originally published: http://loveinshallah.com/2013/06/06/before-the-wedding/#more-3150
My cell phone buzzes and when I look at the screen, it’s a text from an unknown number: “A friend gave me your number and I wanted to talk to you because I am getting married in 3 weeks and wanted to get your advice. Please call me.”
As a premarital counselor for the last five years, I often receive texts and emails like this. People know that I wrote the book, Before the Wedding: Questions for Muslims to Ask Before Getting Married and that I know a few things about marriage. But they don’t really know what counseling is, and when they call me they think I will have some magical advice to offer.
People like short-cuts. Identify a problem, find a solution and viola everything will be perfect. This efficiency perspective may be effective at work or even in school, but short-cuts don’t work when it comes to marriage. People are complicated and relationships are complex and dynamic. The process of developing a healthy relationship requires more than just “finding the one.” It takes real work.
Most couples feel that going to counseling before marriage is unnecessary. After all they can’t possibly have any major problems. Many think that counseling is reserved for couples who are having “real” problems as a last ditch effort when nothing else has worked, such as speaking to family and friends and their local imam. Sadly, many couples won’t even see a counselor because they feel a “stranger” couldn’t possibly understand their “story” or their unique cultural practices. There may be fear that the counselor will have biases regarding gender roles or religious interpretation.
Many people have the perception that going to a counselor is like going to a doctor: you talk to him/her for a few minutes, the counselor figures out what is wrong and then proceeds to give some advice – all in one session. Some people think that a counselor will be the referee and help prove once and for all who is right and who is wrong in the relationship. Others think the counselor will finally be able to change their partner to make them who they want them to be. Some think the counselor will read their minds and force them to uncover some deep dark secret, against their will.
ALL of these ideas are misconceptions and do not reflect what really happens in counseling.
Counseling is a process where the couple has an opportunity to understand their communication styles and problem solving skills. The counselor helps create a safe space for the couple to share their thoughts and feelings without blame – this opens the door to empathy and mutual understanding. The counselor does not give advice or take sides; rather he/she helps the couple identify patterns in their relationship. The couple learns to communicate in a new, healthier way that deepens their connection and commitment. There is no short-cut to the process – some couples might go to counseling for as little as six weeks while other couples may go as long as one year. Counseling is most effective when both spouses have a trusting relationship with the counselor and are both committed to the process. This requires trust, courage and time from the couple.
In my practice, I have seen many couples who use premarital counseling as a preventative measure to strengthen their relationship skills and enter the journey of marriage with greater awareness and commitment. I have also seen couples who discover they are incompatible and not ready to pursue marriage so they decide to end the relationship. Both outcomes are successful because they show openness and the courage to work on the relationship before children are added to the mix. These same couples are then ready for the ups and downs of marriage and are more likely to see a marriage counselor if they do have conflicts later in the marriage. The counselor supports the couple as they begin their journey together so they can have a more fulfilling relationship.
That’s where I come in. I pick up my phone and text the unknown sender from the unknown number: “congrats on your upcoming marriage…if you and your fiancé are interested in meeting with me for premarital counseling this week, I have an opening at 10am on Friday…let me know.”