7 Benefits to Premarital Counseling

It’s generally accepted that premarital education programs help clients learn skills that are beneficial and contribute to the overall health of relationships. There is also some research that suggests premarital counseling helps prevent divorce as well.

Premarital counseling is frequently conducted through programs affiliated with a particular faith or religion. Often religious leaders will require the couples attend some counseling before they officiate their wedding. However, this requirement doesn’t exist for couples that aren’t affiliated with any religious institution and are choosing to get married. Research shows that premarital counseling can be beneficial even when not conducted in a faith-based setting.

What follows are the benefits of premarital counseling:

Benefit #1:  Truly Ready

Counseling can ensure that both partners are truly ready for marriage. If, during counseling, a couple chooses to postpone getting married, consider that a success. Why? Because it means both partners are making sure they are on the same page before making such a huge commitment.  

As a therapist, I would never tell a couple whether to get married. Alternatively, I can “hold up the mirror” to their relationship issues and help the couple explore key aspects of their relationship that have the potential to be troublesome.  This helps couples make better life decisions.

Benefit #2:  Practicing Communication

Another benefit of counseling? It teaches and models healthy communication for couples. Many couples take years to learn effective communication skills and others never learn them at all. Why not practice effective communicating before choosing a lifelong commitment to another person, instead of learning on the fly?

Benefit #3:  Addressing Underlying Issues

Most couples have some form of ongoing issues in their relationship. John Gottman refers to them as perpetual problems. While never completely resolved, the healthiest couples learn to finesse or “massage” these problems. Thus, they are workable in the relationship. However, for some couples, those issues may simmer for years or cause significant resentment to develop in the relationship. Premarital counseling can help couples get a handle on these problems before they marry.

Benefit #4:  Know Thy Mate

Counseling is an opportunity for partners to get to know each  thoroughly. If for some reason they uncover some significant incompatibility issues, it’s far better to learn about them ahead of marriage. However, it’s more likely that premarital counseling can simply help couples better understand each other’s perspectives and establish a compromise on their preferences with certain issues. Here are some big ones:

  • Children:  Does each partner want children?  It’s a common topic for therapy.
  • Where do we want to live?  In the city, suburbs, or country?

Benefit # 5:  Reduce Chances of Divorce

Couples who participate in counseling greatly reduce the possibility of divorce. Marital satisfaction increases as well. Of course, there is no 100% guarantee of anything in life, but couples can tip the odds in their favor for a happier and sustainable marriage by participating in premarital counseling.

Benefit #6:  Have a Plan for Your Marital Future

Premarital counseling helps couples to reflect on their vision for their married lives together. By ensuring that they are on the same page together, couples can better handle “roadblocks” that come up during their marriage.

Benefit #7:  Premarital Counseling Should Include Individual Counseling

Why have individual counseling when we are talking about couples counseling?  Of us are often working on a personal issue that can be better explored in individual counseling. It helps us better understand who we are as individuals and allows us to be at our best in our most important relationship.

Premarital counseling is not simply for couples who have opposing viewpoints or disagreements.  It’s also for those couples without any obvious problems at all. Therapy can help couples identify these potential problems and address them effectively. This can help ensure that they can have a healthy and happy relationship that will last for many years to come.

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How to Prevent Financial Disagreements from Destroying Your Relationship

Financial disagreements can not only be damaging financially, they often expose deeper relationship problems. When it comes to harmful relationship problems, conflict over finances is right at the top of the list. There is even some research showing that compared to all types of conflict, financial disagreements are the top predictor of divorce. However, by discussing financial issues with one another and communicating effectively, couples can not only build trust with each other, they can also prevent sabotaging their relationship by following these tips.

Tip #1: Start Early!

Ideally, before marriage, couples should sit down and have conversations about finances. The earlier the better! By doing so early on, couples can identify any trouble spots and, if necessary, consult with a financial advisor and/or couples therapist.

Tip #2: Communication Tools

In order to prevent any financial differences from negatively impacting your relationship, it is essential to develop the tools to communicate effectively. These communication tools will serve you well in many other aspects of your relationship.

