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Vanderpump Rules SURver Jax Taylor is currently planning a wedding with fiancée Brittany Cartwright. He recently admitted to Men's Health that the two are in premarital counseling, working out whatever issues remain as they head into 2019. They will tie the knot next summer.
Therapist Nancy Sterling calls any couple who willingly attend therapy before marriage “brilliant.” “Removing the stigma that there has to be a problem to seek professional guidance and tackling common topics is wise and an investment in a relationship,” she tells Personal Space. “Especially with more than 40 percent of marriages ending in divorce in the U.S. Common areas that come up in every couple include understanding the different points of view between men and women, focusing on resolving conflicts and healthier arguing, improving communication with effective skill building, and learning to actively listen and support one another’s needs.”
Couples therapist Diane Spear says premarital therapy can be helpful for couples to see if their goals are compatible. “To discuss how they handle differences of opinion, how they deal with money, how they view their roles in the relationship, and it can be helpful to have a therapist they feel comfortable with to help address issues that may arise in the marriage (instead of having to conduct a therapist search when they’re already feeling tension).”
Spear says going to therapy doesn’t necessarily signal unsolvable problems. “Every relationship has ‘stuff,’ because no two people see everything eye-to-eye, so it’s important to be able to handle differences calmly, without making your partner wrong or bad,” she says.
So what are the big topics should you settle on before you marry?
“It’s important to sort out whether or not you both want to have children. If one person wants to be a parent and the other is adamantly opposed, that’s a deal-breaker and should be discussed before marriage,” Spear says. “What’s the expectation for monogamy or lack of? What’s the role of each partner’s family of origin in the relationship — who makes the decisions: the couple, or one or both families? If you intend to have children, do you see parenting in compatible ways? Do you think spanking is a good idea or a problem? If you both have big careers, do you both intend to keep them at that level when you have children, or will one partner downshift? How do you prioritize work and time together? Therapy before marriage can help partners feel good about moving forward in their relationship together, or bring problematic issues to the surface to be dealt with and resolved or recognized as deal-breakers. What’s the downside in any of those outcomes?”
If two partners have decided to enter into marriage, therapy can be incredibly helpful even if the relationship is not in “trouble,” says therapist Meredith Shirey. “Early intervention is always a key component to successful outcomes in therapy,” she says. “Most of the current research indicates that couples tend to wait until about five to seven years after noticing a problem before they are willing to try couples therapy, typically when they are already very disconnected and almost using therapy as the last effort to salvage the relationship. The problem with this approach is that there is already so much disconnection and assumptions made that most partners have already internally decided where they stand and unless both are willing to take significant risks in making changes, there is not much that can actually be accomplished through couples therapy. Conversely, when couples go to therapy much earlier on in their relationship (meaning when they first notice an issue), they are generally much more open to learning about their partner, give the other the benefit of the doubt, and tend to be far more flexible because there is not a history of years of disconnection and missed cues. Those who come in when problems are first noticed tend to have overall better outcomes in therapy and longer, more satisfying relationships.”
Shirley says she’s often asked, “If we’re going to therapy, doesn’t that mean it’s already basically over?” The answer is no, not at all.
“This is exactly the belief and attitude that unfortunately many share towards couples work, though it is completely unfounded (both clinically and in the research). As mentioned above, couples who come in sooner tend to have better outcomes and report more satisfaction in their relationship and feel therapy was effective. An analogy I often use is comparing it to a medical problem like cancer. If you show early warning signs of cancer or a physician informs you that you have pre-cancerous cells, you would not wait until you have stage four cancer to see an oncologist. Like so many other things in life, early intervention is key.”
Remember, she says, that couples therapy is “not always about saving a relationship, it’s often about helping people to find themselves and where they fit (or do not fit) in the relationship.”
“Not all relationships are meant to last a lifetime, I encourage couples who come into therapy to remain open, to learn about themselves and their partner in hopes that it will empower them to make the decision that makes the most sense for them overall.”
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