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Relationship Counseling? But You’re Not Even Married!

“So when’s the big day?”

“We actually haven’t set it yet. Hoping on a Fall 2018 wedding.”

“Why haven’t you set the date? It’s been almost 8 months. You know that vendors want you booking at least a year out. You guys should start now!”

“We know, and we are considering that. We are working through counseling first.”

“Oh like with a priest? So you HAVE started wedding prep!”

“No, like with a therapist. Like Marriage Counseling, except we’re not married.”

“Why would you do that, it’s not like you’re married and considering divorce?”

I would be lying if I said that relationship counseling was my idea, or that I was a willing participant from day one. My approach was basically “if this is what it takes for us to get to the aisle, great. Let’s do it!” My fiance’ is a very practical man, and saw that we had many differences in how we conducted our lives. He’s frugal, I’m anything but. He’s patient and thoughtful, I say whatever comes to mind. And despite 5+ years of trials, joys, difficulties, and arguments, we both truly feel that God has called us together to the vocation of marriage.

So now, we’re going to get married in <2 years, and we’re just magically going to pray our issues away, and life is going to be fantastic, and despite our differences, we’re going to merge two lives into one harmonious life?

Yeah…about that…

Enter relationship counseling. The week before we got engaged, my fiance’ and I sat down with my parents, who have had many unforeseen challenges in nearly 30 years of marriage. In talking with them, we learned what they found to be some of their greatest successes and hardest failures, and what they’d recommend for us, including counseling. R was already encouraging relationship counseling, and with my parents’ support, I agreed. I mean, how hard could it be?

Except for the fact that when you’re a newly-engaged bride-to-be, it takes a lot of willpower to not start sketching out the details of your nuptials right from the start.

Long story short, my ever-patient fiance’ had the necessary “Come to Jesus” moment with me about what we really needed to do for our marriage prep. No, it wasn’t wedding planning, but relationship counseling.

What do you actually do in relationship counseling? How is it different than marriage counseling? 

Not having been married, I cannot speak to any differences between marriage counseling. What I can tell you is that in our relationship counseling, we’ve focused primarily on compromise. As outlined above, R and I are two very different individuals. Needless to say, conflicts arise, as they do in almost any healthy relationship. Our first few appointments focused on prior conflicts that we had difficulty resolving. After a few appointments, we were handling conflict differently, but new conflicts arise, and we learn tools to handle it.

Sometimes, you also find that while people close to you fully support the relationship, when you decide as a couple to make large changes, that there is resistance from those loved ones. This has been one of the more challenging things to tackle. However, with prayer and unending support from one another, we are working on how we manage that as a team, and stay on the same page.

Not every appointment has been easy. R manages his emotions better than I do. Some appointments would be great, and I’d start thinking about wedding dates and booking churches. Other times, if the appointment was particularly trying, you could guarantee I was questioning the health of the relationship. R always views each appointment as progress, and that’s something I hope to learn from him.

While there are no current mathematical statistics around our nation’s divorce rate, most scholars believe it’s around 40-50%. R and I have known many friends and acquaintances go into marriage with the best of intentions and end up either second-guessing their decision, or worse, choosing to separate, divorce, and/or get the marriage annulled. Of course the future cannot be predicted, but R and I want the best possible chance of lifelong success in our marriage. While I may have been a tad apprehensive about relationship counseling, I truly see it as one of the best tools in our marriage prep toolbox!

Have you done pre-marriage counseling? Would love to know what you’ve experienced!