Tip #3: Personal Financial Philosophy

You can use these conversations as a basis for identifying and communicating your own financial philosophy. Are you a thrifty person or do you spend freely? Do you make quick decisions when it comes to money or do you like to research all your options first? Often our approach to money comes from our upbringing. A financially challenged childhood might cause you to spend money very conservatively. However, if you had a more comfortable upbringing, you are likely to treat money differently.

Tip #4: Your Partner’s Philosophy

Once you understand your own perspective on money, it would be helpful to understand your partner’s financial philosophy. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! Both of you need to make sure that your philosophies when it comes to money are going to be mostly compatible.

Tip #5: Develop Financial Goals

Where do you see yourselves as a couple financially in 5, 10, or even 20 years? What do you anticipate are your shared goals, such as:

  • Owning a house?
  • Raising a family?
  • Saving for college tuition?
  • Retirement plans?

Once you have established your goals, you can begin working towards them. Remember, the sooner you figure this out, the better!

Tip #6: Talk about Your Finances

Make these discussions a regular occurrence. Decide what works best for you as a couple. One conversation per week, or perhaps once a month is sufficient? However you decide to do it, consistent financial discussions will help you to keep on top of matters as well as look ahead to anticipate possible future problems.

Tip #7: Spending Limits

Communicate and jointly decide with each other your appropriate spending. This is the amount of money that you allow each other to spend without requiring additional discussion or approval.

For instance, you may not need to discuss with your partner a $50 purchase at the grocery store. On the other hand, spending $3000 on a mountain bike would, for most couples, require additional conversations before making a purchase! Remember, making a large purchase without communicating to your partner is a form of financial infidelity.  Since you know you won’t get their approval, doing it anyway can quickly erode trust in your relationship.

Tip #8: Avoid Financial Secrets

Another form of financial infidelity is keeping secret financial problems or issues from your partner. It can create significant trust issues, which, if left unaddressed does negatively impact other aspects of your partnership as well.

Tip #9: Make the Most of Your Resources

You don’t have to do this alone! Take advantage of resources in your community that can help you and your partner. For monetary issues, a reputable financial advisor can help get your finances on track.  For relationship problems, consult with a couples counselor who can teach you the communication tools you need to be successful as a couple.

Don’t let financial disagreements destroy your relationship. Couples can work to avoid these problems by following the above tips, as well as working with both a financial advisor and couples counselor. Together, you can lay the groundwork for a relationship that is not only fiscally sound, but also emotionally secure.

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How Realistic is it to Fall Back in Love?

I often see couples who, for one reason or another, have fallen out of love. They are hoping to fall back in love, under the magic spell of couple’s therapy, in order to return to the “high” they experienced at the start of their relationship. But how realistic is it for couples to fall back in love and bring back that spark? While it may not be realistic for all couples, for those willing to do the work, there are often ways to gradually fall back in love.

Step 1:  Couples Need to Learn to “Like” Each Other Again

What does “liking” each other mean? It means starting over again from scratch and learning how to enjoy the presence of each other’s company. This is not necessarily easy. Both partners must be able to work at this together, with possibly one person needing to put in significantly more effort. They often need to learn how to communicate better and listen to one another. This is where therapy can be really helpful, especially if couples are struggling to communicate effectively on their own.

Step 2:  Focus on Being Kind to One Another

Relationships are not just built on communication. They are rooted in foundations of mutual understanding and affection for one another, including kindness. Again, both partners must be willing to be kind to one another. Perhaps this is an area where one partner struggles.  The other partner can coach them on efforts they can make.  For instance:

  • Providing a compliment.
  • Being appreciative.
  • Showing affection.
  • Being thoughtful, such as bringing home flowers or leaving a kind note.
  • Being present when talking to one another.

Step 3:  Rediscover Shared Interests

Relationships often start over a mutual interest. This could be a sport, hobby, music, etc. You can begin to gradually incorporate activities that helped you become close in the first place. One reason that couples drift apart is because they no longer participate in these activities together. Make it a priority to have a regular  “date night” where you can rediscover these mutual interests together.

Step 4:  Prioritize Distraction-Free Time Together

When spending time together, make it a priority to turn off the screens and phones. These distractions only divert our attention away from our partners. They also send a message that says, “I don’t have your back” and “I’m not really connected to you.” In order to fall back in love, it’s necessary that couples create time where the only focus is on each other.

