Before You Get Engaged...
by Elizabeth Busby, LMFT-A
Pre-engagement counseling - learning and sharing before you buy the engagement ring and register for the gifts
It is undeniable that attending bi-annual dental appointments reduces your risk of needing a root canal. To further decay-proof your teeth, experts recommend brushing and flossing daily. These actions strengthen oral health while decreasing the risk of problems. Other areas of medicine employ similar preventative measures meant to avoid problems and encourage health. Why is it, then, that most people do not take this level of precaution regarding what is arguably the most important relationship of an adult's life: their marriage? Brave people flock to marriage therapists after their relationship is already in crisis; however, this systemic crumbling of a relationship does not spring up overnight. In fact, many people in this regrettable circumstance could tell you that the qualities possessed by their spouse that eventually contributed to the demise of the relationship were present even before marriage. Scientists can explain the complex hormonal cocktails that are responsible for this blindness to negative traits in one's beloved, so it is understandable that most people miss these warning signs.
What is Pre-Engagement Counseling?
Thankfully, “pre-engagement counseling” is a thing! In counseling with couples considering marriage before they get engaged, the psychotherapist works with the seriously dating couple to identify strengths and areas for growth. This process can help prepare the couple for potential marriage pitfalls. We call this work "pre-engagement counseling” because it occurs before a couple gets engaged.
In the United States, engagement is often focused on "wedding preparation." In this typical scenario, a couple, who may have very good intentions of doing marriage preparation, would be forced to squeeze marriage prep between cake tasting and wedding dress fitting on their mile-long to-do-list. Understandably, they often do not have time or energy to pour into the "heart" work necessary to heal from past wounds, grow in pro-marriage habits, discuss differing expectations for their future, and the myriad of other beneficial preparatory elements that go into building a solid foundation for a life-long union. Seeking pre-engagement counseling can afford the couple the time, energy, and space to press into this critical process and give them the resources to have a healthy union.
Topics Covered in Pre-engagement Counseling
One of my favorite parts of my work is offering pre-engagement counseling. In the pre-engagement counseling I provide, I help the couple focus on eight key areas. First, I guide the couple in a discussion of their views of faith and marriage, and the couple discusses their own understanding and fears of marriage based on their parents’ marriage. Next, I focus on preparation for life as a couple and how to continually develop their relationship with an emphasis on healthy conflict resolution and communication styles. They then explore requisites for well-ordered family life and discuss expectations for their married life, the division of labor in the marriage, their hopes for each person’s career, etc. The fourth session focuses on finances, particularly each person’s beliefs about money stemming from their parents’ money management and their hopes and dreams for a financial life. Next, they discuss conjugal sexuality, their own sexual wounds from which they need to heal, and the necessity of eradicating unhealthy habits like pornography; this session requires delicacy and prudence as the therapist helps the couple prioritize the boundaries necessary for a pre-engaged relationship. The seventh session is based on family culture, and couples work through exercises by relationship researcher John Gottman that focus on building shared meaning. Lastly, the couple explores their own family of origin relationship and the positives and negatives that they will need to watch for in their own future marriages. I love helping couples prepare for their futures together – I am here to be a support and guide to couples as they consider engagement and marriage.