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Counseling Can Start Marriages Off Right
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Talking about potential hot topics before the wedding helps many couples avoid marital problems that could drive them apart later.
Dr. Louise Davis, child and family development specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said preventing problems before they ever start is much better than trying to solve existing ones in a marriage.
"Preparation for marriage is vital," Davis said. "For the sake of their marriage, there are many questions couples should answer before they come to the one that ends with ëI do'."
Americans have historically paid little attention to premarital preparation as a way to prevent later problems. Davis said that trend may be reversing as people see the magnitude and societal implications of widespread marital problems.
Programs developed to build healthy couples focus on raising factors that protect the marriage and lowering risk factors. Protective factors include a couple's friendship with, support of and dedication to each other. Risk factors include negative interactions and unhealthy beliefs about relationships.
"Couples who understand what it takes to make a good marriage and know each other well are much more likely to have a happy, healthy marriage that lasts a lifetime," Davis said.
Premarital counseling is a good way to avert potential problems. One tool gaining popularity is a relationship quiz designed for potential or already married couples. Called Prepare ñ Premarital Personal Relationship Evaluation ñ it is a collection of 165 queries ranging from financial management to sex.
This quiz, developed more than 20 years ago and modified along the way, has had such success that the majority of clergymen in 66 U.S. cities won't marry a couple unless they take the quiz and have the follow-up counseling. Actually a psychological profile, it gives a true assessment of a couples feelings about life, marriage and each other.
"After each partner answers the questions, the replies are placed side-by-side and a pattern about the relationship emerges," Davis said.
Follow-up counseling deals with the potential trouble areas identified in the inventory. Afterwards, Davis said not only are couples stronger, but the risk of divorce is lessened by as much as 50 percent. Some couples even decide to call the wedding off, realizing they are not as well suited to each other as they originally thought.
James Haynes, counselor at First Baptist Church of Biloxi, said his church requires counseling for couples wanting to be married there. This counseling covers finances, relationships, religious convictions, communication skills, trust and more.
"We've seen over the years that opposites do attract, but those who have a relationship with someone they have much in common with make better marriages," Haynes said. "With counseling, we hope to avoid problems that can come later."
Counseling lasts at least three sessions, sometimes more. While the ministers at this church never recommend that a couple not marry, they sometimes ask couples to postpone the wedding.
"If I see that the relationship is built on the wrong motives or is not mature enough, I request that they wait a while and work through some problems," Haynes said.
The church does not charge for the counseling. Haynes said he sees much fewer marriage difficulties in the couples who receive premarital counseling than those who do not.
"The main purpose of the counseling is to screen couples to see where they are in conflict or where there is weakness," Haynes said. "If their relationship is not strong now, there's no reason to believe it will be strong after marriage.