Kevin and Abby had been college sweethearts. After graduation, they’d moved to different part of the country to pursue their careers. They’d kept in touch and grown more in love with one another. Kevin proposed. She said, Yes.
So let’s talk about Kevin and Abby.
Their pastor required they complete a premarital program before their wedding, which was coming up in less than 3 months. They just thought of it as a hoop they had to jump through, like picking a venue or a caterer.
Most couples don’t realize that, according to research, premarital coaching or counseling has been shown to reduce the rate of divorce by 30%.
The only caution here is that the quality of premarital programs varies widely. So be sure to do your homework before you choose a coach or counselor. You want someone who knows how to dive in and help you explore your interpersonal dynamics, not just go through the motions and check off the list.
How can you know if you’re in a negative pattern?
In my work with couples over the past two decades, I’ve learned how to recognize negative patterns between partners after watching them interact for about 5 minutes. And I’ve discovered that the Relationship Dynamics Scale of PREPARE/ENRICH is invaluable in helping couples see what I see in writing.
This is such a powerful instrument that sometimes a couple takes a post-test so they can see the positive changes they have made during their work with me. The differences between the two evaluations are often quite dramatic.
At first glance, Kevin and Abby seemed to have a healthy interpersonal pattern.
They were both average on assertiveness, and very low on avoidance and partner dominance. The only thing that jumped out at me was the difference in their self-confidence scores. Kevin scored high on self-confidence, and Abby scored very high. I hadn’t met them yet, so I wondered what that would look like in real life.
As I mentioned, they had been in a long-distance relationship for the past several years, and both were highly invested in their respective careers. They’d not yet decided where they would live, so that was one of their primary topics of discussion.
- She lived on the East Coast, and he lived in the Midwest.
- He assumed she’d move. She wasn’t ready to do that.
- They were considering living separately, even after the wedding.
- I didn’t recommend that, and questioned their reasoning.
Abby was confident, self-sufficient, and insistent that she keep her job, at least until she’d paid off her student debt. As a man, Kevin wanted to provide for his new bride. But she wouldn’t allow it. He didn’t even know how much money she was talking about. He wanted to know, not so he could control her or the situation, but so they could make a plan together. A man cannot be a hero if his woman won’t let him.
In addition to their relationship dynamics – how they were with one another – we also explored some family of origin issues for both of them.
- Abby’s family experiences had taught her that she couldn’t rely on anyone.
- Kevin’s family experience was all about learning dependability, the exact opposite. That doesn’t mean his experience was perfect. And we talked about that, too.
Addressing the Most Important Issues
As you can imagine, our time together brought some important issues to the forefront. Premarital counseling wasn’t just another task to check off on their wedding preparation list. The Premarital Program helped them acknowledge values and vulnerability they needed to address before they could move forward as a unit, as husband and wife.
Men and women are different. Always have been. Always will be. So how do a man and woman become a healthy couple without recognizing and appreciating their differences?
A healthy man wants to take the lead, to protect and provide for his bride, and to help her solve problems. In fact, those are the primary drivers of a man’s behavior. A lot of women think men only want food and sex. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. If that’s all that a man wants, he can find a woman who will give him those things without the need to marry her.
Women, on the other hand, have been taught to be independent and self-sufficient. I’m not saying women are supposed to be weak and dependent. Not at all! Instead we need to learn how to be interdependent. That is, a wife must learn how to accept what her husband has to offer, even as she learns how to meet his need for her presence and her input!
Since 1559 … and even before
The Marriage Vows in the 1559 Anglican Book of Common Prayer states one of the purposes of marriage is to provide “for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.” The emphasis here is on mutuality.
Before we talk about already-married couples,
I have one more premarital couple to introduce to you.
Danny and Michelle’s dynamics were more mixed, and we can learn a lot from the way they interacted. I’ll tell you about them in the next post.