I’ve been dating a woman for close to a year, and we’ve discussed marriage. Both of us are divorced, and we’re cautious about remarrying. Would you recommend premarital counseling? We’d like to openly discuss some key issues – such as money management, child-rearing, religion and sex – without getting defensive or feeling like we’re having to pass a test in the other’s eyes. Any suggestions? —Hector G., age 42, father of one
Hector, yes, I strongly recommend premarital counseling for you and your girlfriend, for many reasons, but I’ll highlight the main ones.
1. The divorce rate is higher for second marriages
First, the divorce rate is higher for second marriages overall than it is for first marriages, and there’s a reason for that: Most second marriages are a reaction to the first marriage and divorce.
Divorce is traumatic, whether you acknowledge it or not. In the aftermath, it’s not unusual to wonder if there’s something wrong with you, especially if you are the person who was left behind. Am I unattractive, you wonder? Is there something wrong with my personality that makes me ineligible for a good relationship down the road? When you meet someone new, who you find attractive and who is drawn to you – bam! Your self-doubts melt away. This is a huge self-esteem boost, and you may latch on for dear life to this new person.
The problem is that you may be reacting to your past. Since your ex had a PhD in something obscure and unfathomable and since she and drove you crazy with her pseudo-intellectualism, you are now dating someone who barely got out of high school but who is really sweet. Your ex was a blonde, and you will now only date brunettes. Your ex argued with you about everything, and now you are in love with someone who agrees with you about everything.
In psychology we call it “reaction formation,” meaning that whatever your ex was, you find someone who appears to be the opposite. But it’s kind of like trying NOT to think about a blue elephant. (See what I mean?)
Unresolved baggage from the last marriage can haunt the new marriage. Before you know it, you are re-enacting many of the old dramas you shared with your ex. You scratch your head and wonder: How did I wind up in the same emotional place? The answer is that you didn’t allow enough time to understand your last marriage and – most important – your role in the demise of the relationship.
You’re not ready yet for a new relationship but you don’t know it. That’s how second marriages often happen, and the reason so many of them don’t make it. Pre-marital counseling gives you a shot at uncovering the baggage and dealing with it so your odds of success the second time around are better.
2. Discuss top issues that trigger divorce before making a committment
The other great reason for premarital counseling is to make sure you cover the top causes of divorce and maybe preempt the issues. The number one reason for divorce is related to issues about money – not being on the same page about spending, debt and saving. It may sound simple, but it’s not. Money is an emotional topic, and it can be explosive if you are not on the same page. Before you re-marry – second, third or umpteenth time around – you should thoroughly cover all issues pertaining to money, including full disclosure of your balance sheet.
The second biggest reason for divorce is family – your boundaries with family-of-origin, children and extended family. Boundaries means how frequent your contact with your new mate, how much you share with others about your life with your new mate and how you manage social occasions with them.
3. Learn how to communicate better as a couple
The last – and best – reason for premarital counseling is to learn how to communicate better as a couple. No matter your past or your baggage, you will benefit from learning from a professional how to speak and listen to your partner in a more productive way.
Most churches and synagogues provide premarital workshops that cover communication skills as well other issues pertaining to successful marriage. Research shows that your odds of success in a new marriage are significantly higher when you invest the time and money in premarital counseling and workshops. One terrific resource for finding workshops is smartmarriages.com.
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