A successful marriage is considered one of the most basic and universal human institutions worldwide. In the United States particularly, having a successful marriage is a very highly valued objective. In fact, about 93% of the American population believes that having a cheerful marriage is one of the most fulfilling goals in life. Also about 70% of the Americans believe that a marriage should be a long term and lifetime commitment which can only be dissolved under very extreme circumstances (Celello, 25). However, despite of the enthusiasm, the desires and the need for lifetime commitment that people show in their first years of marriage, research shows more than 50% do not last more than 10 years in their first marriage. Most of them end up seeking for divorce because of a variety of reasons. Others end up remaining in conflictual marriages and unfulfilling relationships which can be very distressing. Nonetheless, premarital counseling programs have been adopted by most governments as a way to reduce the divorce cases (Williams, 207). This paper critically analyses how effective these pre marital counseling measures have been and the challenges they have experienced over the years.
First and foremost, it is very critical to understand the term pre marital counseling. The term counseling has often been used to refer to the giving of advice, encouragement, information, support in times of need and the test interpretation. Moreover, according to Williams (127), it is used to refer to any activity that is carried out with the aim of helping people embrace constructive in any aspect of their life often through provision of a caring relationship with agreed boundaries. The relationship often involves a wide range of activities from listening to befriending with the ultimate goal of offering psychotherapy to the person. The procedures are offered through the services of a counselor who is usually at the middle of this whole spectrum. With the constant rise in divorce cases, many governments have settled to the use of counseling as a way to reduce the divorce rate. The word premarital counseling, in this concept can therefore be taken to mean the offering of psychotherapy sessions to couples who are about to get married to enable them have a strong base for the creation of a stable and satisfactory marriage (Stanley et al., 117). Premarital counseling is aimed at improving a prospective marital relationship thereby reducing the rate of divorce and the problems that arise which are associated with marriage such as domestic violence or child abuse.
In addition, premarital counseling is also offered to couples, where one or both of them have previously been married. In this case, there is a dire need to incorporate other dimensions into the counseling process such as how to deal with the new found relationship and also how to deal with children from previous relationships which is well linked to step family issues (Williams, 209). Premarital counseling is therefore considered to be a marital preparation procedure involving family life education. It not deals with both functional and psychologically healthy people but also those with severe problems through long therapy sessions. Thus, typically, premarital counseling and marital preparation are two terms tasked with six major objectives. First, is to ease the transition of the individuals intending to get married from their single life to a marriage life full of commitments. Then, the process will create both long and short term couple stability and also a satisfactory kind of relationship. Thirdly, the process increases the level of friendship, commitment and communication between the couple hence strengthening the relationship. The couples intimacy life is also spiced up and lastly, the couple is instilled with both decision making and problem skills in various matters such as financially or on marital roles (Schumm et al, 4). This helps create life lasting marriages and reduce the divorce rates.
It is important to note that in most countries, three main groups of people are directly tasked with the role of providing premarital counseling. These people include the clergy, the physicians and the mental health workers. The premarital care providers may further involve other lay persons who come in to act as mentors to the young couples thus maximizing the participation of the couples themselves in strengthening their forthcoming marriage life (Fwacett et al, 233). In the United States particularly, premarital counseling by the clergy takes place in the church settings. However, there is a significant amount of counseling that takes place in other contexts such as in the university and college counseling centres, at the community mental health centres, in marriage and counseling training centres or also in government family service agencies. In some cases, mental health professionals enter into private practice with the intention of offering marriage counseling to these couples.
Nonetheless, the clergy holds the largest portion in offering the counseling before officiating any religious wedding ceremony or service (Cellelo, 27). Despite people belonging to different religious circles, it has become mandatory for the religious leaders to offer this kind of counseling to any couples intending to get married. In fact, most governments have passed into a law several rules to govern how marriages are to e handled. For example, for the Catholics, the intended marriage has to be pre announced to the congregation almost three weeks earlier and during this period, the couple receives constant counseling sessions to prepare them for marriage. This is unlike the physicians whose meeting with the prospective couple is very limited. In most cases it is usually a onetime meeting in which they offer information on contraception and sexual information (Fwacett et al, 235). A onetime meeting is not really enough to help mold the couple to a stable relationship but it also helps to some extent. For the mental health professionals, theirs is mostly to deal with those who have been divorced and would wish to remarry again yet they have the fear of having to go through another traumatizing divorce process.
