As an independent, career-driven woman, I have never been sure about marriage, both in concept and in practice. My parents are two of the lucky few who seem to be effortlessly still in love with each other after nearly forty-five years of raising children, navigating recessions, and sleeping in the same bed together. Juxtapose that mythology of “everlasting love” against the countless heart-wrenching breakups and hard love lessons being learned by my close friends and me, and I was left still wanting something I was now terrified of. The relationship detritus seemed to be everywhere I turned.
My friends and I tried desperately to analyze everything about these relationships to try and parse out the key disabling factors, but none of us could definitively say why or how these things broke down. They just seemed to break.
In the midst of my anxiety-driven romantic-existentialism, a family friend casually mentioned to me that she and her then-fiancé had gone to premarital counseling. “Isn’t that the thing where the pastor tells you how to make a baby?” I asked. Not quite. I guess times have changed. She calmly explained that though it was originally something like the church telling you “how to make a baby,” most premarital education classes are now secular. Just like a standard therapy session, it was basically a safe place for you and your partner to be guided through some of the bigger questions that can derail relationships later on: how do you want to deal with finances, do you want to have kids, what if one of us has an affair, what will you do if one of us falls terminally ill? You know, the fun questions. When I asked her what she thought of the experience, she said, “It’s already, hands down, the best thing I’ve ever done for my relationship.”
This stuck with me. Even though, at the time, marriage wasn’t even a blip on my radar, I was drawn to this idea of proactively working through and within a relationship before times got really tough. The more I thought about it, the more I couldn’t believe this wasn’t a required practice for everyone. How could dedicated time to learn about healthy communication be anything less than great? And, the thought of it lessened the anxiety I felt about my chances at a “lifetime of love.”
Fast-forward to today and I can safely reiterate my friend’s thoughts: premarital education is already, hands down, the best thing I’ve ever done for my relationship.
This year marked my first big sacrifice for love, and instead of being romantic, it was paralyzing. I left the comforts of family, friends, and a wonderful career in the states to begin life again with my partner in Canada. This emotional rawness led to some debilitating fights and days of frigid standoffs—most of them starting with nothing more than an offhand comment. Though the interstitial times were love affirming, I had no confidence that we would get better and not worse. I was signing myself up for lifetime, after all.
To placate my growing sense of panic, I repeatedly insisted that we try our hand at premarital education. If I was going to make the plunge, I wanted to make sure I was doing everything in my control to make it work. When I arrived in Canada, we made quick work of finding a couple’s therapist. When we settled on a likely candidate and told her what we were looking for, she replied with, “I wish more people did this, it would make my job a lot easier.”
In four short sessions, we laid the groundwork for some profound emotional understanding between the two of us: how to keep each other emotionally safe, how to healthily disagree, how to recover from fights, how to talk about emotions, and how to maintain connectivity. She enlightened our narrow understanding of “fight” by clarifying that healthy and unhealthy couples didn’t agree any more or less than the other, but they fought differently. Most importantly, we were able guide the focus of our work, bringing up instances we knew were already tough spots and demanding more help in specific areas.
Five months later, though we’re still not above getting into fights about the dishes and the snooze button, we’re also in much less danger of letting our smaller spats grow into bigger ones or stay unresolved. And, we’re getting better and better at it every day. My fear is no longer subsuming my confidence in our ability to continue learning or make this last.
For those of you also in pursuit of a “lifetime of love,” I highly recommend premarital therapy or education. It’s probably the best money you’ll ever spend on yourselves.