Premarital Counseling… is it for everyone?
Recently, celebrity couple Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell have been speaking publicly about their use of marriage counseling.
In the May 2015 issue of Good Housekeeping magazine, Bell says,
“You do better in the gym with a trainer; you don’t figure out how to cook without reading a recipe,” she said. “Therapy is not something to be embarrassed about. I don’t mind advertising a healthy marriage. I’m trying, just like everyone else.”
In response to Bell’s revelation, daytime talk show host, Wendy Williams, discussed the couple’s use of therapy on a recent episode (12:43).
Williams’ main critiques were that couples don’t need counseling at the beginning of their relationship; they need to learn to handle things on their own and “fight adult-like.” Moreover she suggests that at times therapists seem to create more conflict in order to make more money.
I think both Bell and Williams bring up excellent points to consider. First, many but not all couples find premarital counseling helpful. Maybe its not for everyone, but it’s certainly helpful in many cases. Our most robust national study about the effectiveness of premarital counseling found that it reduced the likelihood of divorce by 30%. That’s significant.
I also like Bell’s comparison of early couples counseling to an exercise trainer – it keeps you on track and focused. It’s instructional, and helps you avoid common mistakes. Many people need relationship coaching much like we need consultation or coaching in other areas of our life. And while premarital therapy may not be problem-driven, it does work to identify and prevent future problems.
It’s much easier to fix a problem early in its development than to wait until it’s a chronic problem besieging the relationship, fueled by years of hurt and resentment.
I also think Williams brings up some valid points. First, regarding her thoughts about couples learning to fare well on their own, she’s right that healthy couples need to take what they’ve learned and apply the principles to their interactions. Couples need to find ways to disagree without hurting each other or damaging the relationship. Moreover, couples counseling should never become a substitute for the support you find in each other.
Secondly, Williams also raises the point that some therapists stir up conflict to promote more business. While good therapy should raise issues and require clients to deal with difficult areas, premarital counseling should never stir up unnecessary conflict. As a client, if you feel this is the case, I would encourage you to bring this concern up to your counselor. If it continues to happen, discontinue therapy or find another counselor.
As I’ve said elsewhere, relationships really are the guts of life, and many people find the relationship coaching in premarital counseling invaluable!