It was important for me that Terry and I go through premarital counseling. I’ve been a big advocate of counseling since my divorce. I was 21 with 2 kids and pregnant with my third child when my divorce was finalized. I was working full time and I didn’t have any friends whom I could confide it. I had friends and family, but I felt so ashamed that I didn’t want to share with them what was going on in my head. I tried to keep it all to myself. I tried to manage motherhood, pregnancy, divorce and a demanding job all by myself. I wasn’t managing any of it very well. Actually, I was cracking. I was horrible to work with and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t much better to live with. I worked with mostly men and I remember one telling me, “I’m not your ‘baby daddy’. You can’t keep taking this out on me.” That was harsh, but it helped me to realize that I wasn’t managing this situation. It was getting worse and I needed help. I took advantage of my company’s EAP program and I was connected to a counselor. Those sessions of counseling were so impactful! Some of the tools I learned in those sessions, I still use 18 years later to help me manage tough situations. There have been other occasions throughout my life when counseling was very beneficial for my children and I. Whenever the situation called for a professional, I called a professional (no shame). Many people place a stigma on counseling, but I’m so thankful that I had it available to me and I didn’t have to try to figure out those tough seasons with (my) limited knowledge.
When Terry proposed to me, I let him know how important pre-marital counseling was to me and I was so thankful that he was willing to go. I didn’t know if Terry was just doing it because he knew it was important to me or because he knew Florida offers a discount on marriage licenses if the couple completes pre-marital counseling. At one point, I feared that Terry wouldn’t take pre-marital counseling seriously because he had a successful marriage for over 20 years. I thought that he would think he didn’t have anything to learn. I remember our first “spirited fellowship” came because of my fears. We had a homework assignment to do for our session and I felt that Terry was rushing through it. Instead of saying what I feared, I just got angry and shutdown. Thankfully we had homework to do for counseling, so we had to talk it out.
I remember when I sent the email to request the pre-marital counseling. I was nervous. I knew some people had reservations about if Terry could be ready to take such a big step so soon with me. I wasn’t sure what response I was going to get. I did not want to make a hasty decision. I recognized my need for wise counsel concerning the matter, but I really wanted to share my engagement news with someone who would gush with me instead of taking a deep breath and then sigh. Kim did not take a deep breath nor sigh. She was honest and insightful and helped me to be more at ease. She assured me that this process wasn’t to beat neither of us up about our decision but to help us to build on a solid foundation. Kim spoke about marriage with an excitement that I had either never heard before, or (always) ignored before. It was very refreshing and helped to ease me nerves about this role I was preparing to fill. WIFE!
I really enjoyed the format of our counseling. We started with a compatibility assessment. Our counselors went over our results. We were assigned a book/workbook to read, discus, and complete homework activities. Some of the activates included a family budget, holiday planning, family planning. The book challenged us to ask tough questions and discus tough issues. We were forced to spend some time out of our “love bubble” and talk about the issues which can cause division within marriages. The book we used had a section added to every chapter for those who were remarried. There are special challenges for those remarrying and our pre-marital counseling book encouraged us to create a plan for success for those challenges instead of hoping our “love bubble” was strong enough combat the inevitable. The pre-marital counseling tasked us to create a game plan for our life together. Some things that I had previously thought were small like “how much we’d spend on gifts for family and friends?” I’ve learned that even things like the price of a gift for someone else could lead to big arguments if there are strong opinions on the matter. The pre-marital counseling encouraged us to talk about expectations about intimacy which can surely lead to discord if not addressed. Because I’m a divorcee with minor children, the book encouraged us to create a strategy for communicating with my ex-husband and what role both Terry and I would play as it relates to the kids’ needs. Those were things Terry and I had already discussed, but the pre-marital counseling challenged us to think about things which we had not previously considered. I learned that I still have much to learn. I learned that submission is not a prison of do’s and don’ts. Submission is a beautiful protective shield.
I am learning that a marriage relationship can help sharpen and mold both husband and wife into better versions of our previous selves. Pre-marital counseling helped me define my role and better understand Terry’s needs. Our pre-marital counseling was about 6 weeks long. We were in the midst of wedding planning, working and all sorts of other responsibilities, but counseling was a priority. Terry made it a priority. We would read and do our homework during our lunch break and discuss the chapters after work. We were choosing caterers and figuring out our household grocery budget. More than focusing on the wedding day, we focused on our impending marriage. The wedding day was beautiful! The memories will last a lifetime, but our lifetime will be made up of days, dilemmas, discussions, decisions, do’s and don’ts. Strategies we learned during pre-marital counseling and tips we pick up along the way will help us get to our goal of a lifetime of happiness. I look forward to the day when we’ll look back at our “beautiful day” (the wedding) and say, “It’s also been a beautiful life as man and wife.”
