Premarital Counselling, Is It Even Necessary?
This is a question that has been thrown at me in several discussions, and my answer has always been a resounding yes! My answer is not induced by the fact that as a Relationship Coach, I stand to lose monetarily if I shot down the very idea that brings people to me. My response is based on a fair and just assessment of that exercise, although I must admit most premarital counselling engagements are not as effective as they should be.
The lack of effectiveness of some of these engagements is not borne out of the fact that we are different and each marriage is unique, or because it is a union between two unique individuals, as some claim. That argument cannot constitute a just basis for its lack of effectiveness, after all your marriage and my marriage are all part of the broader concept of marriage between two humans, and in all fairness, everything that will pose a challenge to any two people in that union, has been studied in one form or the other. From conflict generation to prevention, love languages and how they impact on communication in marriages, to temperaments and socialization, there is nothing new that you will bring or encounter in your marriage that will make yours so unique that going through premarital counselling becomes something of little consequence.
In a worse case scenario, you may end up with a poorly equipped counsellor, who is out of touch with your reality and lacks a deeper understanding of your uniqueness, messing you up. Or you may encounter many unforeseen (and therefore unprepared for) life variables changing right after you get married, leading you to the conclusion that you were probably better off not wasting your time going for those sessions. But these scenarios are not strong enough to wholly indict Premarital Counselling.
However, before we discuss what generally leads to the lack of effectiveness in most of these engagements, I would want to touch on four Key possible outcomes of each premarital counselling engagement.
What Are The Four Potential Outcomes Of A Premarital Counseling Engagement
Every time someone sits in front of me for premarital counselling, I expect one of the following outcomes
1. To sign them off to marry
2. To tell them it is not good for them to marry
3. To tell them they are good to go after a few bugs have been fixed. Under this scenario, I have two sub-scenarios – Those who can keep their wedding dates, and those who have to postpone it to fix a few things as the basis for proceeding.
Regarding the first scenario, these are couples who seem to have got it all correct per what is available before me and based on my interactions with them. This could be as a result of luck (meeting that one person who is everything the other person needs) or people who were intentional in their mate selection, ensuring that each box they had was ticked before they committed. It could also be people who after a lengthy relationship, or probably living together for a while, have become well synced with each other.
In the second scenario, these are couples who are better off going their separate ways, either because of medical reasons, irreconcilable differences in long-term dreams, goals and ambitions; family and other cardinal issues that would make every right-thinking individual go their separate way. But love has a way of blurring your judgement, making you a victim of faith and hope instead of logic when it matters most. Though this may not be wrong, and love is beautiful, there may be lurking a harsh reality beyond love that many people are not carved out for. It is this reality that leaves many shipwrecked once they go ahead to marry.
The third scenario is where the couples have regular everyday issues, but issues that can be solved before they marry. These are generally issues of opinions, views, differences borne out of socialization and lifelong entrenched positions. Eg who does what at home, who pays for what, family members involvement etc.
The second part of this scenario is where the couple are good to go, only if they are willing to make certain critical and cardinal changes to certain aspects of their lives. Eg, thorny issues of custody of a child from a previous relationship, the role of the baby mama and what the man wants. It could be pressure to marry from one party when the other party feels they need a bit of time to complete a pressing project so it does not become a huddle in their marriage. In this scenario, I help them set timelines, follow up on progress and the willingness to follow through set targets on the part of the one who is supposed to make these changes. In the end, if the concerned party shows a lack of interest, then it falls on the other party to decide if they want to go on with the marriage or walk away.
In each of these four scenarios, it is emphatically made known to the prospective couple that nothing is cast in stone. A relationship that looks like made in Heaven can end up being a terrible marriage, and a horrible relationship may end up taking a turn for good. Your counsellor can only advise to the extent to which you indulge them with material facts, and being honest about the current state of the relationship. People change, circumstances change people, and those are the things that premarital counselling cannot preempt.
Then I guess that in itself means the whole exercise is in futility if it does not deliver a foolproof marriage, you would ask. Well, Premarital counselling does not seek to deliver a foolproof marriage; in fact, we do not impose anything on you. That will be us controlling you.
So what is it about aside telling people they can marry or they cannot?
Three Blocks Of Premarital Counseling Benefits
Premarital Counseling, firstly to seeks to assess if two people can spend their lives together under the scenarios mentioned above. The HOW is the process. We engage you based on the information you give us through questionnaires, tests, and discussions and in some cases, projects. Whatever outcome we get from these sources, we sit with you to discuss them. We let you know what this feedback mean to you as individuals and as a couple. We suggest to you the way forward. Whatever choice you make, becomes something you personally own. We let you know that we will be there to help you handle the fall out of the choices you make.
The second block benefit of premarital Counselling is to equip prospective couples with basic skills needed to help them live together up-close. These are skills everyone needs no matter your uniqueness or the uniqueness of your union. Conflict management, handling the weaknesses or the excesses of someone of a different temperament, aligning your goals, dreams and aspirations, handling differences in sexual drives and impressions of a good intimate life. Handling differences when it comes to perception, interpretations and offer of love, are all part of the many things looked at during these sessions.
While the second key block benefit looks at the individual couples, we know no marriage happens in a vacuum. There are certain exogenous factors that can ruin a perfect marriage when they enter one’s union. Some of these factors include, but not limited to Childbearing (or the lack thereof and its accompanying social pressure) Childrearing, in-law relationships, finance, nature of work etc.
Premarital Counselling at the very individual level also helps you solidify or break up an existing prejudice or bias as you talk to an objective and experienced third party.