The premarital counselors have to exhibit some characteristics of good counseling for their sessions to be effective on the couples. Firstly, they should have empathic understanding whereby they truly understand the couples situation to the extent of reading their verbal and non verbal cues. This helps the counselor to connect with the couple and communicate the feeling right back thus giving them hope for a successful marriage. The counselor also constantly expresses an unconditional positive regard to the situations at hand without being judgmental ((Fwacett et al, 236). He or she should not lay any rules or conditions to the counselee but instead should show care and accept them giving them a sense of acceptance. Lastly, the counselor has to establish a good rapport with the couple to get them to open up on their fears and the issues they are experiencing. By thus doing, then the counselor will be in a better in a better position to offer help and advice to them based on their individual situations. Therefore, most of the counselors too have to go through training on what it entails to be a professional counselor and for them to give expert advice to the potential marriage couples.
Specific premarital programs
In the United States, four main approaches have been used to provide premarital counseling and education. These programs have been in use for many years and it is only prudent that their effectiveness be measured in terms of how helpful they have been (Hawkins, 79). The Relationship Enhancement Programme (RE) is one of the earliest forms of approach to be embraced in the provision of premarital counseling. This program was designed by Bernard Guerney and his colleagues at Pennsylvania State and it still remains to be widely used all over the world. It is usually a group programme that instills nine major skills to the couples to help them strengthen and enhance their relationship before marriage (Schumm et al., 8). These skills include: understanding, openness, increasing care, trust, sharing, giving, harmony, honesty and compassion. Through these skills, the couples not only learn on how to enhance their relationships but also on how to deal with stress and pain that comes with a variety of situations in the marriage life. Therefore, the programme gives the couples, a way to dealing with their issues without necessarily calling out for divorce.
The Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Programme (PREP) is also a group program established under the University of Denver that has been greatly accepted as a premarital counseling option. In this group, couples are taught skills of handling core issues such as forgiveness, expectations, restoration of intimacy and commitment. They are also taught on how to handle conflicts mostly emphasizing on the differences in male and female response to conflicts. They also receive education on how to enhance their relationship, friendship, sex life or even fun. This program mainly focuses on the negative aspects of marriage since they are the leading cause of divorce in the present day. Other programs that have been effected in the United States include the prepare/ enrich program whose aim is to provide feedback to couples who have undertaken the premarital inventory (Schumm et al., 9). The fourth and last program adopted is the Integrative Premarital Counseling program which covers both groups and individuals to help them enhance the relationship and thus increasing their chances of a successful marriage.
Challenges facing Premarital Counseling
It is very important for a couple to go through premarital counseling before getting into marriage. Marriage is a very daunting task with a multitude of responsibilities (Williams, 215). It is a commitment that the couple has to get in prepared to tackle the challenges that come with it. Through premarital counseling, the couple is fore prepared on what to expect and thus leads to more tolerance and acceptance in marriage. However, despite the major strides made through premarital counseling programs in the curbing of divorce rates, there are some issues that too need to be addressed to make it even more effective. Firstly, the premarital counselors find it very hard to make couples open up to issues that affect them or the fears that they have. It requires many sessions for the counselors to get close enough to the couple and make them trust him or her enough to open up (Robey et al., 17). In most cases the therapists end up not addressing the real problem since the couple has hidden the information from him. Moreover, the therapy sessions may go on for years yielding little results which can be quite discouraging to the counselor handling the situation.
Additionally, the premarital counseling may create even bigger problems. During the therapy session, the couple is supposed to open up on the likes and dislikes towards the partner. It is during such times, that the partners discover or learn of behavior and characteristics that they dislike. This could create more rifts between the couple (Robey et al., 17). It gives them time to internalize the situation and might end up making the partners more apart than they were. It opens up the deep hidden secrets which can be harmful to the relationship. Furthermore, it can lead to the cancellation of the wedding preparations which can be even more devastating.
Conclusively, every couple should consider taking on a premarital counseling session before getting into the marriage. It prepares them more for the challenges they are to face and for the life time com...
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