While choosing the right flowers, the best chapel and the perfect honeymoon spot are all top priorities for newly engaged couples, there's another spot that couples tend to find lower on their checklist: Pre-marital counseling.
There's no good or bad pre-marital counseling, there's just pre-marital counseling. Whether your pastor or priest offers the service or you attend a private session or public session, it all boils down to the same thing-- helping couples prepare to make a successful marriage.
Indeed, why do it if you don't plan to make it work?
Carrie Little, education program coordinator for Family and Children's Services, said that the program that's offered by Family and Children's Services does not serve as pre-marital counseling, but more as pre-marital education.
"It's very focused on teaching skills throughout the marriage," Little said. "It's a set curriculum that's very skill-based, whereas (with) therapy you don't get that skill-based model."
In the "Within Our Reach" program, workshop leaders focus on teaching skills such as expectations, communication techniques and conflict management and problem solving.
For the pre-marital education, the sessions are broken up into two different groups where couples with children, in the age ranging from newbies to 8-year-olds, attend six weekly sessions. Couples without children or with older children attend eight weekly sessions.
These sessions are always within groups featuring as few as eight couples or as many as 17 or 18 couples.
For those who aren't in the sharing mood with other couples there are other options. There are private options such as with a relationship counselor or a religious leader.
Maridee Lindley is the executive director for the Center for Counseling Education, which is a faith-based organization that provides pre-marital counseling for couples, especially when religion might be an issue.
"My goal is to see the areas they're familiar with and identify areas that could come up," Lindley said.
Through referrals from local pastors or from the group's Web site, Lindley and the other counselors of the center have helped couples who want to be as prepared as possible for married life.
Lindley said that she or any of the counselors usually starts working with couples by giving them a Myers Briggs test, which is a popular personality test. After receiving the results, the counselor goes over the results with them and assesses potential conflict areas for the couple.
"We help people understand that the little things don't have to become big things," Lindley said.
For those looking for a more neutral private consultation, Dr. Michael Posner provides pre-marital counseling sessions, too.
"My application is not based on any set of religious beliefs," Posner said. "I work with couples on emotional and interactive skills."
Posner's 50-minute sessions are designed to help couples understand each other's personality and temperament, unrealistic versus realistic expectations and character and attitude.
Posner said he offers the option of a double session for couples who feel they need it.
"Some clients are disappointed that (the session) comes to an end, others don't like sitting on the couch," he said.
Similar to Lindley, Posner works to help couples recognize possible complications that might come up once the honeymoon is over.
"It's easier to learn to (how) not to allow a relationship to prevent pain than to have pain after it's already set in," Posner said.
Besides offering preparation tools and possibly saving a few headaches down the marriage road, pre-marital counseling in Oklahoma has its incentives.
As of 1999, Oklahoma House Bill 1180 allowed the reduction of the marriage license from $50 to $5 for successful completion of pre-marital counseling.
This incentive might be getting a bit more strict, however.
Last month, District 30 state representative Mark McCullough introduced a bill (House Bill 2634) that would require couples take at least eight hours of pre-marital counseling in order to obtain a marriage license; however, if a couple were to pursue more than 20 hours of pre-marital counseling, they could get the marriage license as well as the $5 discount.
"State government currently spends hundreds of millions of dollars dealing with the fallout of divorce--exponentially more than it does supporting marriage," said McCullough, R-Sapulpa, in a press release. "If we can encourage more couples to obtain counseling and carefully consider their decisions before entering into this supposedly life-long commitment, I believe we can drive down our divorce rate, save taxpayer money and improve the lives of thousands of Oklahomans every year."
That sounds like a pretty good idea to Little--the more information the better. A problem might lie in trying to achieve a level of 20 hours of premarital counseling, though.
"I think people would have to do a combination of programs to get the 20 hours," Little said. Currently, the longest program is 12 hours, and a one-day Saturday session in eight hours.
She doesn't see a problem in the extra education that would be added by the bill if passed.
"We teach kids about reading, writing and math, but nobody really talks to kids about relationships," she said.
While the discount does offer a nice bonus for doing pre-marital counseling, it does not erase the one thing that the private, religious and public service all offer and agree on doing--helping couples to better communicate.
Little, who works with the public group arm, said a lot of their pre-marital education skills involves getting couples to talk about matters of substance.
In a similar manner, the Center for Counseling Education's approach revolves around a focus on communication, specifically how men and women communicate, each in their own ways.
Lindley gave an example of how, at the end of a bad day, women want to unload and have someone listen. Meanwhile, the man might listen, but he wants to problem-solve and fix what went wrong in the day.
"This is (usually) an eye-opener for young people in men and women communicating differently," Lindley said.
Dr. Posner describes it as, "knowing how to argue and talk about issues in a certain way."
Posner is frank about the time and expense of seeking services as he said that finances are an important piece of the puzzle in deciding whether to pursue pre-marital counseling.
"Take this seriously," he said. "Try low-cost or free options first, before going to private therapist."
The "Within Our Reach" program that's hosted by Family and Children's services is free to all couples interested. The next workshop is scheduled to start in mid-March. For more information, visit okmarriage.net.
The Center for Counseling Education is not free but bases its fees on the couple's situation. For more information on them, visit ccetula.org.
For more information on Dr. Posner, visit tulsacounseling.com.
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