopping myself mid-sentence, apologizing, and asking my gent to restate his last point so that I can truly listen this time.

    I’m really enjoying your posts and can’t wait to see what the year has in store for you and K!

    • Kris

      “…so my instinct is always to rush in to make sure I can get a word in edgewise. I’m really having to consciously retrain myself, which at times means stopping myself mid-sentence, apologizing, and asking my gent to restate his last point so that I can truly listen this time.”

      Absolutely. Exactly! Thanks for the great suggestion, I’m going to try this next time I feel the conversation has gotten skewed!
      I’ve gone most of my life feeling like no one ever wanted to hear what I had to say, so having a partner who will voluntarily listen to all my thoughts creates some very long run-on sentences. I, too, have struggled to let go of the idea of “getting a word in” and instead focus on listening to and absorbing his point of view. But if I can’t return the favor he shows to me, what kind of partner am I?

    • http://irvingplace.net Kayjayoh

      I also come from a “talk over and around” family, so I struggle not to be an interrupter. I HATE it when I realize I’ve interrupted someone.

      However, I once tested something in a conversation with a guy I was dating in college and some of his friends. I decided not to say anything at all unless I could actually say it in a pause. There needed to be at least a beat after the last person spoke before I would say something.

      I didn’t say one word all night. Not. One. Word. And it was a very long night. The sad thing was that no one even seemed to notice my lack of speech. It was disheartening.

      So, I try not to be that guy, but I also try to balance my verbal style to that of those around me. If I am with a group of interrupters, I need to do that or make a conscious decision not to speak. If I am not among interrupters, I try to bite my tongue and wait my turn. And in a mixed group, I try to focus my attention on the person who was interrupted, rather than the interrupter, in hopes of encouraging the first person to speak.

      My fiance has a tendency to get interrupted and to shut down when that happens, so I have become particularly aware of this, especially among my family.

      • LIZ (SINCE 1982)

        Oh, gosh, I totally relate to all of that. I’ve definitely been in that group, and have started trying the same thing you are – staying with the interruptee rather than following along with the interrupter.

        A lightbulb went off for my fiancé and me when I was finally able to articulate that I jump in to finish sentences as a way of expressing “I get it, I’m with you,” not to be rude or prevent him from making his own point. I still have to remind myself to rein it in but he’s more cheerful when I slip up now that he gets where I’m coming from! And in a group with a conversational style similar to mine, I’m happy as a clam to interrupt and be interrupted all over the place and let the dialogue just go where it goes.

  • http://www.madeinmorningside.blogspot.com Ashleigh

    This sounds like a fantastic experience. We have been going to a serious of sessions in a church called marriage prep, they aren’t as intimate as yours as there are other couples there but they bring up big talking points and emphasis the point that you are both right and both justified to feel the way you do, and thats ok your marriage isn’t going to fall apart if you learn to talk about it.

    We have been together 6 years, I thought I understood R perfectly and thought we had found a good way to deal with problems that came up. This course has been so illustrating on how much more we have to learn. It has also helped me see that every marriage has issues and it is the commitment to try and work through them that makes it work, not not having the issues in the first place.

    I have also come away from every session feeling closer to R, and as we do our homework we inch even closer. I really think it is beneficial for every long term couple to do.

  • Hannah

    This is SO great. I’m a little bit on love with your writing style, excited to share these new insights with my David, and just overall super grateful that we’ll be hearing more from you in the future. Also, as a fellow adorable accountant, I have to say to K, “represent.”

  • Sarah O

    Is there a version of this that we can do ourselves? FH is not keen to go through all of the questions in the APW book but might find quizzing more accessible.

    • Catherine B

      I’m sure Elisabeth can provide more info, but it sounds to me as though they went through something like “Prepare-Enrich”. If you go on their website they’ll help you locate counselors in your area that will go through it with you, but they say, “Know, however, that PREPARE/ENRICH is a sophisticated instrument that must be interpreted by a trained counselor, or by your certified pastor, priest, marriage mentors or marriage educator.”
      Maybe someone else knows of a self-guided version?

      • Elisabeth

        Catherine B is right, it IS Prepare-Enrich (also, I love that name. It sounds like we’re proofing a loaf of sourdough, no?)! I don’t know that there is a self-guided version of that one in particular, but I bet there are others out there…

        • http://www.bridesanstulle.com Sharon

          My husband’s a certified Prepare/Enrich counselor – I’ll ask him if he knows of anything similar that’s self-guided, though I imagine that the thinking behind having a certified professional guide you through the inventory is to have a trained neutral third party for the fraught conversations.

