Rachel and Steven got married a few years ago in a beautiful reception on Long Island. They had been introduced by mutual friends and dated for six months. During their engagement, there were some concerns, but after speaking to confidants, they were reassured that it is totally normal to have cold feet.
A few months after the wedding, they got into a couple of really bad fights over little things, which left them shocked and frustrated. The communication broke down because each one felt like he/she was walking on eggshells and feared another bad fight.
They thought about therapy, but they had too much pride to do something like that so early on in the marriage. They both often felt alone but tried to make the best out of it by avoiding confrontation and not sharing their feelings. Without help or understanding of what went wrong or how to repair it they lost the connection they had felt before the wedding.
After two painful years Rachel got her husband to agree to go to therapy. The therapy is really working, but they also realized that they could have spared themselves much pain and aggravation if they had been better prepared for marriage.
When a couple gets married, they inevitably purchase a piece of furniture that requires assembly. They open the box and there must be 150 pieces, including a pamphlet explaining how all 150 pieces come together. Imagine trying to put this item together without looking at the pamphlet.
At some point they realize that one of the pieces was installed backwards—and fixing it is going to cause a lot of frustration. Perhaps the project looks complete, but there are a few extra pieces that don’t seem to go anywhere, and our couple is left wondering what’s missing from their new piece of furniture.
The same is true of marriage. We have no manual for the most important structure that we will ever build, the foundation of our family. This foundation needs to be very strong, because debris will inevitably fall on it over the years, so it must be able to withstand the pressure.
Some people can figure out how to be a good spouse on their own, but most people need some instruction. For many, that instruction might have come from the home they were raised in. Others may have attended classes about marriage and relationships. Yet too many couples enter into a marriage with little to no knowledge of how to deal with communication and relationships.
Additionally, we receive a lot of miseducation about these topics. We are exposed to all sorts of media with a poor set of values about relationships and an attitude that communications are best when kept really short. So how much do we really know? Some people can figure it out on their own, but most people cannot. It’s a process. Every couple has to learn how to understand each other. We create as we go along—and it is harder for some couples.
When entering a relationship that is going to redefine our lives, do we really want to wing it? Are we so sure that we won’t find out later that there’s a small piece in our relationship that is causing a lot of frustration? Are we so sure that there aren’t some pieces in our relationship that don’t seem so important to us now, but might be important down the road? And even if we do feel confident that we are ready for the task, are we as confident that our prospective spouse is also up to the task, and that he/she has the same confidence in us?
This is why premarital education is so beneficial. I am an EFT (Emotionally Focused Therapy) marriage therapist, and I often see couples who could have really benefited from premarital education. By the time I see them, years or even decades of happiness were lost because the couple did not know how to be in a love relationship.
Unfortunately, there is a stigma to seeing a therapist before marriage. This is a mistake!
Premarital education is not therapy for couples that are having issues. It is an educational program, like preventive medicine, that provides the couple with the tools to grow and nurture their relationship. We dedicate our time and resources to make sure we don’t get sick, and we should do the same for the health and well-being of this most important relationship.
Penina Flug has been providing psychotherapy since receiving her MSW from Fordham University in 2003. In 2006 she moved with her family to Boca Raton. In 2009 she opened her private practice. She received advanced training in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy in 2014-15 at the Ackerman institute. Her private practice, located in South Florida (and through virtual sessions) focuses on couples and relationship therapy as well as premarital and marriage enhancement workshops. She has recently made it a mission of hers to create awareness in the Orthodox community of the importance of premarital education.