Let’s be honest. Stories that begin with “Once upon a time” and end with “happily ever after” are rarely more than fairy tales. And though most couples go into their wedding day hoping that their life together will turn out like one, chances are that it won’t.
The truth is that marriage, much like anything else, comes with its share of challenges and pitfalls. Learning how to deal with them before walking down the aisle can help couples maintain healthier relationships and increase their odds of having a storybook ending.
“When we are in a place where we’re committing to another person, we tend to be willing to overlook things that later on we are less willing to overlook,” said Andrew Hechtman, a rabbi and licensed marriage and family therapist who practices in Hartford and Middletown. “And things that weren’t going to bother us so much, over time, loom large.”
It makes sense when you think about it. When couples enter into a relationship and ultimately a marriage, they often come from different backgrounds, lifestyles and families. Because of that they may not share all the same belief systems, especially over important matters like money, family, children and personal aspirations.
And when those things aren’t addressed during the beginning stages of a relationship, subtle or not-so-subtle differences in beliefs and values can eventually lead to larger conflicts.
“Once it metastasizes, once people build resentment, it’s very difficult to let go,” explained Hechtman who went on to say that it’s harder to resolve conflicts once they’ve taken seed instead of dealing with them before they cause serious problems. “It’s better to change the oil in the car than to wait until it dries up,” he said.
One way to avoid long-term complications is for couples to seek out premarital counseling or professional help prior to exchanging their vows.
“Working with someone who can help bring issues to the forefront, so that two caring people can talk through reaching an understanding on how they are going to forge a pathway through life, is really essential,” Hechtman said.
And it can lay the groundwork for a more successful and happy marriage.
While it might not be easy or something that couples necessarily think about doing along with wedding planning, it can have far-reaching implications. “People don’t know what they don’t know,” said Hechtman. “Opening the door and asking tough questions and having difficult conversations before we get married holds potential for greater success down the road, no matter how two people define success.”
According to Michelle Webber, a psychotherapist, life coach and addiction specialist in New Haven, successful relationships often boil down to just one thing.
“Communication is the major issue in any relationship,” she said. “There are so many issues that go with couples. They could be anything and if you don’t look at or talk about them or see if you can sit down and communicate, they get bigger and snowball.”
Once that happens, Webber said, those issues can escalate and ultimately cause the marriage to break up.
To avoid that outcome it’s important that couples try to make sure they are on the same page right from the start.
“For the most part, when couples come to me for premarital counseling, it’s because they are already living together and realize that they look at some things differently and want help on improving those things before their wedding,” Webber said.
Overall Webber believes that every couple can benefit from counseling, whether it’s premarital or not, and said that it can come from a clergy member, psychotherapist or other professional and it can be short or long-term, depending on the couple and their needs.
“If they want to stay together, they need to do the work,” she said.
Unfortunately, however, many couples wait until things go wrong in their marriages before seeking out counseling instead of working through some of the more important issues before the wedding, said Hechtman.
“I can’t tell you how frequently people say if they’d learned the skills at the beginning of the relationship, they probably wouldn’t be here right now,” he said.
Even when couples have the best of intentions, they still can fall into patterns of behavior that occur whether or not they’ve made a conscious decision or agreement about them.
“It just sort of happens implicitly,” said Hechtman. “Down the road people find themselves resentful, so spending some time talking about the nuts and bolts prior to sanctifying the marriage can be extremely helpful.”
And while many couples still believe that marital counseling is only for troubled marriages, it really isn’t. Instead it’s about helping couples develop a more mature relationship, one that can maintain its integrity throughout life’s ups and downs.
“Doing the work to keep that relationship special is a lifelong challenge,” said Hechtman. “And the challenge begins by opening your eyes wide to the myriad of life issues that we’ll be facing as couples before we take the step to sanctify our marriage.”