While marriage is still a leap of faith into the unknown, there is something to be said for the importance of adequate preparation.
Deciding to marry someone is arguably the biggest choice of your life; you are choosing to embrace all of life’s ups and downs together. You are accepting their past, their family, and the best and worst parts of the person you're choosing to love and commit to for the duration of your life.
Although it's more important to be willing rather than ready to take on this challenge with your partner, marriage preparation programs can certainly make the transition into married life much smoother and provide benefits that last well beyond the initial phase of marriage. Not to be confused with counseling, marriage prep specifically seeks to help a couple best prepare for and alleviate potential problems before they arise.
What the Stats Say
Although it's often churches and religious institutions that offer and require marriage prep, they're not the only ones that recognize the benefit of preparation. Dr. Les Parrott, psychologist and author of Saving Your Marriage Before it Starts, cites studies that show couples who participate in marriage preparation programs are actually 31% less likely to get divorced and have a 30% overall increase in marital success and fulfillment over those who didn’t participate in a pre-marital program.
Couples who participate in marriage preparation programs are actually 31% less likely to get divorced.
Interestingly enough, 41% of couples who have been through divorce state that a lack of pre-marital counseling actually contributed to their divorce. In addition to a plethora of research that shows evidence of the success of marital preparation programs, many states actually offer discounts on marriage licenses for couples who provide evidence of having undergone some form of marriage preparation.
The young couples getting married today face a variety of new challenges in marriage, and the Institute for Family Studies (IFS) explains how some of these recent challenges can best be combatted through effective marriage preparation.
Decreasing levels of commitment, increasing concerns about economic stability, prioritization of careers, relationship histories, and the influences of the media and technology are all factors cited by IFS that contribute to the changing dynamics of young marriages today. These challenges only further substantiate the need for quality marriage preparation as they add to the challenges that already exist in marriage.
There is a fine line between worrying about every little detail of married life and being adequately prepared. There are many parts of life that you will never be fully prepared for until you experience them, and parts of married life definitely fall into this category. Thoughtful marriage preparation, however, can better equip you and your partner to handle these challenges when they arise.
A good marriage preparation program can initially help and make you aware of your partner’s opinions on some of the most contentious aspects of marriage. The article "8 Big Topics You Need to Discuss Before Marriage" highlights a few things that should absolutely be addressed before getting married, but marriage prep programs often foster these conversations much more effectively than if you and your partner attempted to broach them on your own.
For many people, stances on kids, divorce, and long-term career goals are unchanging non-negotiables. Marriage prep not only forces a couple to discuss these issues but exposes whether or not one (or both) people have a hard and fast mindset about some of life’s biggest choices.
Marriage prep not only forces a couple to discuss these issues but exposes whether or not one (or both) people have a hard and fast mindset about some of life’s biggest choices.
Although people do change, going into marriage expecting that someone is going to change, and expecting they’re going to change their opinion on something big, is a recipe for disaster. Marriage prep helps a couple explore these topics on a deep level and gain a thorough understanding of their partner’s opinions and expectations. In general, expectations are something people often take for granted and extend far beyond just the big topics. Exploring and understanding the expectations each person brings into marriage is yet another benefit of marriage prep.
Diving into the communication patterns you and your significant other fall into is one of the greatest benefits of marriage prep. Many marriage prep programs ask thoughtful questions that require both you and your future spouse to reflect on your individual communication patterns, both the positive and the negative. Not only do you learn more about yourself, you learn more about your partner and how you function as a couple.
Simply being aware of the negative patterns you have a tendency to fall into will help you in those moments when tensions are heightened, and you have a greater chance of speaking or acting in hurtful ways towards your partner. An awareness of these patterns helps you develop a plan, and while it won’t always be perfectly implemented, it can help you work through some of the difficulties of marriage without adding unnecessary complications.
Past Hurts and Upbringings
Again, while marriage prep isn’t the same as counseling, it does provide a forum to explore each other’s past and upbringings, as those aspects of life are often carried into marriage, be it consciously or subconsciously. The pain we carry from previous situations or relationships can come up in the most surprising ways during marriage, and simply knowing those things about your partner and which situations may dredge up old hurts or discomfort can help prevent a problem before it even begins.
The pain we carry from previous situations or relationships can come up in the most surprising ways during marriage.
Additionally, childhoods and families of origin play a huge role in married life and often create preconceived expectations about what life with your spouse is going to look like. Discussing how your childhood affects you as an adult and how the good and the bad parts of your upbringing influence you now will be one of the main focuses of marriage prep, and with good reason. Things as important as the example of marriage you saw in your own parents to things as seemingly trivial as birthday celebrations will be important points explored in marriage prep.
Marriage prep isn’t a guarantee against all problems of marriage, but it does certainly leave you better prepared when those problems arise. Couples who go through marriage prep have unique opportunities to discuss difficult topics and are made more aware of a variety of ways in which they can love one another better and more deeply.
It seems silly to disregard the clear benefits of preparing for the biggest decision of your life. Your happiness, the happiness of your future spouse, and quite possibly the success of your marriage could depend on making the choice to attend some form of marriage preparation.