  • http://www.thehousealwayswinsblog.com Rachel Wilkerson

    I love “Initial Public Offering” as a term for this time in your lives!

    Also, I really want to take this test now!!

    • http://smazzle.blogspot.com casey

      Me too, even though we’re already married! We had a few talks with our minister, and learned a little bit about how to better communicate, but I love the idea of quantifying those areas where we can actively work together to improve them.

      And ditto on your writing style – it’s fun, but clearly you take yourself and your partner seriously. Love it!

      • Parsley

        I’m not positive, but I’m pretty sure that the Enrich part of Prepare-Enrich is for couples who are already married but want to use this instrument anyway. So, go for it!

  • Kate

    This is a wonderful, insightful post, and it’s made me really think about scraping together some money for pre-marital counseling.

    Also, HOUSE HUNTERS. Always House Hunters.

    • KC

      Seriously, good premarital counseling is a really, really good investment. (note: check if your Officiant Of Choice automatically offers it before “buying” it elsewhere, since it’s free/required by some people)(which makes sense – if I was an officiant, I would want to do as much as possible towards having the couples I married stay married, and/or encourage “this is a bad plan” couples towards rethinking or delaying it)

      But take-it-separately tests and then having a third party there to discuss the results with both of you is really awesome; it both blocks you from fake-smoothing-over things that are real disagreements, and makes some of those hard conversations less fraught.

    • Elisabeth

      Kate, without House Hunters, I would have never learned that one of my deepest wishes is for a breakfast bar. And KC, below, is right — it’s a great investment and I learned a ton about how I communicate, good and bad.

      • http://cuvikingadventures.blogspot.com/ Jenny- Adventures Along the Way

        Ooh, a breakfast bar is on my list of things I really, really want in a home someday…

    • Carolyn

      We attended church-based premarital counseling and had a pretty bad experience (which was a huge disappointment considering how excited I’d been for it). Even though we’d vetted the priest as our favorite, he ended up being a poor listener, judgmental and frankly an ass to us. The quiz, and his interpretation of the quiz ended up being way off and I cried every. time. we. went.

      The only upside was that we really bonded over hating this guy and ultimately I think the discussions we had together AFTER LEAVING counseling every time were hugely important and beneficial. So you know, like all things, sometimes premarital counseling can suck if it’s a bad fit.

      Fortunately he wasn’t the priest who ended up marrying us, the one who did definitely “got us” and was a real joy and blessing to work with compared to Fr. Asshole.

  • http://landlockedlove.blogspot.com Kelly

    I just looked at her meaningfully.

    YOU MEAN I AM NOT THE ONLY ONE WHO DOES THIS?!

    I like to say that my husband processes things cerebrally, and I process things emotionally. I feel you, lady!

    I love, I love, I love this post. Emailing it over to the Mister asap.

  • Winter

    I’ve been reading APW for a year now, and this is the first time I’ve commented. Tonight I start inter-faith pre-engagement counseling with my Mister and my cool Pastor and I’m no longer nervous thanks to this timely post. This reminded me that in a nutshell, this step forward is together, and we get to listen and unpack more of our baggage (good and bad) in a safe place with a friend facilitating. I really vibe with your writing style Elisabeth, thanks for writing this; you both encouraged and cracked me up (for some reason now I want to call my pre-engagement “the voyage of the Dawn Treader”). I hope you and K have a blessed life together.

    • Elisabeth

      Winter – so glad you commented. How was it?? I love your phrase “this step forward is together.” It reminds me of how people often talk about how there are three in a marriage — you, partner, and the relationship itself — and all three are working together.

      • Winter

        We’re using the Prepare-Enrich program too! We really enjoyed the first session, and my pastor did a great job of being welcoming and open hearted and just plain SAFE to both of us. The questionnaire is very detailed, and the active listening exercise we did revealed a lot about our communication styles. My mister said at the end of the night that this session only reaffirmed how he felt about our choice to be together. *Insert romantic swoon here…

  • Margi

    “Where she mulls things over in a calm, robotic orderly fashion and comes to a conclusion three days later, I say everything I’m feeling immediately, emphasizing that these potentially conflicting emotions and thoughts are all true because I’m feeling them all. ”

    I am the exact same way with the feelings! As my therapist helpfully pointed out, just because I’m feeling the feelings doesn’t make them true or an accurate reflection of what’s actually going on! I also like the saying, “You are not your thoughts…you are the space in between your thoughts.”