Step 5:  Focus on the Little Things

Falling back in love doesn’t require big declarations of love! What really matters are the little things that couples can do to show their appreciation for each other. These don’t have to be gifts. Instead, focus on giving each other a compliment at least once a day, doing something thoughtful that the other partner will appreciate, or even sending a kind text message.

Step 6:  Exercise Together

Exercising has a lot of benefits.  Of course, it’s important for staying healthy, but it’s also one of those shared activities that you can experience together. Additionally, the chemicals released during exercise can have a positive effect on our mood, which also impacts your partner.

Hold Off on Sex until You’re Ready

Sometimes couples may too quickly “jump the gun,” thinking sexual intimacy will, by itself, magically solve everything. However, you should hold off on re-establishing your sex life. At least until you’ve reached a point where you “like” each other again.  

These steps can help couples that have drifted apart rediscover connection, and, hopefully, love again. If couples are still feeling stuck, attending couples counseling is highly recommended. If you both are willing to commit to making a consistent effort, you can once again find the spark that originally brought you together.

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How Uncontrolled Anger Destroys Relationships

Anger is a normal emotion. It stems from feeling hurt, anxious, shame, or powerlessness. Although it’s a natural emotion, it is often seen as a problem, even evil, bad, or wrong. However, it’s important to remember that feeling anger is an internal experience.  How anger is expressed is an external issue that can affect others, including those who are close to us and who we love the most. Without control, anger can destroy our closest relationships.

Holding in Anger vs Lashing Out

Of course, some people never express anger at all and hold it in. It’s a short-term strategy that doesn’t work for very long. That’s because, when someone holds in all their emotion and doesn’t express it appropriately, it will eventually bubble up and turn into “last straw” experiences. Then, it is explosively and inappropriately let out. Sometimes those who’ve experienced an angry or abusive parent can follow this ineffective approach. As a child, one who learned to keep their anger inside in order to avoid the wrath of that parent. Of course, this can lead to a host of problems as an adult that are just as serious. The key to remember in both cases is that there are productive and destructive ways to express anger and all negative emotions.

Helping vs. Hurting Relationships

When we attack or yell at our partner constantly we are slowly destroying our relationship. No one likes being attacked, physically or verbally. Using anger as a way of attacking our partner only leads to them feeling:

  • Less physically and emotionally safe.
  • More reluctant to be vulnerable and open.
  • Less likely to trust their partner.

However, when we express anger productively without attacking our partner, those emotions can actually contribute to having a productive dialogue. To get an idea of how to express yourself appropriately with your partner, go here.

Research into Anger and Relationships

The Gottman Institute in Seattle, WA has done research on the topic of anger and relationships. They investigated what happens when couples get really worked up and angry with each other.

They discovered when you are angry enough- which they define as emotion that causes your heart rate to rise above 100 beats per minute –   (they refer to this as being emotionally flooded) – you cannot process information effectively. Being emotionally flooded means you become so overwhelmed with your feelings that you simply can’t process everything around you. You become less able to look at things objectively and make good decisions. I tell couples that when you are emotionally flooded you can easily express (usually yell) your side of the argument, but you can’t understand them. It’s as if they are speaking a foreign language.  

When this happens there is that breakdown in communication that damages or destroys relationships. Yet there are ways that couples can calm down and self-soothe to ensure their anger doesn’t become destructive.

Ideas to Avoid Uncontrolled Anger

Couples who struggle with anger have several options available to keep things under control. These include:

  • Rescheduling the argument for another time. Being specific when picking out a day or time.  The sooner the better, if possible.
  • Learn to be more mindful and aware of your emotional state.
  • If you get too upset, don’t continue. Go back to step 1 and reschedule! Keep things from getting too heated. Otherwise, it becomes impossible to take back things you regret saying or doing.
  • Learn self-management and emotional soothing strategies. Besides mindfulness, learn relaxation techniques, listening skills, and being able to see things from the other person’s perspective.

If you or your partner is still struggling with anger that negatively impacts your relationship, then you need to see a therapist and possibly participate in an anger management program.

