Couple should seek pre-marital counseling before walking down the aisle

Q. I am 18 and engaged to be married, but my boyfriend has little interest in the wedding or in discussing our future plans. I love him, but I’m having second thoughts. My family will be so upset if I call off the wedding. What should I do?

A. Contact your minister or a mental health professional and schedule pre-marital counseling sessions because neither you nor your husband-to-be is prepared for a long-term commitment. Before you walk down the aisle, you should have serious discussions about finances, children, religion, work, in-laws, and expectations about your future together.

Pre-martial counseling should be taken seriously by every couple who desires a successful marriage. Because so few people get counseling but leap quickly to the altar, the United States has one of the highest divorce rates in the developed world. Nationwide, 20 percent of all marriages have ended by 5 years; 33 percent have ended by 10 years; and 43 percent have ended by 15 years.

According to a report from the U.S. Census in 2009, Arkansas has the highest divorce rate in the nation for men and the fifth highest for women. Researchers speculate this rate is so high because more people are getting married young and do not consider the challenges that marriage often brings. I think you and the young man to whom you are engaged have both of these issues.

If your future husband will not cooperate before marriage, he will not change after marriage. It is much better to disappoint your family than to go through the pretense of a sacred ceremony that you have doubts about from the beginning.

Q. My husband of over 20 years suddenly told me he wanted a divorce. He met someone else, and has been seeing her secretly for over a year. I had no idea, and I’m devastated. I keep hoping he’ll change his mind, but now he is living with her. How do I begin to adjust to a new life?

A. The first stage of a sudden separation or divorce is shock and disbelief. It sounds as if you are still in that stage. If you choose to believe that your husband will return, you will be unable to move ahead. As difficult as it is, you need to accept that your marriage is over.

After the acceptance stage, many women begin to question their own self-worth and believe they were at fault. In my practice, I hear “if only I had been better to him,” “if only I hadn’t gained weight,” “if only I hadn’t spent so much time with the children.” The task ahead for you is not to look at the past, but to look at what you can do to bolster your self-esteem and to create a better life in the future.

One of the most difficult parts of a divorce is telling everyone else. In a small town, you don’t have to worry about others knowing because they probably knew before you did. Do not let that shame you. If you have friends or relatives living in other parts of the state or country, simply tell them the truth. He met someone else. You need not say more until you are ready or wish to confide in them.

The most important part of your recovery is getting help from your close friends and family. Talk to those whom you trust, cry on their shoulders, find other divorced or single women in the community, join a support group for divorced people. Do not sit home and obsess. After a few months most women are happier single than they were in an unfulfilling or deceitful marriage. A book that many people find helpful is “The Healing Journey Through Divorce” by Phil Rich and Lita Schwartz.

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Nancy Ryburn holds a doctorate degree in psychology from Yeshiva University in New York City. She teaches psychology at Southeast Arkansas College and maintains a limited private practice in Pine Bluff.