Premarital counseling can reduce your risk of divorce by 30%! From my experience helping hundreds of NYC couples prepare for marriage, here are my best tips for how to find premarital counseling that works for you.
A couple weekends ago my husband and I saw Wonder Woman at the Alamo Drafthouse theater in downtown Brooklyn, and I have to be honest, I think it saved my marriage. It’s such a phenomenal movie that I’ve become an unashamed evangelist telling all my clients to see it. Action-packed, nuanced, and absolutely inspiring, the film left me excited to dive into the comic to learn more about this bad ass female and reeling from such a powerful depiction of modern femininity on the big screen.
But more than the colorful plot line, what I can’t get out of my mind, is how the film demonstrated a few key pillars about humanity and the marriage relationship that I believe are critical we hold onto as we seek to build intimacy with our partners.
Here are three of the lessons I took away from the film:
1. People are complicated. We can be both good and bad, saints and sinners. It’s tempting to see people in one dimension but we must always keep in mind that we all have within us both the capacity to do good and evil. In $20 therapeutic terms, we call this balance between black and white, good and bad, up and down, an understanding of dialectics. It’s an ability to see the gray. So while my husband is wonderful, he also has flaws. Likewise, your husband is amazing but he most certainly has shortcomings. It makes me think back to a moment when Jessica Biel was on The Ellen Show talking about how perfect her husband Justin Timberlake is. In a cute moment where Ellen DeGeneres calls him at home on Biel’s phone, raving about how incredible the singer is and how his wife is determined to find a flaw, he laughs and quips back, “My wife knows many flaws about me.” That’s marriage. It's the ability to see and accept that grows love.
2. Life is simple. Another lesson I took from the film was from the moment when Diana asks what people do when they aren’t fighting a war. Captain Steve Trevor stammers in response, and then describes how when there is no battle to fight, people eat breakfast, dance, and go to work. In essence, what Diana is asking, as mankind’s future hangs in the balance, is what are we fighting for? What is the vision of the good life? And Trevor’s response shows it is truly the small moments. When we think about love we can easily focus on grand romance narratives, but deep loves, true passion and contentment, are formed in the daily rhythms. A good vision of marriage might simply include church on Sundays as a family. It’s making love on Thursday mornings before work or making dinner together in the evening. Love is folding laundry on Saturday afternoons. It’s simple, slow and steady.
3. Finally, love is a daily action. I’ll try not to give any spoiler here from the film, but in the climax of the movie, Captain Trevor leans in and affirms to Diana that while much may be required for the long-term security of mankind’s future, he can only focus on saving today. How true this is of marriage! When we exchange vows we talk about forever and dream of a lifetime with one another. And that’s important. But when we say I do, we simply don’t have the resources to execute a forever kind of love. We can’t do anything to secure the whole of our love story. But like Captain Trevor, we can save today. We can make daily effort and take the next action that will build intimacy and grow us closer together. And it’s in the doing of the moments that we find our lives have been made.
Have you ever felt stuck in a pattern of negative interaction with your spouse? You know those moments, about two years into marriage where it feels like you can somehow go a week with constant miscommunication or maybe work stress starts seeping into your home life and you become short and impatient with one another? It’s so unlike you guys. But surprise, surprise, here you are…stuck in the negativity abyss.
I’ve certainly felt that way in my own marriage. Nothing was clearly wrong, no big disagreement or fallout to blame, just a series of days where the chasm between us seemed to grow and irritability dominated our tone with one another. It’s very common in marriage. After all, we are human, and our moods shift sometimes like the wind. But if we don’t put a lid on the negative cycle, layers of resentment can begin to pile up and it can be harder to find our way back to happiness.
So what do we do? How can you shift a pattern of irritation in your marriage?
It’s simple really. Be nice.
I know that sounds like elementary school advice, but your first grade teacher actually knew what she was talking about. The more you express kindness toward your partner, the more you build up positive regard for one another and the tides of communication begin to change. It’s really hard to be annoyed by someone who is telling you how great you are. And when your partner affirms or recognizes something you’ve done during the day, it’s hard to feel unappreciated or invisible. Instead you feel known, connected, and valued.
So I recommend trying a quick trick I use with almost every couple I see in marital therapy. I always begin our sessions together by having each partner tell the other one thing they have appreciated about the other person that week. It can be a big statement (like I’m so grateful for how you stuck up for me when your mom was criticizing the way I parent) or something minuscule (like I appreciate how you loaded the dishwasher this morning). There is always something to be grateful for no matter how bad your marriage feels. Let me repeat. There is always something. I haven’t found one couple yet who is at a loss for something to say about their spouse and I often work with couples on the brink of divorce or recovering from affairs. If it’s hard to identify something, think harder. We’ll wait.
It’s your turn to put this into practice. Try committing to telling your spouse one thing you appreciate about them everyday for one week. Better yet, grab my “I’m Grateful for You” free download and follow the template to do this simple activity that will enrich your marriage. Be sure to let me know how it goes in the comments below or shoot me an email.
With an overwhelming amount of to-dos on all of our plates, not to mention our electronic devices going off at nearly every turn, it’s a wonder we’re able to have a conversation with anyone...ever. Add to that a busy environment like New York City where we’re faced with literally thousands of commercial images everyday vying for our attention, and the possibility for couples to connect through deep, focused, intimate communication seems like a pipe dream.
I know personally how difficult it can be to have regular meaningful conversation with my spouse. My husband, who is a psychiatrist, and I work long hours, and with commuting an hour to and from the office, and with a busy toddler in the mix we’ve noticed how easy it is for the evenings to slip away without us talking about the deepest issues on our hearts. I don’t think we’re alone.
A report from the city's comptroller stated that New Yorkers work the longest average work hours than the next largest cities (over 49 hours per week), largely due to our long commute times. This is a big deal given that a Swedish study showed that couples with commute times over 45 minutes were 40% more likely to divorce. Ouch. Your job might actually be ruining your relationship!
So what can we do? We need to become intentional and efficient in the way we connect with our spouses. When I work with couples I often recommend integrating a daily habit of a Rose-Bud-Thorn conversation with one another. It’s an easy and thorough way to connect intimately on the content that really matters without neglecting important issues on your heart you may not have shared. So carve out some time, usually five to ten minutes, to talk to one another about the following:
Rose - Share one aspect of your day you are really happy about or think was a beautiful
Bud - Share one thing in your life that is in transition, confused, or is emerging and you are anticipating
Thorn - Share one hiccup in your day that was negative and made you frustrated, angry or sad.
Take turns speaking and be sure to listen solely with the intention to understand where your partner is coming from in that moment. You’re not judging, analyzing, critiquing or giving advice! Simply listen, confirm you’ve understood what they shared, and affirm the emotion they described (e.g. That DOES sound very frustrating or Wow what an exciting opportunity. It makes sense you’re so thrilled about it.) If you can have these conversations on a daily basis with your spouse, you’ll be sure to enhance your connection and beat those divorce statistics!
Need a reminder? Download this Share Your Roses: Rose-Bud-Thorn image to place on your refrigerator or keep on your phone as a handy reminder on the go. Be sure to share this post with your spouse so they know why you want to start this habit. Try it out and let me know how it goes. Leave your thoughts below in the comments for how this practice might impact your marriage or how you’re making the time to share your rose-bud-thorn.