    • Elisabeth

      “You are not your thoughts…you are the space in between your thoughts.” Margi, I LOVE THIS.

  • http://www.rationalcreature.com sweet starling

    “But the reminder that we both are right, even when we can’t agree, and what we have to stay is worthy of being heard, stays with me as perhaps the biggest lesson of all.”

    I think I want to write this on a Post-It and pin it up somewhere. Sometimes it feels like these are the hardest things to remember.

  • Meghan

    What an adorable post! This wedding planning maze is so tough, and you ladies seem to be working through it with style and grace. :) Best of luck with your planning and thank you for sharing!

  • kyley

    Wise APW-ers, I have a question for you. How do you *find* pre-marital counselors? My uncle is officiating our wedding, so there’s no required counseling there. We’re both interested in trying to find someone, but whenever I google it I am just overwhelmed. I’m afraid of winding up with someone who’s very normative and anti-feminist, or who just is kind of crappy, or someone who is too expensive. But I don’t even know what the going rate *is* for this kind of thing. Any tips? Anyone in the Boston-area who has a recommendation?

    • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00388929873803169413 Kristen

      You can go on websites like psychologytoday.com and search for counselors in your area, who take your insurance and who specialize in family/relationship therapy. That’s one of like a million options so hopefully others chime in.

    • Dawn

      Most ‘regular’ counselors should be able to do premarital and other couples counseling. I haven’t done premarital counseling (no wedding planned) but we did couples counseling to deal with a specific issue and actually did it through the same office where I got my individual counseling (but with a different therapist partly because mine had just moved far away and partly because many/most counselors seem to recommend not going to the same person for couples if you’ve already been going for individual). The way I found both counselors was actually through my employer. If you’re lucky enough to work at a place with an EAP (employee assistance program), start there. Typically there’s a website you can go to where you search for covered providers. If you have mental health coverage through your health insurance you can also start there (look for mental health providers). When I was going for regular counseling I was able to get 5 free sessions through my EAP and then it switched over to my mental health coverage so I just had a copay for each visit (mine was $50 for mental health coverage). When I did couples counseling I actually forgot about my EAP (too stressed to think about basic things like that!) so just did it through my copay.

      Another options is to look for a relationship education program rather than actual counseling. If we do ever decide to get married I think that’s what I’d choose to do just because it’s more like going to a class (as opposed to sitting in an office with the counselor focussed solely on us). Here’s one program I’ve considered (I think I heard them speak at a conference once but I’m not sure if it’s the same people so I am in no way endorsing or recommending this program since my only knowledge of it is through their website): Stayhitched dot com. And conveniently, they do sessions in Boston!

      The other thing to do would be to go to the Prepare/Enrich website and use their find a facilitator function.

      I’m coming at this as someone who has had individual counseling, a tiny bit of couples counseling, and used to evaluate a relationship education program (big federal grant program so I had to go to yearly conferences and learn all about various programs around the country) but you might want to think about what you want from premarital counseling. If it’s something straightforward like the Prepare/Enrich assessment to give you talking points that then you can go deal with on your own that’s one option. Or if you think you need more relationship education that covers relationship skills and communication (which is what I think my guy and I would need) that’s another option. If you have more complex issues you might want to try to find a counselor who can then, if necessary, be your go-to for couples counseling after marriage as well.

      In terms of finding someone who isn’t anti-feminist that might be a bit more tricky. I had a friend whose couples counselor actually told her that she shouldn’t bug her husband by telling him about her stressful day at work because it was a burden to her husband who had his own stressful day at work. For all intents and purposes he told her she should just get back in the kitchen and have dinner prepared when her husband got home. Needless to say they found another counselor. Sometimes it takes some trial and error (I loved my individual counselor who was my very first choice but did not really like our couples counselor).

      • Dawn

        Jeez — sorry for the novel length reply. It didn’t seem that long when I was writing it!

    • Parsley

      Kyley, if you email me at parsleyspirit at gmail dot com, I can give you a name in the Boston area.

    • http://cuvikingadventures.blogspot.com/ Jenny- Adventures Along the Way

      I emailed a friend who works at a university where I lived at the time (whose views on marriage and life are in a similar range as my own) and asked if he knew of anyone that would be a good match for us. Turns out his friend was an officiant and did pre-maritial counseling, and was a great match for us. We met with her a few times and she was fabulous. So….maybe reach out to people who you “click” with and see if they have recommendations?

