My passion for educating couples early in their committed relationships was initially driven by personal experience. When I married at 22, my husband and I lacked sufficient tools, skills or guidelines for navigating a mature, lasting relationship. Three beautiful children and 13 years later, we separated with sadness, grief, and shame.
So, where did it all go wrong? For me, it was primarily conflict issues which mirrored my parents’ poor marriage and ultimate divorce when I was a teen. My ex-husband had attachment issues from being sent across the globe to boarding school before he could tie his shoelaces.
Neither of us had any relationship education at school, college or before marriage. We weren’t aware of the negative family cycles that infiltrated our relationship, let alone how to work on this. My notion of intimate relationships came from romantic novels, films, and T.V. It’s no wonder our marriage failed.
So, I went on a mission to understand relationships. What I learned was a huge revelation, but not rocket science. If only someone had given us professional guidance earlier, taught us what we hadn’t learned growing up, and continued to be just an appointment away when needed. We might have had a “fighting” chance to nip negative tendencies in the bud before they became entrenched and destructive. We could have learned how to break disruptive family cycles that subliminally pass from one generation to the next. And most importantly, we could have given our children more relationship stability to pass on to their children – our grandchildren.
My first-hand experience demonstrating the importance of tools and guidelines early in a committed relationship set me on a creative path to design and deliver courses for as many of these couples as possible and to help other therapists integrate this valuable service into their practice.
An ounce of early prevention can save couples from a ton of escalating misery.
Like building a house, the groundwork and foundations need to be skillfully laid to prevent ongoing trouble.
Couples want to start on the right foot but often have nowhere to turn for customized help. It is the ideal time to:
- Educate and normalize
- Help them understand different ‘normals’ in the context of families of origin
- Teach skills to manage conflict
- Promote good communication and model curiosity
- Support discussion in all key relationship areas, i.e. roles, in-laws, children, finances, intimacy/sex, differences and more
- Discuss brain/triggers/neuroplasticity
- Normalize the transition from the Symbiotic (honeymoon) to Differentiation (reality/post honeymoon) stages
- Encourage differentiation and teamwork to support this
- Reinforce information with handouts and ‘homework’ in all key relationship areas
This is often a couple’s first experience of receiving professional relationship help. When you leave them with the memorable experience of learning relevant skills and insights that help shore up the foundations of their unique relationship, they’re more likely to be open to further professional help if needed.
It feels great to help future-proof a couple’s unique relationship by helping them know where things will likely go wrong BEFORE they happen. Partners may be dating, engaged, recently married, or thinking about living together; regardless, the prime time to learn what it takes to build a resilient long-term relationship is early in their commitment. The sooner they learn how to redirect negative tendencies, the less likely they will become entrenched and destructive.
It's immensely satisfying to know you’re helping to create positive relationship cycles and increased family stability to pass down to the next generation.
I have learned that marriage-prep couples are quick to refer you and often come back for therapy at some point.
In a world of change where up to 50% of marriages end in divorce, and considerably more are unfulfilled, there’s a call for therapists to help couples build a stronger foundation.
Marriage Prep Is Different from Couples Therapy
Couples in the early years of a relationship commitment are eager to learn how to preserve their love and create long-term fulfilment and resilience. They don’t yet have strong defences or entrenched issues built up in their relationship. It’s the prime time for teaching healthy ways of relating. Couples are especially receptive when the course is customized to their unique relationship. They are a joy to work with and a welcome contrast to our heavier therapy work, where couples often come in at breaking point.
Couples love to hear stories of your difficult long-term therapy clients and what typically happens when unresolved issues become entrenched and destructive. This encourages them to focus on your preventative guidance and to feel lucky to have this early opportunity.
Keep the focus on giving your couple good relationship guidelines, tools and skills – particularly where you see it is most needed with the unique couple in front of you. Be wary of slipping into therapy mode, or you will lose track. Flag any complex issues in a matter-of-fact and supportive way. Let couples know that complex issues are not a deal breaker and can be worked through, and provide them with links to relevant resources. Clients are often relieved if they can return to you for therapy when ready.
Don’t pathologize or tell a couple not to get married; that is their decision. Your job is to disrupt their negative tendencies, raise their awareness, give them relevant guidelines and tools, and back up your course with comprehensive handouts on all key relationship areas.