While it has rarely happened in my work as a Humanist Officiant, according to US research, approximately 15 percent of couples do break off their engagements, even if they are close to their wedding dates. One couple I knew who called off their nuptials with barely a month to go, reported irreconcilable differences and standards — differences they had either ignored or overlooked in their three year courtship. Research indicates that couples call off weddings for many different reasons including age, fear of divorce, wedding costs and incompatibility more broadly. And perhaps surprising to some, research indicates the longer a couple is engaged, “the more time for disillusionment and the greater the likelihood that the wedding will be called off”.
While couples may lose thousands of dollars in deposits if they are planning a wedding with professional venues, photographers and caterers, it is safe to say they will lose much more in terms of money, stress and heartache if they go through with the wedding (which can costs tens of thousands of dollars)and then divorce, which can be thousands more in legal fees. Indeed things become even messier if the couple has children in that time of indecision.
It is no wonder then that more couples in North America are seeking counseling before they tie the knot. According to a study in the Journal of Family Psychology, couples who have had some form of pre-marital counseling or education experience higher satisfaction rates and lower divorce rates in the first five years of marriage.
What are the many areas that pre-marriage counseling can address? Understanding the different marital life cycles, identifying life long goals and potential stressors (with the understanding that things change over time), addressing patterns and sharing mutual expectations and standards around roles, children, work, in-laws, parents, social life, relationships outside of the marriage, sex, religious and spiritual life, and money. Pre-marriage counseling can also provide tools to help couples solve and resolve conflicts, avoid resentments and better communicate feelings and needs.
Here are a couple of links that spell it out in more detail:
Often, couples or even just one partner wishes to avoid counseling — even the preventative kind, because they are afraid of what they will find out about themselves or their partner. While it might seem scary it might be helpful to think about it this way: While there is no one size fits all model, it is the therapist’s role is to provide a safe container to have honest, sometimes uncomfortable conversations — conversations that might be too scary to have on your own. Indeed the research shows that couples who choose to ignore or bury those niggling feelings, do so at their peril.