I enjoy helping couples in all circumstances in marriage. From premarital (sometimes I mistype it as premartial which I generally think would not be a helpful idea :)) to marriage enrichment groups and seminars, to crisis counseling, and infidelity groups, counseling and conferences I am passionate about helping couples. It is never too early to prepare and never too late to learn and change to a better course.
Jim at Growthtrac put out the post, Premarital education could cut divorce rate, survey finds. He makes some good points and it is worth reading.
From my perspective premarital education is boiled down to two key words; conflict and expectations. All couples will have conflict. How boring it would be to marry someone who thinks exactly like you do. It's good to have some common core values, but I need someone to complement my weaknesses and to make me pause and say, "Hmmm, I never would have thought of that. That's cool."
With those differences in thinking, however will come conflict. How a couple handles conflict is one essential in determining the happiness in a marriage. I assume there is some affinity between the couple in the beginning or they wouldn't be considering marriage. Keeping the positives protected from the destruction poorly handled conflict spews forth is essential. Scott Stanley says there are four danger signs in handling conflict; escalation, invalidation, negative interpretation and withdrawal. Another way to say this is; get loud and/or mean, you're stupid, you're out to get me or don't really love me, or let's don't talk about the hard stuff. Do any or all of those four and good in your relationship will gradually diminish.
I hope it is obvious that those issues aren't just to be dealt with in premarital. Handling conflict more effectively helps any relationship at any time.
It is essential to bring expectations into the light. We all have a zillion expectations that often we aren't even aware exist. We assume every family is similar to ours. We think thoughts like, we wash the towels after every shower or we hang them up, let them dry and wash them on Saturday. Orange juice is meant to have a lot of pulp or no pulp. Pulp or pulp fiction. :) Mashed potatoes. I like mine lumpy where Ann likes hers creamy.
Those are some fun ones to talk about (even those are important if meanings of life and love are attached to them. I heard once that the way potatoes are prepared bring tension to every cloistered group) but it is really important to bring expectations into the light when talking about; money, conflict, parenting, free time, sex, spirituality, holidays, friends etc. There is a great section on expectations (including questions) in , A Lasting Promise by Scott Stanley.
Expectations are a constant to deal with. Here is a recent example with Ann and I. We are preparing to sell our house. We've been here seven years and we've accumulated too much stuff and there are many minor repairs to make. We need to declutter and to revive.
I tend to move about 30 miles per hour with an occasional burst into warp speed when I intuit something to be of essential spiritual or personal importance. Ann tends to run at a steady 65 miles per hour with increases to 85 when a new project comes up.
As we entered into preparation to sell our home Ann was off and racing. I'm doing my regular 30. We hadn't talked about this and weren't aware at all the differences in these expectations would have on our relationship during this significant change in our lives.
As Ann mentally reviewed the 100 Designed to Sell episodes she's seen and developed vision for the project, I began to feel left out. I felt decisions were being made without me. I began to feel disconnected from Ann not just around the selling of the house but in our relationship as a whole. I wasn't totally aware of what was going on inside and began to, this is a technical term, freak out.
After several days I let Ann know what I was feeling. I didn't attack her, didn't assume for a second that she was doing this on purpose (maybe some while I was freaking out), spoke to her with gracious consideration, and let her know the distance I was feeling and the internal freaking out that was going on. I let her know I wanted to be included in the process and that her pressure and chaos was bringing chaos into me. I told her I appreciated her hard work and also that if God is ahead of us on this that it will happen. We can work hard and do our part, but if it is meant to happen it will happen.
To Ann's credit, she listened and heard me. She also shared her feelings about me pulling back sometimes. At times when I say I don't really care about a certain piece of it she'll bring me in by saying, "I really want you involved on this with me. I care about your thoughts and feelings here."
So we managed our previously unstated expectations with some good conflict resolution skills avoiding the 'danger signs'. The tension eventually didn't bring our relationship down a notch but brought us closer as we each learned a little more about our selves and the other.