Dear Dr. Diana
My new husband says that if we had premarital counseling, we probably wouldn’t have gotten married. We both have kids from our previous marriages and we have different ideas about how to raise them. We also have different ideas about how to handle our money. He’s saying that it was a mistake for us to get married. Of course he says it in anger but the words get burned into my mind. I’d like us to have marriage counseling but my husband says that if we need help so early in our marriage, it’s a really bad sign. I’m confused and don’t know how to make it better.
The first year is especially challenging for blended families while everyone is adjusting to living together. Remarriage with children is hard by anyone’s standard. But the rewards can be exponentially greater, too. You and your husband are not alone in struggling early on in your new marriage. But it’s almost never too late for marriage counseling.
It’s true that participating in premarital counseling can reduce the likelihood of divorce. We don’t know for sure if this is because premarital counseling helps them sort things out ahead of time, or teaches certain skills, or if couples who are willing to do premarital counseling are more likely to work harder at marriage.
Research shows that 68 percent of happy marriages have “perpetual problems” — meaning problems that aren’t resolvable. The way a couple handles conflict is more critical than fixing the problems. Successful couples communicate and accept their differences; they negotiate compromises and continue to learn from each other.
Perhaps you could ask your husband to go with you to counseling so you can better understand his perspective and needs — as a way of helping you rather than fixing him. It may sound manipulative but I bet there’s some truth in it. Meanwhile, divorce is tough enough on kids, let alone multiple divorces.
The reason marriage counseling can be so effective is that it allows people a safe place to sort out their feelings. They may not know how to express their feelings very well or are scared to say how they really feel. Then they wait until they burst with anger to say what’s bothering them. Other times, one person tries to talk with their partner only to be frustrated because of defensive reactions or poor listening skills. A trained marriage counselor can help you identify the negative patterns that keep you from getting close to each other and then help to re-create new loving interactions that can keep your love alive.
Diana Weiss-Wisdom, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Rancho Santa Fe, CA. (858) 259-0146 or firstname.lastname@example.org