  • elena mc

    The test was the best part of pre-marital counseling for us. We went through the Catholic church and were assigned a terrible priest, not to mention a couple on the brink of divorce for our individual sessions. The test though, we scored brilliantly on! It made us feel like we were making a confident choice to get married. While I wouldn’t choose the catholic church again, I would absolutely do premarital counseling again. Oh! And if you get a certificate of completion, you can get a significant discount on your marriage license (maybe just in texas? I don’t know but check into it b/c it was $60 off!!)

    • Samantha

      Just to say though that the pre-marital requirements/tests/classes/etc. are different for every diocese in the Catholic Church. My fiance and I went to a day long seminar where there was a couple who ran it but half the time was discussion between my partner and I prompted by a booklet and questionnaire – but not the long test others are talking about. We are also having a few meetings with our Priest and we will be discussing our class at the next meeting. We had a very good experience.

  • Catherine

    Awww I love this! Made my morning.

  • ElisabethJoanne

    Our religious marriage prep generally left a bad taste in our mouths.

    We took the FOCCUS test common in the Roman Catholic Church but never reviewed the results because we gave up on following that Church’s rules. I didn’t like the idea of fees for required marriage prep (Can you say “simony”?), and the priest was really hard to meet with and 50 miles from my office. He never followed up after we completed the test.

    At my Anglican Catholic Church, we were supposed to have about five 2-on-1 sessions with my priest, totaling 8 hours. We had 3. They were likewise hard to schedule. I think we got through page 2 of the 6-page marriage service. 1.5 hours is also too long for my husband because of his ADHD, but he was nervous about meetings in my church, and I was new to helping him with his disability. I don’t blame the Church for that. I have since learned that the year we were engaged was one of the worst years for my church in terms of just managing the day-to-day operations, so I now understand why our pre-marital counseling fell by the wayside, but I’m still a bit sore about it.

    Both Churches were also just on a different timeline in terms of wedding/marriage prep than we were. We respect our Churches and our clergy, and tried to be accommodating, but felt they just did not work with our realities about geography, work, and the inevitable last-minute stresses of wedding planning.

    • Carolyn

      Interesting! And here I was worried my husband and I were the only church wedding prep failures. It was especially discouraging when I’d had such an incredibly positive experience with personal counseling.

      • Granola

        Nope, you’re not alone. Our pre-Cana experience was mostly a bust too.

      • ElisabethJoanne

        I’d put it that church wedding prep failed us, not that we’re failures. Of course, we just celebrated our 4-month anniversary, so it’s kind of hard to make any conclusions about our marriage.

        It certainly left a lasting negative impact on my views of the Roman Catholic Church, an institution I have been closely involved with, though never a member of, for several years. Never will I tell a Roman Catholic, “talk to your priest.” It’s just too hard to get an appointment. If you can get an appointment, there isn’t time to go into any depth. If you read stories from other Catholic brides, our experience was far from unusual.

        The Anglican priest has known me since I was 12. My church is my family, and like with any family, it’s hard for one issue to thoroughly rock the relationship. No doubt if my husband and I weren’t so thoroughly involved with our Churches day-to-day, as well as on the mature and older side, as well as fairly well catechized generally, our marriage prep would have been different and more complete.

        Anyway, the whole experience was disappointing – the most disappointing aspect of wedding/marriage planning. I often read priests’ blogs, and hear comments from clergy, about distracted brides who don’t take spiritual preparation sufficiently seriously, and certainly feel that shaming is uncalled for, after my experiences.

        • Carolyn

          I should mention as a born-and-bred practicing progressive Catholic, I was totally blindsided by the inter-faith shaming (my husband is Episcopal for goodness sake) and general asshattery that we endured. We’d discussed him converting, but after that experience it’s off the table (with my blessing). I was really ashamed of how unwelcoming agents of my religion behaved. (And again super thankful that the priest that married us was very in line with my/our progressive Catholic attitudes.)

          • ElisabethJoanne

            The shaming I was thinking of was repeating stereotypes about brides being more concerned with the color of the napkins than with understanding the Sacrament.

            My problems with the 1 meeting we had with the Roman Catholic Priest were he was dumbing things down and he wanted to delay filing the paperwork. All those admonitions about getting things squared away with the Church before making other plans, and he wanted to wait until 7 months before the wedding just to start the process in the Roman Catholic Church.

            Why do brides spend more time worrying about the napkins than the sacrament? Because caterers return calls and emails while Priests go MIA. Yes, I know several excellent clergymen. In fact, the clergy we dealt with are likely excellent. Just, again, the Churches failed us in this one issue.

