I was recently asked what is discussed in pre-marital therapy. It had me thinking more deeply about the frame work that informs the direction we may take in this type of focus.
In pre-marital sessions I like to cover a number of topics including first and foremost those issues that the couple feel are important to address. Often communication tools are needed, conflict resolutions skills may need to be addressed, and there may be other issues that are individual to the couple.
In exploring hopes and dreams as a couple, it’s helpful to explore how you met, what drew you to your partner, what you really love about each other and what you hope to build upon. I find the “Gottman Sound Relationship House” useful as a guide for key areas to be addressed with any couple. The following is a summary of what that model looks like as adapted from the work of Dr John M. Gottman and Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman, and the Gottman Therapy Institute, Inc.
The Sound Relationship House
Create Shared Meaning
This is where our narratives about what our lives mean reside. Here we create a new culture combining our individual cultures. Continued refinement of shared meaning supports growing together and enhances connection. This is where we may investigate meanings, feelings, rituals, holidays, and roles.
Make Life Dreams Come True
Together we need to be effective at making dreams and aspirations come true. This is the basis for unlocking gridlocked in conflict. Using the Dreams Within Conflict we explore values within a position.
Accept Your Partner’s Influence, Dialogue About Problems, Practice Self-Soothing. Through dialogue with each other, using humour, empathy, positive affect and self-soothing, we learn to find compromise and avoid gridlock. Identifying core issues and the “anatomy of the conflict,” or the triggers that escalate the disagreement and the history behind those triggers, supports dialogue and understanding. We use a softened startup and the ability to accept your partners influence to find solutions, as well as compromise when necessary.
The Positive Perspective
Achieved by improving upon friendship using the three levels below.
Turn Towards Instead of Away
Growing the “emotional bank account.” Building friendship.
Share Fondness and Admiration
Build a culture of appreciation, fondness, affection and respect–antidote to contempt.
Build Love Maps
Know One Another’s World—(inner psychology)
There are many tools and exercises that can support work that may be required in some of these areas. We’ll identify your strengths and areas that could use some improvement. We can assess this in a short term way and touch on the key areas in a few sessions, or we can do a full assessment and take longer depending upon the couple’s needs.
With regards to the emotional aspects of the relationship, I draw a lot on Sue Johnson’s Emotion Focused Therapy to address emotions and how they play a role in managing conflict and connecting with each other in ways that are safe and that build a lasting bond. You can always pick up her book “Hold Me Tight,” as a self help tool as well. The Gottman’s have the book “The Seven Principals for Making Marriage Work.” This is also a good self help guide which builds on the “Strong Relationship House” model.
Getting married is one of the most important steps we take in life. You owe it to yourselves to be well prepared to enjoy a healthy and happy relationship for the rest of your lives.