We’re all aware of the sobering statistics that tell us that 50% of marriages end in divorce. We know that the modern marriage is vulnerable to a myriad of obstacles that couples must learn to navigate if their partnership is to succeed. We want to do everything we can to divorce-proof an impending marriage. Our culture supports premarital counseling for the couple to learn essential tools for conflict resolution but it still fails to prepare each person as an individual for the life-altering transition of getting married. We simply don’t talk about marriage as a transition. We focus on the wedding. We focus on the details of the reception. But we miss the reality that after the wedding each person is irrevocably changed by the simple yet jarring fact that life as a single person is over and the lifetime commitment of marriage has begun.
The result of this denial is illuminated in another startling statistic: A recent study from the University of Washington revealed that 20% of men and 15% of women will have an affair in the first year of marriage. And experts believe that the statistic is actually closer to 50% since the study only reported those people who admitted to having an affair.
So… Half of married couples break their vows in the first year. Half of marriages end in divorce.
Both of these statistics point to the same theory: what you avoid on the front end comes out on the other side. In other words, when women (or men) focus obsessively on the planning details during their engagement to the exclusion of attending to the emotional and psychological aspects of the transition, they typically crash when the distractions are over, either at the end of the wedding day, the honeymoon, or sometime in the first weeks of marriage. With this crash comes the barrage of questions that my clients typically ask during before the wedding: Do I love my partner enough? Am I making a mistake? How do I know that this is the right decision? What if we don’t make it? What if one of us falls out of love? Without the support to address these normal questions effectively, many people panic, feel trapped by the increased commitment and intimacy, and have an affair.
Where does bridal or engagement counseling factor into this equation? Bridal counseling, a field that I pioneered in 1998, helps individuals address the nine key areas that are affecting their marriage transition. Two of the most important of these areas with regard to affair-proofing your marriage are the recognition that the single life and identity are over and shattering the fantasies we all carry about how engagements, love, and marriage are “supposed” to feel.