Premarital Counseling in San Francisco: Why bother...?

You live in San Francisco, one of the toughest dating scenes, this side of say...the Hudson River and Manhattan and...well, you're killing it!  You've met your match and life-partner, you're making an honest living, and living the life!  I'd say you've done pretty darn well!  Just ask one of your single friends who's still living with 3 roommates in the Outer Sunset.  So why bother with premarital counseling when life is so good?  Well, for starters, how about protecting that most precious asset that no bull market or real estate investment could bring back to you--your relationship, and that other lovely person you're in it with.

Counseling for couples who are ready to take that next big step, traditionally referred to as pre-marital counseling, is a priceless investment in your relationship and your life that there really is no substitute for.  

I've worked with couples who came in to just check it off the list, who then ended up finding out there was so much more to know about each other and left feeling closer and more prepared for their life ahead than they could have imagined.

So if the the simple idea of investing in and protecting the most important and fragile asset in your life isn't enough, I’ll also give you 5 Factors to consider in making a decision about whether you really should invest in it or not.

In general, most of us did not grow up with rockstar relationship models.  If your family was your average kind of dysfunctional, i.e., your parents didn’t ruin your life and they didn’t destroy each other, but they weren’t amazingly happy either, then odds are they got by like most couples.  But I’m guessing “just getting by” isn’t what inspires you to be considering or deciding to make a long-term commitment such as marriage.  And I doubt you’ll write “let’s just get by” in your marriage vows.

Most of us didn’t grow up in a family where the adults in the room knew how to communicate well or manage conflict productively, and they definitely didn’t know what we now know about building a satisfying long-lasting love relationship.  We know more now, and we have discovered how to create much more satisfying relationships, so yes, even without a rockstar model to draw from, odds are good you can build a rockstar relationship.  

But how are you going to know how to do it better?  Of course most couples don’t know what the formula is for a happy, long-term relationship.  That’s why it would be a great idea to talk with somebody who does know.  I mean, you wouldn’t just jump in the pilot’s seat of an airplane and hope for the best, nor would you take any kind of exam of any importance without studying and learning about the subject first.  Why would we think we could create successful, long-lasting relationships without learning how to? 

Below are 5 additional factors you should consider in deciding if premarital counseling is for you.

1.  Top 3 Couples Problems

By many accounts, communication, sex and money are the top 3 conflict areas in intimate relationships and marriage.  If you know about your strengths and weaknesses as a couple or you know the areas where you are different and you've got the skills to talk about those differences, you automatically decrease the volatility in the conflicts you may encounter down the road.  Being able to say, “I know [insert issue] is an issue where we are different, but can we sit down and talk it through? I’d like to understand what’s important to you about it, and I’d like to feel like you understand me,” puts you miles ahead of the curve.

Also, there are other topics partners gain a lot from exploring prior to making the big “I do”.  Knowing ahead of time where your partner is coming from before it’s a high-conflict issue is helpful and just plain smart.  Other topics that are worth exploring together include:   

  • Extended Family/In-Law Issues

  • Personal and Shared Goals and Dreams

  • Children and related issues

  • Shared/Different enjoyed hobbies and activities

  • Spirituality and Religion

Premarital counseling is more about learning about each other and being open to understanding more about each other and having strategies to talk through things rather than looking for deal-breakers that should pre-empt your wedding plans.

2.  Four Horsemen + Antidotes

One of the most powerful predictors of whether a relationship will fail is the amount of blame and criticism, contempt, and defensiveness present in your relationship.  Dr. John Gottman has studied relationships for over 30 years and has discovered that relationships that experience what he calls the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse are much more likely to fail. 

We know intuitively that it feels terrible to be blamed for something, that’s why we have a tendency to react defensively, as if saying, “No, don’t see me that way.”  Gottman’s research tells us scientifically what we know experientially, but with greater definitiveness.  Criticism and defensiveness, along with the other 4 Horsemen, will eat away at the goodwill and affection in your relationship.  Learn how to communicate with the antidote to the 4 Horsemen.

3.  Your Attachment Styles Are Key

Do you know what your attachment style is?  Are you more of a pursuer or withdrawer in your relationship?  Or do you do both?  Knowing this is, and how to communicate more effectively around it is the basis for being able to experience the kind of love you’ve always wanted.

Sue Johnson, founder of EFT Couples Counseling and author of the book Hold Me Tight, gets to the heart of what causes couples to disconnect and become vulnerable to divorce, affairs, and deep dissatisfaction in their relationship.  Understanding each other’s attachment styles and your “dance” of intimacy is, in my experience, the key to taking your relationship from disappointing or even good to GREAT!

4.  It’s “How” Not “If” You Have Conflict

Conflict is inevitable.  We’re all different and especially in our closest relationships those differences will come out.  Needing different things at the same time, and being unable to give each other exactly what is needed is inevitable.  And so, conflict is inevitable.  Yeah, it’s a bummer, but the differences between you are also the reason for the spark and chemistry.  So, knowing how to manage conflict productively is a skill very few of us have learned.  And even if we’ve learned it, it requires regular honing and intention to practice it.  When there’s a positive reserve in each other’s emotional bank account, however, that task is much easier.  Learn what productive conflict is and how to do it.

5.  Turning Towards

He says, “Hey did you hear the report on the radio earlier today?”  She, frustrated with him for neglecting to do what she asked him to do on his way home, ignores his question.  This is an example of “turning away”.  It’s a clear example of it.  Yet turning away can happen much more subtly dozens of times in the flow of a day or week.  Turning towards your partner instead of away is a small, but powerful habit.

Do you know powerful that skill and habit is?  Another helpful insight from Dr. John Gottman’s 30+ years of research is how important turning towards vs. turning away can be.  According to one of  Gottman’s research studies, couples that had stayed married after 6 years had turned towards each other about 86% of the time.  Couples that had divorced in that same time period had turned towards each other about 33% of the time.  Gottman is able to predict which relationships are most likely to fail and succeed with incredible accuracy based on how couples communicate and interact.  Learning successful ways of relating and communicating is invaluable.

So become a rockstar at relating to the love of your life, for the rest of your life!  But just like you wouldn’t jump into a pilot’s seat, attempt dental surgery or casually take the reins of a bucking bronco without a reasonable amount of learning and practice first, why gamble with the most important relationship in your life?  Get some support, explore premarital counseling and learn what it takes to create and then enjoy an amazing (rockstar) love relationship.