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Premarital education helps couples connect
By Patti Drapala
MSU Ag Communications
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Newlyweds believe their future is rosy, but before they know it, the bloom can wither and dissatisfaction can dominate the relationship.
Problems often arise unexpectedly because couples do not prepare well for marriage. Some have not invested enough time in getting to know the person they are marrying or have not explored their individual philosophies about family, fidelity, finances and fighting.
“Some of the biggest problems appear in a marriage because of unrealistic expectations by both partners,” said Tabitha Staier, family education specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service. “Each partner thinks marriage will change the undesirable characteristics in the other person, but it won't.”
The bride and groom often immerse themselves in wedding planning, which takes their focus away from planning a life together. Such oversight can lead to disastrous consequences for partners who later may wonder whom they really married.
“The longer the dating-courtship process, the better two people get to know each other, understand each other's behavior patterns and make an informed decision about the potential the other person has as a life partner,” Staier said.
There are four particular types of behavior that predict marital distress or divorce. Dating or engaged couples should heed these warning signs:
- Criticism, in which one partner is on the receiving end of “you never” or “you always.”
- Contempt, in which one partner ridicules the other by saying, “I can't believe you did that,” or “I would never do that.”
- Stonewalling, in which one partner shuts down emotionally or physically by being absent, refusing eye contact or not speaking.
- Defensiveness, in which one partner thinks he or she has to justify feelings, actions and thoughts.
“These four factors can destroy a relationship,” Staier said.
Participating in premarital education can help couples objectively assess risk associated with choosing a marriage partner and learn skills to reduce the risk of marital distress or divorce.
“Most couples who have sought premarital education say they are glad they did,” Staier said. “They feel better prepared to handle the challenges that accompany a lifelong marriage.”
The presence of problems in a marriage does not mean the marriage is doomed. Only 30 percent of problems that crop up can readily be solved so they do not creep up again. The other 70 percent are perpetual, which means the couple has to find a way to listen, work through or accept differences.
One of the biggest issues that can make or break a marriage is individual philosophies about spending money. Finances can be a solvable or perpetual problem, depending upon how far apart the couple's philosophies are about saving and spending.
“Couples often gloss over their money concerns, but intimate personal sharing about financial issues should be a prerequisite to marriage,” said Bobbie Shaffett, Extension family resource management specialist. “Differing values and expectations can be major sources of conflict.”
The key to living with the perpetual issues that involve finances, religion, politics or family is to learn how to discuss them so that both partners feel understood. Premarital education can help couples learn to find common ground to do this.
Many churches have a policy requiring couples who plan to marry at their facilities to complete counseling with the minister. This is an easy means for the couple to explore their ideas, goals and personal values in the context of a physical, emotional and spiritual commitment to each other. Professional counselors and therapists also offer services, but they charge fees for these sessions.
Couples also can visit their local county Extension offices for information or check out Extension's online Mississippi Healthy Marriage Initiative Web site at http://www.MarriageMississippi.com.
“A wedding is a joyful day, but a marriage is a lifetime commitment,” Staier said. “I encourage every couple to attend premarital education classes so they can fully prepare for the journey of a lifetime.”