I know next to nothing about marriage. My longest relationship has been the kind that I’m compelled to describe as “on again, off again,” and the concept of devoting a lifetime to someone (who isn’t myself) is like an alien intrusion. It fell out of nowhere, it’s steaming in my front yard, and the only interaction I’ve had with it so far is to poke it with a stick.
So when I read this piece in YourTango about premarital counseling, I was surprised to find that A) it legitimately exists, and B) I’m in full support of it. In a culture that obsesses over Internet reviews before committing to buy the latest iProduct, why do we insulate ourselves against help for something as serious as marriage? As writer and life coach Zoe Saint Paul says in the article,
People train and prepare for marathons, jobs, trips, and more. But then they treat marriage as though it’s just something we’re all naturally good at. There is no more challenging—and rewarding—marathon than marriage, and if we’re wise, we’ll prepare for it wisely.
It seems ludicrously simple. And yet, not many people seek it out. As YourTango put it:
Some are turned off by the stigma, believing that seeking professional help indicates they’re somehow deficient. Others balk at the high cost of counseling, preferring to spend their money elsewhere.
Or, most commonly, couples just don’t think they need it. As one young, recently engaged woman stated, “We’re not anti-premarital counseling—[my fiancé and I are] just very much on the same page with everything. We just feel there’s not much that a counselor needs to delve into with us.” This attitude—while romantic—may explain why 41 percent of marriages fizzle after the first few years.
Which is why states are beginning to pen legislation that would penalize couples for not checking in with a counselor before tying the knot. Texas has been a frontrunner in this movement (although it’s been wildly unpopular) and other states like Minnesota and Florida have begun to offer significant discounts on marriage licenses if the couples agree to a set number of counseling hours. But only 15 percent of married couples have participated.
Amanda Marcotte wrote an intriguing piece over at Slate’s DoubleX yesterday, urging for the retooling of media’s take on divorce. She notes that coverage like this Huffington Post article about a divorce study glosses over the researchers’ lack of alarm, instead portraying the study as “pessimistic” and paradoxical. Here’s an excerpt of her argument:
I like to reframe divorce in this way: Stop thinking of divorce as a problem, and consider that it’s actually a solution to the real problem, which is bad marriages. Sure, terminating a relationship is a miserable endeavor, but it’s better than the usual alternative, which is an unhappy relationship.
While I agree with Marcotte to an extent, doesn’t it make more sense to nip problems early? In my case, once I’ve prodded open that alien commitment, determined that it’s not armed and hostile … shouldn’t the next step be to ask for help?