My name is Logan Cohen. I am a North Carolina Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, as well as an Approved Supervisor for the American Association of Marriage & Family Therapy. I am a full-time private practitioner, where I predominantly work with relationships, individuals struggling with relationship issues, as well as maintain several supervisees who have their own caseloads of couples and families. In short, I essentially work with relationships most of every day and have been seeing some troubling trends in the American Marriage. These are trends that can be reversed by engaging in Premarital Counseling and in this article, I will describe the top five (FLAWED) reasons that couples make the mistake to skip Premarital Counseling before getting married.
The American Marriage is sick in epidemic proportions. In the 1960s, the average divorce rate was less than 10% (actually a rather delicate 8.5% to be exact). By the 1980s, the divorce rate ballooned to around 50%, where it has consistently hovered for the last 30 to 40 years. Generationally, this means there are more adults who were forced to face divorce in their family of origin today than at any other time in our nation’s history. And in turn, those adults are now faced with the predicament of finding suitable long-term partners for marriage and preparing to start their own families successfully.
Research has repeatedly shown that a couple’s engagement in premarital counseling provided by a therapist with specialized training in this area can significantly reduce their risk of divorce later in life. While the divorce rate has continued to hover around the 50% rate, the proportion of couples choosing to engage in this proven intervention has not risen. In fact, I have found that many couples these days actually avoid engaging in Premarital Counseling for reasons that tend to have a degree of consistency. However just because there is a degree of consistency between the reasons couples avoid engaging in Premarital Counseling, the reasons themselves are flawed and leave the couple open to a slew of potential relationship problems in the future. I want to take an opportunity in this article to speak to these current trends and provide the reader with a chance to make the best decision for themselves and their partnership before it is too late.
1. The couple believes they are destined to be with each other, or otherwise known as “Soul-Mates”.
A part of you might giggle inside when you read this however without fail, EVERY couple who enters my office makes the mistake of assuming that, “since we love each other my partner/partnership should be great because _[insert destiny-related myth here]_ .” This is inherently flawed logic. Yes, your partnership is wonderful because you finish each other’s sentences, have a TON of chemistry, have never felt this way before, etc…but this has absolutely NOTHING to do with your likelihood of staying together in the long run. This belief will not help you resolve conflict. It will not help you and your partner use adequate communication skills when you are angry. To be clear, the thought that you and your partner are destined to be with each other, however beautiful as it may be, will not support your partnership through the multitude of tense situations that arise when the proverbial “rubber meets the road in day-to-day life.
Social psychologists and anthologists who study social phenomena such as socialization and acculturation find that many “dominant social discourses” in our culture spread more efficiently and become more pervasive than others when championed by influential institutions. Nobody would argue that the production company driven by Walt Disney was a pivotal figure in our nation’s economic and social history. If you think back, how many Disney movies did you and your parents’ generation view and consume (maybe even together) that ended with the main romantic partnership “coming together out of destiny” as part of the culmination of the story? In each if not all of these major productions, the romantic partnership that the audience follows to the end of the story ends up together out of their destiny. In many of these occasions, the protagonist even impossibly cheats their own mortal death to make this happen. While this makes for a very compelling story, it is also impossible and not a realistic reason to avoid engaging in Premarital Counseling. A couple that does this is essentially walking a tight-rope with no safety net. There is nothing that will stop you when you fall even though the fictional characters seem to just bounce right back up.
2. Fear of what will be found.
I commonly find that even when one or both individuals in a couple present for counseling with outward confidence, they often experience some insecurity just below the surface about a multitude of relationship and personal dynamics. Not only is this normal, but it is to be expected. If those insecurities were not there, then why would the couple be coming to my office to begin with? However normal as this might be, I find that men and women tend to be socialized to take specific parts of this experience personally, which unfortunately serves to reinforce the defensiveness of the couple, which only further reinforces the insecurity about what will be found out of it being “not OK” for their position as a Man or a Woman that loves and wants to do right by their partner. I want to reiterate here that these oftentimes come from the caring and loving intentions of a couple, however it is the way Men and Women are socialized to respond to these dynamics that makes them particularly problematic for our relationships, regardless of the gender classification.
For instance, us Men are socialized to derive a lot of our identity and confidence from being able to solve problems independently, ESPECIALLY for our loved ones. Ladies, I want you to take a moment and consider the last time you allowed yourself to ask your Man for help and they were able to help you solve the problem. What did you observe about your partners’ confidence after the solution was realized? How do you remember seeing him beaming with confidence in his own way? Now think back to a time when you needed help and your Man did NOT know what to do. What can you remember about your partners’ behavior during that example? How did this seem to impact their confidence? Unfortunately for men, this oftentimes only gets worse the moment they realize they cannot solve the problem independently. Remember that old joke about men not wanting to ask for directions when they get lost? Well this is where it comes from.
In the many years I have been working with relationships, I oftentimes hear girlfriends, fiancés, and wives who talk about their own experiences with socialized pressure to the relationship and/or their loved ones. In this position, women often speak to the pressure they experience to, “make everything emotionally OK for loved ones.” When a husband is struggling with Depression or Alcoholism, or when one of the kids gets in trouble, you do NOT hear neighbors asking, “Where is the father? Doesn’t he know how to manage those kids? Doesn’t he know how to keep a woman?” I hope you got a bit of a giggle out of considering these hypothetical questions, however it is silly because a piece of it is true; otherwise it would just be absurd. While it is plenty absurd, this doesn’t stop couples from avoiding Premarital Counseling out of fear for what will be discovered when the couple is doing the necessary work to reinforce their partnership, and how the partners feel these issues reflects on them as Men and Women.