Marriage Counseling: How We Got to Look at Each Other Without the Rose-colored Glasses
Terry’s Thoughts (T2):
Marriage counseling was something that I had already gone through once before and had a good idea of who I was and what type of husband I would be to Faith. Because we had been so upfront with each other in the beginning, I had a very good idea of the type of person that she was and my expectations on what type of wife she would be for me. We talked about EVERYTHING. When I mean everything, I mean everything from finances to education, children, past relationships, etc. Neither of us wanted to go into a relationship with any hidden agendas or secrets about their past and we did a good job talking about things that we thought needed to be addressed based on our previous relationships.
Although this was a good start for us to get an idea if we should move forward as rapidly as things were progressing or should we slow things down, we knew that marriage counseling was something that we needed to go through. I have always looked at marriage counseling as an opportunity for an independent third party to look at the relationship that I was in and say “Hey, you two SEEM to be ok in your relationship, but have you thought about this and how it could affect it?” I have always been open to evaluation (whether self or third party) and welcomed the opportunity to “show my stuff” to others of how great a husband I would be to Faith. Part of me wanted to go in and say “See, I told you I am going to be a great and wonderful husband to Faith. Now you can tell everyone I was right.” Boy, was I in for a rude awakening.
I knew our counselors, John and Kim Freeman, from another wedding I was a part of a few year before. They were very personable, and we got along very well from the beginning. A few months after Mia passed, I saw them coming out of service and Kim said, “Don’t make any decisions for at least a year.” Ha! Too late! Faith and I had already started getting to know one another and I knew that she was the one that God had placed in my path. She was my “good thing.” Faith had a relationship with them as well as set up the counseling sessions. When we first met, they were very upfront with their initial reservations about my decision to move forward. I respected them highly for making their reservations known upfront and even asking how we reached this point. The one thing that I have not been afraid of is the truth. If there is something that you want to know (that I don’t mind sharing and isn’t out of bounds), I don’t mind telling people about it in a one on one situation. Many people make assumptions (you know what that can make of a person) rather than asking and the Freeman’s asked and they got the truth.
During our first few sessions and assignments, I said to myself “this is a breeze.” I was wrong again. We delved into some topics that Faith and I either didn’t think about or didn’t spend a lot of time talking about as we had already ‘thought’ we knew what our past mistakes were and had vowed not to make those same mistakes again. Now, I know some people are reading that previous statement and are saying “but you said you had a good marriage prior to your wife passing?” Yes, I did, but there are always things that you can look back on and say to yourself that if you had an opportunity to improve the marriage, you would either not do something or do something better. If you think you are perfect, then you should be standing outside waiting for that heavenly chariot to come pick you up and take you onto Glory. We had an opportunity to review our past relationships, our role in them and have in depth conversations about what was good, bad and ugly and our responsibility in creating that environment.
The guide/workbook that we had to read and the assignments that we had to complete were very thought provoking and made us both take a long hard look at ourselves and the future that we had planned on having with each other. Although it did not discourage us as we had done a LOT of praying and talking to each other, I recognized that it was important for our relationship foundation be shaken now to see what falls off before taking our vows than to be sitting with them after the wedding and saying, “I didn’t know she was like this!” This was the beauty of the relationship that we developed with our counselors. They challenged us to challenge our relationship and ourselves to make sure that we weren’t doing things “on the rebound” or “loneliness” as some people thought we were doing.
By the end of our sessions, we had a deeper appreciation of who we were as a couple and individuals and what things we had to commit to on a daily basis to ensure that our relationship would not become boring and stale, rather full of energy and love. Our love and devotion to ensuring that we would not make the same mistakes from our past and our commitment to each other were so evident that our counselors believed that we were in a good place to move forward with our desire to become husband and wife and were pleased to give their “seal of approval.” I recognized the tests and trials that we had to undergo and appreciated the ferociousness and dedication to ensuring that we had a strong and solid foundation to have a successful marriage. I came out of the sessions being thankful that there were people like John and Kim who were called to help strengthen marriages by challenging couples to do what is necessary to be a success.
Too many times people think counseling is for couples that have things that are going bad. We learned that counseling can be used when things are going good as well. I compare it to getting a tune up before problems start arising in your vehicle. Sometimes, replacing that older spark plug with a new and improved version can make that engine run smoother than ever before with more power and better efficiency. Even replacing the wires with newer wires (lines of communication) can make those spark plugs run more efficiently as well. There are so many things that counseling can do when things are good, that it can reduce, if not eliminate the need for counseling if things go bad, because you have been proactive and don’t allow it to get bad in the first place.
So, with that in mind, if you are in a serious relationship and are seriously contemplating marriage, counseling (especially by John and Kim) would be the start of a positive self-evaluation of your relationship and where you are headed. It is far better to slow down and make corrections at the beginning of a relationship than it is to be fully committed and trying to salvage a relationship after damage has been done. We evaluated our relationship, our faith in God and each other in regard to our impending marriage and recognized that we were hearing from Him and that He did place us together. Now for the most intriguing part of this journey: planning the wedding.