Although anger is a natural, human emotion, it can be the source of a lot of pain and anguish in relationships. All too often anger when left unchecked leads to hurt feelings, a lack of understanding, and in the worst cases physical and emotional harm. Yet, it doesn’t have to be that way!

By learning some simple coping strategies combined with therapy, couples can experience anger without having to act on those rage-filled feelings. This means less destructive relationships and better communication between partners.

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It Takes Work to Rebuild Trust – Are You Ready to Do the Work?

Various forms of trust issues are always present in most relationships. When couples come to see me, trust almost always shows up in one way or another. Most couples – even healthy ones – have some sort of trust issue present, even if it’s a relatively small issue. These issues aren’t necessarily connected to affairs or related to any type of infidelity. But they often can indicate how emotionally close couples are and can potentially cause disconnection in a relationship.

Kinds of Trust Issues

Besides affairs/infidelity, other kinds of trust issues include:

  • Dishonest behavior: not telling the truth or at least the whole truth.
  • Degrees of unfaithfulness: such as flirting behavior.
  • Financial infidelity: making a significant purchase without telling your partner.

Trust issues aren’t confined to the above categories. Any aspect of  your life and relationship involving a lack of trust can become problematic for you and your partner.

Trust and Emotional Security

Another, more fundamental, way that a lack of trust impacts a relationship is when one or both partners is not able to be reliably emotionally present for the other. For example, one partner may not have faith that their partner will be emotionally available for them during difficult or stressful times.  In other words, you may not have any confidence that your partner truly “has your back.” When someone is emotionally unavailable during vulnerable times, it can seriously damage your partnership. It destroys confidence that your partner will be there for you when most needed.  Although this situation may not be as damaging as an actual affair, this kind of emotional abandonment is a recipe for having a very distant and unsatisfying relationship.

More Than a Quick-Fix

Couples struggling with trust issues may go to couples counseling for help. This is certainly an opportunity to learn communication tools and discover why trust has been lost.  However, far too often, couples mistakenly conclude that all they need to do is attend a few sessions and presto! They are back on track with their relationship!

The reality is, that with significant trust issues, a “quick-fix” isn’t going to cut it. It does not exist. Both partners need to understand why trust was lost, learn to be truly present to each other’s pain, and gradually rebuild the relationship. The rebuilding process will take time, lots of patience, and effort for trust to be earned again.

Typically, it is really hard for couples to understand that this is a lengthy, in-depth process. The effort required is really significant, especially when the offending partner struggles to “get it.” They may think that apologizing is all that’s necessary and that everything is now OK. Nothing could be further from the truth!  Rebuilding trust isn’t magic. It isn’t accomplished with a few apologetic statements.  A sincere apology is an important start, however, it’s only one small step in a long journey. 

What’s Necessary to Rebuild Trust?

To rebuild trust, break the process down into types of behaviors. Those that require either a high-cost level of effort or a low-cost level of effort.  

High Cost:  Requires a greater investment of time and effort on the part of the offending partner. This requires altering significant behaviors or making different life choices.

Here are some examples:

  • Finding a new job
  • Ending a friendship
  • Getting treatment for substance abuse problems
  • Ending a porn addiction
  • Sharing phone, text, and emails in an effort to be transparent with your partner
  • Being patient, open to scrutiny, and answering identical questions repeatedly

Low Cost:  These are behaviors that aren’t hard to do every day and require less effort. They are also helpful when both partners participate in them.

Some examples:

  • Complimenting your partner
  • Showing your appreciation
  • Being fully present when you have a discussion
  • Initiating an activity you can do together, such as going for a walk or date night
  • Showing affection toward each other

I would recommend that the offending person consult with their partner and choose some high-cost behaviors. In addition, both partners can engage in ongoing low-cost behaviors for 3-4 weeks. At that point, the two of you can decide to either add or subtract behaviors from either category. If your connection to one another doesn’t seem to be improving, it would be a good idea to attend couples counseling.  

It doesn’t take much for trust to start to erode in a relationship. In fact, it can happen in the blink of an eye. However, it can take months, or in some cases, even years of work to regain that trust. If there is a noticeable trust issue in your relationship, ask yourself if you are willing to do the necessary work to reconnect fully with your partner. With a combination of professional support, concrete action, and lots of patience, you can rebuild the trust in your relationship.

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