          • Carolyn

            I’m not disagreeing, I wound up really resentful of the whole experience (obviously). We too were given the evil eye for expecting to be able to fit in our requisite meetings in ONLY the 5 months we’d allotted! From then on he held this superior attitude over us of “you only have my blessing if you do what I say.”

            Sorry to bogart the thread here…apparently I have (just-realized) strong feelings about this?

          • Samantha

            I just want to say that my fiance and I are a Catholic/ Episcopalian couple respectively and my priest was extremely welcoming to him. We are lucky that our priest is quite progressive and kind and he’s known my family forever. — I guess we cannot speak in blanket terms for all of the church.

    • MeganAnne

      I am SO sorry you went through this.
      First, I find it obscene that your priest CHARGED you for marriage prep. Most officiants have some sort of fee for performing the marriage, but beyond that it’s basically charging for doing the job they’re already paid to do.
      Second, any sort of pastoral counseling should be done in a manner and time frame that works for the individual or couple. The fact that your priest was unwilling to accommodate either your schedule or individual needs in terms of time and format is, well, not a pastoral way to operate.
      Many churches go through hard times, that does not, however, mean that the congregants should be neglected. If a church leader isn’t “pastoring” to their congregation, they aren’t taking care of the most fundamental part of the job.

    • Kelly

      Just to share a different perspective, I had a great experience with my wedding prep at my Roman Catholic church. My husband is not religious, though he comes to mass with me every week, and he was nervous about the whole thing. Our priest commented on it, but was very non-judgmental. We met with him only to do the required paperwork for the church and plan the ceremony, though he told us we could set up other meetings if we were interested.

      We completed the FOCUUS, which sounds similar to the “test” described in this post, then met with a couple from the parish who reviewed our results with us. The test gave us LOTS of things to talk about- it started a bunch of good conversations. When we finally met with the couple, they later shared with us that they were VERY nervous about us because we had such low scores in some areas. We talked through a few things, but most of the areas that were low were already things we had discussed and come to a conclusion about, even if we weren’t in agreement. Again, the couple was very non-judgmental, they shared a lot of themselves and their marriage with us, and they helped us talk through some things that were still issues for us.

      Finally, we attended a group marriage prep course through the church which consisted of a married couple telling a story and sharing their experience about a topic, private journaling on a topic, then discussion with your partner about your answers. Though they explained church teachings, they said they were not there to tell us what to do, but rather help start conversations about a variety of topics.

      I am so saddened to hear of so many bad experiences- it certainly depends on where you go and who you interact with- I just want APWers to know that marriage prep in the church doesn’t have to be bad! Even my non-religious spouse was overall comfortable and happy with the experience.

      • Samantha

        Thank you! I had a good experience also!

      • Elisabeth

        Kelly, I’m glad you mentioned that the two of you had low scores in some areas. There were areas of the test where our scores were wildly divergent, too. Our priest recounted a story of another couple who decided to get married when gay marriage was legalized in NYS, after years of being together, and they had such conflicting scores that on paper they seemed like an impossible match — yet of course had been happy together for years and clearly interested in staying together for years to come. Her point was that this test and the analysis was another tool, but not the only tool, in a long process of learning about each other, building skills together and growing our relationship. It’s something, but not the only thing!

  • ANOTHER ANNIE

    I LOVED this post, and like others, I want to take that relationship survey! It sounds awesome. And since I met my partner on OKCupid, answering questions about our relationship sounds like fun.

    A note, though – ouch! The picture accompanying this post has a pretty painful typo. It’s sacramental, not sacrimental. (Sorry to be That Girl.)

  • Army Amy*

    I just have to say that I love Elisabeth’s writing style, perspective, and everything she’s shared so far. Keep it coming!

  • http://unexpected-moments.blogspot.com/ Sheryl

    Ok the Chronicles of Narnia reference did me in. I mean amazing post, but that bit maybe made my day.

  • Rosie

    This is a great post, I can totally relate to the emotional / cerebral difference! Just to add to the discussion on marriage prep, we had a few sessions with the other couples gettting married in our area which were fine, but we didn’t want to share too much with people we didn’t know. The good thing they did get us to do was write each other a letter starting with ‘I love you because…’ – I’d recommend that! We had a few sessions with a couple we’re good friends with who share our values; they said they felt honoured to be asked and we got a lot out of talking openly with them. So if professional prep or counselling isn’t an option, I’d recommend that if you can.