In the end, these sessions equip you with practical skills, deeper insights, the WHYS behind certain expectations, and helps you in setting realistic expectations before getting married. Premarital counselling also helps you establish from the start an objective third leg in your marriage whom you can fall on from time to time to speak to, cry on and deliberate with; someone you can call to referee a fight or join you to apologize. That person becomes a trusted singular voice you can count on.
Why Then Do Some Marriages That Have Gone Through A Premarital Counselling Fail?
It is fair to ask why marriages fail after people have subjected themselves to this process. What makes the process ineffective? Well like I mentioned earlier, there is so much a counsellor can predict based on the evidence available to him or her. The Human nature does not lend itself easily to quantitative studies. However, it is each counsellor’s hope to ensure that whatever help they offer is the best at the time of engagement.
This notwithstanding there are a few key things that lead to the ineffectiveness of Premarital counselling.
1.Quality of the counsellor. Not everyone in a place of authority is cut out for counselling. There is the human disposition, training and experience that job requires, without which people can make terrible errors in judgement. It goes beyond the number of years one is married.
2.The connection between the counsellor and the prospective couples. Humans are products of socialization. Each person relates to the world based on how he or she was brought up. If a counsellor cannot connect with the counselee’s experience, they may not be able to adequately counsel them. From education, finance, sexual impressions to basic rituals of life, if the counsellor is not open-minded enough to look past his or her own prejudices and biases, he or she risks missing an opportunity to connecting with the counselees in ways that make them feel comfortable, and therefore cooperate and absorb. You cannot take something from someone you do not feel understands you. Here, the generational gap becomes critical, and the understanding of the nuances of modern marriage, especially when it comes to the role of the 21 Century empowered woman is key to getting a couple started on the right path
3.Distraction. Most prospective couples start premarital counselling when wedding preparations are underway. That is a key distraction. Until the ceremony is over, each waking day is a day one needs to make a call to follow up on something, getting disappointed with a vendor or a family member regarding an agreed action, or plain financial trap. During this period, the counselling conversations pass through one ear and come out from the other. The distraction may also be the sheer excitement and the never-ending daydreaming. This has a way of giving feedback at sessions which are inaccurate, leading to equally faulty premises for discussions.
4.The ideal Nature of Premarital counselling. Most prospective couples are marrying for the first time. Some may not have even stayed together, either with their current partner or in any relationship. Some come from two different social strata and therefore their interpretation of the world differ markedly. Some prospective couples have been individually independent for a long time, making personal decisions and circumventing the need for parental or guardian approval. All of these experiences have a way of throwing off course what a couple expects when they finally move in to stay with each other. Without experiential knowledge in what they are being taught in counselling, they can only imagine, but may not have a quantifiable locus. So in the event that this reality is not picked up in time and handled intensively, a couple will move in and realise an insurmountable chasm in what they have been taught and what they are experiencing.
5.Human Nature. This is another challenge to effective premaritial counselling. How fairly can a counsellor counsel a couple who, for reasons known to them, individually and or collectively choose to lie and distort facts? How can a counsellor preempt that the man or woman may lose their job right after marriage, and in getting help from outside, lead to an affair? How can premarital counselling help someone deal with a partner who is cheating unknown to them? These and many distortions of material facts may completely throw off board anything a counsellor may want to help a couple with at the premarital counselling stage.
If current premarital counselling may not give the longevity we all seek in our modern marriages, then what is the way forward, knowing most people want to marry anyway?
1.Postmarital counselling. I believe each couple needs to go through a few sessions of post-marital counselling 12 to 18 months after marriage, with or without any known problem. After marriage, the conversations at these sessions will have a clearer focus, couples will identify better with the issues and it may move from general counselling to issue based counselling. It could also just be a session to pat each other at the back for a job well done. Sometimes you visit the physician not because you are ill, but just to get that assurance that your lifestyle is the best to keep you healthy. A Vitamin here, a caution there and you are out with the giggles.
2.Reorientation and further training of religious counsellors. It is important we note that while religious texts and their expectations of the marriage framework have not changed, the world within which operates these marriages have changed. That world is no more a localized culture, but a global village with tons of borrowed, assimilated and transient cultural dictates. Education, economic empowerment and social transformation have changed how people interact with the status quo. The way forward is to tweak marriages to fit into modernity in a way that may not shake its core pillars.
Eg, if it was expected, traditionally, for a woman to take the headship of the man nemine contradicente, it is expected that the man of today is made to make allowance for the woman’s views, suggestions and input, the same way he quietly, without complaints and claim of authority, accepts her financial inputs. This is the reason for the long standing investment in her education and social advancement. Her life, and independence worldview does not stop because she married. Help the man come to this realization and he will be more accommodating than to keep the social prejudice against women (behind the veil of religion), leading to her insistence on being made a part of the family decision, and ultimately being branded a rebel.
3.Figuring Out One's Life First. The best premarital counselling is the personal one you undergo way before you decide to marry. You undergo that by first knowing yourself and what works for you, where you are going in life, and who you want to go with. How you intend to get there and how you want to live your life. When you come to this place of self-awareness, you only date people who fit into the bigger picture. But if you are running around in circles, having not figured out yourself, no amount of counselling can fix you. Know yourself and you will know who to take along.
4.Peer-to-peer Counselling. We need a lot of young people to train as counsellors so there will be a lot of peer-to-peer counsellors. I notice that young couples relate well to me because they realise that I do not just know what I am doing, but I can connect with them in ways most older counsellors do not connect. That helps them open up and pour out. The caution is to train and be well equipped so you do not create a mess when your sole purpose is to make a couple better.
Will I advise a prospective couple to seek Premarital counselling? Absolutely!