3. The stigma of mental health treatment has bled into couples feeling stigmatized for seeking Premarital Counseling.
The stigma of seeking mental health treatment has been a needed topic of discussion in the mental health community and even popular/common culture of late. Now more than ever popular figures and influential media sources are combining forces to speak more directly to the dangerous taboo around seeking care for mental health support, how this plays out painfully (even dangerously) in our everyday lives, and how the stigma of seeking care for these issues is WAY higher than for issues seen as relevant to “physical health”. This is a topic I could speak about lengthily in and of itself and one that has also been written about extensively in the recent past by many different sources, so I will just let that one be…as soon as someone can explain where the heck we think the brain is housed?!? It’s still the physical body! OK, OK, OK…I’m really done now….
Even though awareness around this particular issue is improving, I cease to be amazed by how often a couple who is presenting for Premarital Counseling will express something along the lines of, “Gosh…aren’t we messed up? We are doing counseling before we are even getting married! We are doomed…” This is an example of how pervasive the taboo around mental health treatment is in current society, such that a couple presenting for Premarital Counseling assumes they are being viewed as “messed up”. Not only do I take this opportunity with each couple to reframe this as a responsible choice for a couple to engage in Premarital Counseling, but one that is proof of the couples’ sanity! Not only is this the personal position of myself and the other practitioners at New Leaf Counseling Group, but this is one that is reinforced by evidence-based research time and time again.
4. Belief that counselor will not affirm religious orientation or religious needs.
There is a common misconception that psychology and religion do not get along with each other. Unfortunately, I think there are many clinicians who do not know how to integrate a degree of these values into their work when it has been specifically requested by a client or couple, resulting in unclear expectations for both practitioner and client. There are many beautiful, wonderful, and fascinating aspects of religion and spirituality! Given this, it is the basic responsibility of each mental health practitioner to ensure that IF religion is a source of strength for an individual or partnership, then this source of strength should be incorporated into the treatment work.
As a PREPARE/ENRICH facilitator, I am trained specifically in how to assess the religious needs of each partner and couple in order to support them in deciding how much, if any religious values should play a role in the fundamental dynamics of their partnership. This varies drastically between people and relationships and regardless of the level of “religiosity” of each couple, research has repeatedly shown that when partners are allowed to overtly develop shared religious views for their relationship, long-term outcomes of stability and satisfaction increase greatly. For this reason, couples considering Premarital Counseling from an adequately trained clinician should expect a clinician to affirm the couples’ religious orientation.
5. Belief that counselor will be pushy about their own views on religion or spirituality.
I have also worked with many religious couples who have stated their previous reservation around engaging in Premarital Counseling was based on their belief that a counselor would push their own religious agenda onto the couple. There are probably many reasons that this dynamic occurs and one would imagine that our geographic location being centered in the “Bible Belt” might have something do with it, but unfortunately the result has been that many people expect to be pursued by religious values they do not agree with from a professional counselor. I can tell you with all certainty that if this was your experience with a professional counselor, then they unfortunately did not adhere to one of the basic ethical duties presented by the American Counseling Association (ACA) known as Fidelity. Fidelity is the basic assumption that if a client or couple does not identify with a particular worldview, it is the professional counselor’s responsibility to refrain from pursuing the couple with this worldview that the couple has no interest in. Essentially this means that whether your relationship is defined largely by religious values or if your relationship is devoid of religious values, an ethical professional counselor should “follow each couples’ lead”. If you or someone you know has been pressured to adopt a worldview, religious or otherwise from a professional counselor, then that experience would be deemed an unethical one as per modern and up-to-date expectations for best clinical practices.
I am passionate about working with relationships and as much as I enjoy working with more established partnerships in their own right, I also want to be deliberate in doing my part to help intervene in the epidemic illness of the American Marriage. Marriages and partnership is at the core of each family and families are at the core of each community. Benjamin Franklin once sad, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” and I readily agree, especially after seeing the pain on the faces of clients in my waiting room after they have waited too long to get the required care for their failing marriages.
There is a clinical program created by Dr. David Olsen called PREPARE/ENRICH, which has been specifically designed and scientifically proven to significantly increase the success rate of marriages and decrease the rate of divorce. In addition to my years of experience providing clinical care specifically for relationships, I have undergone this unique premarital training and have also come together with another seasoned Marriage & Family Therapist named Chris Matthews, LMFT, LCAS, who is actually another PREPARE/ENRICH trained Marriage & Family Therapist. Together, we offer the Strong Roots Premarital Intensive Workshop at New Leaf Counseling Group. The format of this intensive workshop alternates each couple between group and couples therapy, so each couple will have dedicated 1-on1 time with a seasoned Marriage & Family Therapist. These premarital intensive workshops are ideal for couples who are about to get married or have recently tied the knot, and now want to ensure they do not become a statistic by falling into the many trappings of the modern American Marriage. Again, the included PREPARE/ENRICH content has been scientifically proven to increase the success rate of marriages and decrease rates of divorce. Included topics will include but not be limited to healthy communication, resolving conflict and stress, how individual personality traits impact your partnership, establishing personal/couple/family goals, and creating an optimal foundation for your successful Marriage.
Feel free to review more information specifically about the Strong Roots Premarital Intensive Workshop offered by New Leaf Counseling Group here, where you can also see availability for our next offering. Maximum occupancy is 5 couples to maintain an intimate setting, so availability will be limited. We hope you and your loved ones stay well out there and remember, we have room for you to grow.