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Marriage Preparation Courses – For Better or Worse?

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Preparing for marriage is a process that most women begin as early as their teens. I’m not talking which ring cut will suit their finger best and which song will be the first to introduce the newly wedded couple, but envisaging what kind of man they will marry, how many children they will have, and where the ultimate proposal will take place. Of course, life doesn’t always go the way you plan. But once introduced to the dating scene and having to kiss many many slimy frogs to find their prince, most women would consider themselves knowledgeable enough to know when they have found “the one.”

As social norms would have it nowadays, the next step in a long-term relationship is to move in together. But this prospect is met by a huge amount of stigma as cohabiting couples who aren’t married are supposedly at risk of setting themselves up for failure as living with a partner lacks the commitment of a marriage. Well, I for one would certainly prefer to discover more about a partner by taking the plunge and sharing the bills than face the alternative of marrying someone whom you have never lived with and whose house habits are unbeknown to you, which seems much more daunting and holds many more risks of a marriage failure in my opinion.

The population seemingly agrees with this view even if statistical experts don’t: as in 2007, 2.25 million couples in England and Wales were cohabiting and the Office for National Statistics expects this figure to rise almost two-thirds in 2031 to 3.70 million. Taking a mortgage out or even a renting contract with a partner is a massive commitment to them and their shared life, just as much so as exchanging vows.

Marriage is the ultimate goal for a loving relationship, regardless of whether the couple have already lived together or not. Personally, I believe if a couple has been together for a significant amount of time, and each feel ready to make that life-long commitment, then they are both fully capable of deciding that for themselves. But the new craze of pre-marital preparation says otherwise. Enrolling in a course or having counselling is said to help couples focus on ‘the importance of commitment, recognizing and appreciating differences, learning the art of communication, resolving conflict, and making each other feel loved’, all things that obviously could never have been addressed by living together or simply discussing with the only person whom it may concern; your partner!

Surely if a woman was to accept a marriage proposal from her partner, she is highly capable enough to have made that decision and accepted because of the love and commitment that they share. To suggest that marriage preparation is a necessary step for newly engaged couples is to insult their intelligence of knowing whether they are ready to marry, is it not?

When discussing marriage, I do think it necessary to set down some ground rules of what you expect from the marriage, what the commitment means to each of you, and issues such as money and children, but to waste time, money, and belief in an evening course that allows couples to learn more about one another and thus “have a greater chance of having a marriage that lasts a lifetime” is slightly naive, and portrays doubt and a lack of faith in a couple’s decision to marry.

Take Renee Zellweger and Bradley Cooper for example. The A-listers have been dating since last summer and, as they are both “commitment phobes,” they are having pre-marital counselling to ensure the relationship lasts. Now I know councillors are very beneficial and help thousands of people with various problems, but advertising that the foundations built in marriage preparation counselling help a marriage to “last a lifetime” is surely considered false advertising! No one, no matter how qualified, can ensure such as thing. As divorce statistics show us the rates are continually increasing and no amount of pre-marital courses are going to change that fact.

So although every couple would undoubtedly do everything within their power to ensure that their marriage lasts, don’t be fooled by this deceiving placebo. Believe in your relationship and your own ability to make a big decision. If you’ve both agreed that marriage is the right thing for you, and you answered “Yes” to that almighty question, then you did so for a very good reason and you don’t need to be taught about the man you’ve chosen to marry. If you’ve agreed to be with him forever, for better or for worse, then surely you know all you need to know! Those that are considering such a course, you must ask yourself why you feel it necessary to take such drastic action, and if you feel counselling is needed before the wedding has even been set in motion, is this truly the path you want to lead and the man you want to say “I do” to?

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About Rebecca Fordham

  • http://viclana.blogspot.com/ Victor Lana

    I found this interesting from a male perspective, but I wonder if living together really accomplishes anything. In the USA more marriages end in divorce than ever before, and I imagine our statistics for living together before marriage are similar to the ones you note in the UK.

    So maybe, just maybe, the old-fashioned notion of living together AFTER marriage might work better. Catholics have a built-in counseling called pre-Cana, and we must attend that BEFORE saying, “I do.”

    Interesting article and perspective. Thank you.

  • http://writtenandposted.blogspot.com Rebecca Fordham

    Thank you for reading my article Victor and leaving a comment. In my opinion living with a partner is an important step towards marriage and one that I would personally take before agreeing to marry but with the divorce rates as high as they are, perhaps you’re right and living together after saying ‘I do’ could be the secret for some couples. I think anything would be worth a try! Thanks again.

  • Jeff

    I suppose I’m old fashioned here, but living with a partner never seemed to me to be a step towards marriage.

    I understand the point being made. However, marriage involves serious committment. Something living together does not involve at all.

    In fact, the opposite may be true. Living together may give a couple the false impression that because they may get along while not committed, they may get along as a married couple also.

    Sometimes it’s not what you know that causes problems, it’s what you don’t know that you think you do.

  • http://writtenandposted.blogspot.com Rebecca Fordham

    Thank you for reading my article Jeff and leaving your comment. I appreciate that not everyone will share the same opinion and I understand your point that the commitment of marriage is serious but I feel living with a partner beforehand is a small part of that commitment. It is a taste of what life could be like if you were married but without the legal binding. I think nowadays many couples would love to live together but aren’t quite ready for marriage. Not having the rings and the certificate shouldn’t prevent couples from doing this. Years ago living with a partner after marrying them worked for many people but they had no alternative option then. Where you say couples may get on whilst living together but not when married, could be possible but if they have lived together previous to the ‘I do’s’ then apart from a legal commitment, nothing has changed and therefore them not getting on wouldn’t be on account of the marriage or the living situation, but the couples themselves. Thanks again.

  • Grahame

    As a pastor (married for 40 years)in 22 years I have married 58 couples and have insisted on spending significant amounts of time with each couple. 5 marriages have failed, (I am notified as the officiating minister when divorce is granted). The purpose of preparation is in part so that couples have prior experience of positive discussion with a third party. The hope is that when difficulties arise they may involve a relationship counsellor early, before an irretrievable breakdown. In my experience assuming couples are communicating well because they live together is a not necessarily true at all.
    There are numerous statistics, studies, and facts about how cohabiting couples are at a higher risk for divorce. Here’s an example:

    The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development reports:

    “Cohabitation, once rare, is now the norm: The researchers found that more than half (54 percent) of all first marriages between 1990 and 1994 began with unmarried cohabitation. They estimate that a majority of young men and women of marriageable age today will spend some time in a cohabiting relationship. … Cohabiting relationships are less stable than marriages and that instabililty is increasing, the study found.”

    Readily Available Cohabitation Facts

    * Living together is considered to be more stressful than being married.

    * Just over 50% of first cohabiting couples ever get married.

    * In the United States and in the UK, couples who live together are at a greater risk for divorce than non-cohabiting couples.

    * Couples who lived together before marriage tend to divorce early in their marriage. If their marriage last seven years, then their risk for divorce is the same as couples who didn’t cohabit before marriage.

    Cohabitation Facts Rarely Mentioned

    * In France and Germany cohabiting couples have a slightly lower risk of divorce.

    * If cohabitation is limited to a person’s future spouse, there is no elevated risk of divorce.

    * In the U.S., cohabiting couples taking premarital education courses or counseling are not at a higher risk for divorce.