What Are the Common Issues Experienced by Couples who are Engaged to be Married?
- Common issues which couples bring to a session of pre-marriage counselling include stress around wedding plans, different approaches to financial management, nerves, cultural differences and the impact of step-families.
- However, not every couple who attends pre-marriage counselling does so in order to resolve a particular issue. Rather, couples often attend pre-marriage counselling as a way of giving thoughtful consideration to their individual expectations of marriage and of married life, and to strengthen their skills in communication and conflict resolution prior to marriage.
When a couple becomes engaged, they are looking forward to the future and to a lifetime of happiness and commonality ahead of them. However, during the engagement period, they may face high amounts of stress (particularly in relation to wedding planning), conflicts about approaches to money and finances, feelings of anxiety or nerves, issues arising from cultural or religious differences, and issues relating to step-families, in laws and children.
In many cases, working with a relationship counsellor or psychologist who specialises in pre-marriage counselling can not only help the couple develop stress management skills and improve their communication, but can also help them with issues they may face as they begin their life together as a married or committed couple.
HOW CAN WE REDUCE STRESS DURING OUR ENGAGEMENT?
As amazing as it may sound, one of the most stressful periods in a person’s life can be during their engagement and right after they get married. Planning a wedding is a big event with lots of corresponding big decisions. Money is involved, especially if the wedding is on the large side and families can easily begin squabbling about what they believe should happen during the wedding celebration. All of this can lead to stressful outbursts and frustrations for the engaged couple.
Pre-marriage counseling can help a couple reduce stress in a number of ways. One way in which stress can be reduced is by talking openly about what you want and do not want in the wedding. A pre-marriage counsellor, psychologist or therapist can help you and your fiance learn improved communication and listening skills that will assist in discussions with family members as well as help you talk more effectively with each other. Hopefully with improved communication skills, your talks about the wedding will not turn into frustrated and angry shouting matches!
Another way in which pre-marriage counselling can reduce pre-marriage stress is by simply providing an unbiased and neutral space for you and your fiancé to talk about the wedding. As simple as it sounds, having what is basically a sounding board to talk to and vent at can be extremely helpful. In the process, you will also develop skills in how to vent without being emotionally destructive to each other or to yourself.
HOW CAN WE TAKE CONTROL OF THE WEDDING BUDGET?
A common area of contention during an engagement is often the budget. Girls and/or their mothers dream about their wedding from the time they are little and even if it is a second marriage, many women have very clear ideas about what they want to happen at the ceremony. This may translate into unforeseen or unplanned expenses simply because they are on a ‘must have’ list which has little in common with financial realities. This can turn into a significant point of contention between a couple and their families, particularly for the person or people who are paying for the wedding.
HOW CAN ISSUES OF FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT AND MONEY AFFECT YOUR MARRIAGE?
Very often, couples have entirely different approaches to money and this is often revealed during the wedding planning process. One of you may have a very controlled and contained method of spending money, while the other may spend without much thought to the longer term consequences. This can be an important topic of discussion during pre-marriage counselling sessions. Your pre-marriage counsellor or psychologist can help you sit down and look at your wedding budget, help with negotiations on particular points and even role play talking to a wedding planner or with family members about spending money for the wedding.
Of course, issues of financial management and money are not just limited to the wedding, and general issues of financial management are topics commonly explored by couples during pre-marriage counselling sessions. Typically, couples do not join their finances until after marriage or during their engagement period. It is important to address financial habits beforehand, as conflicts about money are often the most pervasive, problematic, and recurrent disputes that arise in marriage (1). A pre-marriage counsellor or psychologist can help a couple to identify any differences in the way they spend and manage money, explore similarities and common concerns, develop mechanisms for dealing with those differences, and help a couple create firm agreements about how they will handle and manage their money once they are married.
WHY DO I FEEL ANXIOUS NOW THAT I AM ENGAGED TO BE MARRIED?
The decision to get married is a huge one. It brings with it an increased level of responsibility and commitment to your partner, the likelihood that you will start a family sometime in the future, typically an amalgamation of your finances, it impacts on your respective families, and it is supposed to be “forever after”. No wonder the decision to get married can be a nerve-wracking one, even if you love your partner dearly and with certainty.
Pre-Marriage Counselling can help you work through your nerves and get to the bottom of your anxiety. Often, voicing your concerns or fears is enough to belittle them. A pre-marriage counsellor can help you express your fears and talk them through with your fiancé. ‘Butterflies’ can be a normal part of every big decision we make in our lives, and talking to a pre-marriage counsellor can definitely help calm the nerves.
HOW DO WE DEAL WITH RELIGIOUS OR CULTURAL DIFFERENCE?
Religion and cultural background can be a massive part of who we are, and have a substantial impact on the way we decide to live our lives. It might affect the clothes you wear, the food you eat, the festivities you celebrate, where you send your kids to school, and the social rules you observe. In short, strong religious or cultural affiliations will impact your entire way of life.
If your religious or cultural associations are different from that of your spouse, or you observe them differently, or you are not religious at all, these differences have the potential to cause substantial conflict in your married lives. Even if they don’t affect you directly, they are likely to impact you through your parents and in-laws.
Research on interfaith couples shows that a strong predictor of relationship or marital satisfaction is the ability to communicate effectively during religion-based disputes (2). Pre-marriage counselling is an excellent forum in which to air and discuss these issues, and to come to honest and open understandings about your religious and cultural backgrounds and how you see these backgrounds interacting with your married life. Questions which are commonly discussed in pre-marriage counselling include what elements of your religious or cultural background are important to you? How important are they to you? What would you be willing to give up for your partner, or what would you be willing to take on? How will you bring up your children? These are all questions which can be discussed and answered with the help of a professional pre-marriage counsellor.
HELP! I AM A STEP-PARENT!
Kids are not always thrilled at the prospect of their parents remarrying and parents who are divorced may pose problems if they are still having conflicts with each other or with you. Likewise, becoming a step-parent is not easy, and was probably not what you ever planned for yourself, especially if this is your first marriage.
When announcing your engagement, do your best to include the children in the process. Hopefully, your relationship with your fiance’s children is strong, but try not to ‘parent’ your step-children too early on in your relationship with them. A new marriage greatly affects children, especially young children who are still living at home.
This is where working with a pre-marriage counsellor and learning active listening and communication skills can be of help. You can express your concerns with your partner, and openly discuss how best to deal with the children. Hopefully by doing this, you can avoid fights and conflict around the issue, and most importantly, do your best by the children.
You can also work with a pre-marriage counsellor or psychologist on any residual issues resulting from a previous marriage and divorce, especially if you think those issues might impact upon your new marriage.
HOW DO WE GET HELP?
If you are getting married and believe you would benefit from pre-marriage counselling and working with a qualified professional relationship counsellor or psychologist, contact us to schedule a consultation or to receive further advice: Associated Relationship & Marriage Counsellors Sydney.
Papp, Cummings & Doeke-Morey (2009). For Richer, for Poorer: Money as a Topic of Marital Conflict in the Home. Family Relations 2009 Feb, 58(1), 91-103.
Hughes, P. C., & Dickson, F. C. (2005). Communication, marital satisfaction, and religious orientation in interfaith marriages. The Journal of Family Communication, 5(1), 25-41.