  • amy

    LOVE IT.

    Any recommendations for PREPARE/ENRICH facilitators in the East Bay of CA?

    • HNR

      I too would be interested in the answer to this. In particular I would be interested in Jewish or secular folks. Thanks!

      • MeganAnne

        HNR,
        I know premarital counseling is part of the training for most Reformed Rabbis, and I would suspect it is for Conservative and Reconstructionist Rabbis as well. It’s a pretty standard part of training for most religious leaders that would be expected to officiate a marriage, regardless of religion. Just email a few and I’m sure they’ll happily let you know if they are, and if they are not can likely direct you to someone who is.

  • Katherine

    “Where she mulls things over in a calm, robotic orderly fashion and comes to a conclusion three days later, I say everything I’m feeling immediately, emphasizing that these potentially conflicting emotions and thoughts are all true because I’m feeling them all. ”

    This is exactly my FH & I. I’m the emotional one, and he’s the logical one. Sometimes it’s a mystery to me how we work together so well, but I think it’s honestly just that our differences balance us out pretty perfectly.

    Love your personality & writing style, Elisabeth. So much love, luck & happiness to you & K :-)

  • ItsyBitsy

    I looooove this post! So much, in fact, that I just sang that first part out loud.

  • MeganAnne

    Thank you SO much for this post!
    Premarital counseling has been hugely important to me for several reasons. I was engaged 4 years ago in a relationship that was incredibly emotionally abusive and would have been horrific to end up married into. Although it was an affair that eventually ended the relationship permanently, I credit the questions and issues my pastor brought up in our premarital counseling sessions with preparing me to accept that the relationship was desperately unhealthy and that I needed to get out. Now that I am again engaged (this time in a healthy, loving relationship), I’m truly looking forward to going through the process.

    I’m so glad to see this post, particularly because I’ve heard in numerous forums, as well as from some recently engaged friends who are not affiliated with a religious organization, that they are specifically seeking officiants that will not require them to do any sort of premarital counseling. Now, I understand not wanting to be “preached at”, but I think there is a common misperception that premarital counseling, when coming from a priest or minister, is a time for that person to “test” you and your partner’s faith to see if you’re “worthy” to be married. While that may be the situation in certain churches, I can say, as someone in the process of becoming an ordained Presbyterian minister, that it is certainly not the norm and even in religious institutions, premarital counseling is meant for the good of the couple and their lasting relationship.

    Anyway, this is all to say that I hope this post will help people not to shy away from officiants that require premarital counseling. Most of them do so because it really is an incredibly important, sometime relationship saving, piece of the complex process that is marriage.

  • http://cuvikingadventures.blogspot.com/ Jenny- Adventures Along the Way

    I really enjoyed this post and could relate to a lot. Scantrons! Me being emotional, talkative, and concerned about harmony, while my spouse is a person who values logic and efficiency.

    And this: “And if I, so accustomed to celebrating every milestone large and small with my community, agree that we don’t need to mark it as a moment in time, will I feel like I’ve missed out?”

    I also like tradition and marking special occasions (birthdays, holidays, etc.) and community is what I value most I guess. We never had an official “engagement.” So I never used the word “fiancé” and never said we were “engaged.” This is all due to our atraditional order of deciding to marry but not having a traditional proposal experience until a few days before the wedding.

    So our timeline and experience didn’t fit my idea of an engagement. If I needed to explain, I said we were “getting married” or we were “planning our wedding” instead of saying we were engaged. After we were married, I did deal with sadness about never feeling engaged and never feeling like I fully embraced and celebrated that stage of my life. It wasn’t something important to my husband, and I don’t think either of us understood how important it was really was to me until after we were married. So I had to work through the loss of not having marked that stage of life as significant. (And now, I would totally define engagement simply as the period after a couple decides to get married—no need for ring or proposal or whatever—but oh well.)

    Anyhow, I would just say that if you know that kind of thing is important to you, please discuss it and decide together how you want to “name” this stage of your life. Your Initial Public Offering made me smile! I think if you both find a name you agree on and feel good about (even if it’s not “engagement”) that will allow you to feel free to celebrate this stage with your community, as you define it. I think my problem was just that my narrow definition of engagement made me feel like I wasn’t allowed to celebrate because I wasn’t really engaged and was cheating or something. (Plus I had some criticism coming at me because we are an interfaith couple, so that also added to it all….)

    Thanks for the post!

  • Bonnie B

    Completely off topic but a huge ‘high-five’ for Chincoteague vacations!

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