I’ll never forget the first piece of important advice my mom gave me about marriage: Go to counseling before you get married. My mom and dad just celebrated thirty-four years of marriage, but both of them readily admit that on their wedding day, in 1982, they had no idea how many of their individual issues would negatively impact their marriage and family life going forward.
Due to the stigma that still surrounds therapy, many individuals avoid going because they assume it’s only for “crazy” people. The fact is, in a country where almost half of marriages end in divorce and many children grow up without witnessing a healthy relationship between spouses, most of us are carrying around quite a bit of emotional baggage. That baggage has the potential to hurt our chances for future marital bliss—not to mention our happiness here and now.
But is premarital counseling enough to ward off the common marital problems that lead couples to seek counseling down the road?
At this point, the benefits of premarital counseling are well documented, and Dr. Corey Allan, a psychologist and licensed marriage counselor and founder of Simple Marriage, notes, “Research continues to show that couples who complete premarital counseling report more satisfying relationships and the divorce rate is lower than those who don't seek counseling.”
But Chris Sperling, a licensed marriage and family counselor at the Intuitus Group in Austin, Texas, thinks you should seek individual counseling as well. “If you know that you have an attachment (person or habit) that will make it difficult to love, commit to, or be vulnerable with your future spouse, you should strongly consider individual counseling before getting engaged or in a serious relationship that could lead to marriage.”
For me, going to therapy has helped me feel healthier and made me confident that I can have a healthy marriage in the future. Here’s why.
01. Therapy makes you happier.
Many people fear that going to therapy and talking about difficult and painful experiences in their life will somehow make them more unhappy, but that is simply not the case. According to a 2007 neurological study done at UCLA, “verbalizing our feelings makes our sadness, anger and pain less intense.” If you struggle with an anxiety disorder or battle depression, as I have for most of my life, therapy is key to learning how to regulate your emotions, avoid unhealthy patterns of thought and behavior, and recover from codependency. The happier and healthier you are, the happier and healthier your relationships—particularly the one with your future spouse—will be.
02. Therapy gives you insight into your wounds and helps you begin the healing process.
Maybe your dad wasn’t the dad you needed when you were growing up. Maybe you still have a tense relationship with your mom. Maybe you haven’t spoken to one of your siblings in a few years. Maybe you were abused as a child, or you were in an unhealthy relationship with an ex-boyfriend. Regardless of what your wounds are, we all have them. And the only way those wounds will heal is if they are brought into the light.
Self-medication through coping mechanisms only works for so long—and they definitely don’t work well when you’re trying to love another person in sickness and in health, till death do you part. “Our [unhealthy relationship habits] are designed to protect us from pain in our youth. But when these [habits] are played out in our adult relationships, they can cause more pain, unnecessary pain,” says Dr. Tim Clinton, a licensed marriage and family therapist and co-author of Attachments: Why You Love, Feel, and Act the Way You Do. A competent therapist can help you uncover your wounds, assess them honestly, and begin the healing process so that you can avoid hurting others, especially your significant other, because of your wounds.
03. Your therapist can help you break cycles of dysfunction.
Each one of us comes from a different “school of relationship”; that is, we all learned how to love (or hate), how to fight (or avoid conflict), how to forgive (or hold grudges), how to maintain healthy boundaries (or put up walls), from our families of origin, and especially from our parents. Dr. Gary Sibcy, a clinical psychologist and expert on attachment therapy, explains in her book, Attachments: Why You Love, Feel And Act the Way You Do, that “The seeds of [a] troubled marriage and [a] difficult mother-child relationship were sown in the hospital’s maternity department, and they grew and matured over the next few years. From their earliest relationship experiences . . . mother and child developed their attachment model, which shapes how they view themselves and those they love dearest.”
No matter how well we were taught by our parents and siblings, we were still taught by flawed human beings. There are probably a few lessons we never learned and a few we need to forget. Therapy can help you sort through what you want to keep from your family, and bring into your own marriage someday, and what types of dysfunctional behavior you want to avoid.
In the end, reducing your emotional baggage before marriage comes down to this: you can’t give what you don’t have. If you want to get married someday, but suspect there could be some baggage that could make loving or receiving love difficult, then why not add individual therapy to your personal growth to-do list? Your future husband and children, not to mention your future self, will thank you.
Photo Credit: Tina Sosna