Premarital Counseling – What every engaged couple think they don’t need; what every married couple believe they do!
By Joash Koh
Photo by Alamy
Marriage and divorce statistics in Malaysia have been a source of concern for family and marriage advocators, counselors and pre-marriage educators. Divorce rates in Malaysia have doubled in the last 8 years. Given the staggering divorce rates in a conservative Asian country is disheartening, to say the least. I grew up in a society where two generations before me, divorce was almost unheard of. It is not that there are no couples divorcing but the concept was such a taboo. Fast forward today, out of 214,799 marriages, there were 56,760 divorce cases in 2012. This translates to 1 divorce every 10 minutes in Malaysia!
“1 divorce every 10 minutes!”
There are many reasons for the increase in divorce rates. Major reasons are the breakdown of communication, frequent and unresolved conflicts, as well as differences in partners’ value systems. How can we then address this issue? How can I prevent my marriage from becoming another statistic?
“How can I prevent my marriage from becoming another statistic?”
Marriage researchers have found that premarital counseling might be the key to answering that question. Couples who participate in some form of premarital program experience a 31 percent increase in marital success over those who do not. Dr. David Olsen, marriage researcher and creator of premarital inventory PREPARE/ENRICH, has found that 85% of couples that completed the inventory and skills-building exercises, stayed together. Premarital counseling strengthens a marriage before it takes place as the couple prepares and anticipates challenges and conflicts that could arise in the marriage in the future.
Is premarital counseling the answer to divorce?
It is important to remember that the word “counseling” can sometimes be misleading. Premarital counseling is not a form of therapy. Premarital counseling is educational by nature. Its purpose is to help couples learn the skills they will need to support them in building a healthy and lasting marriage.
For this same reason, there are two settings for premarital counseling in Malaysia. One is through groups of couples learning a marriage course by teaching and discussions, and another is through couple counseling where the counselor meets the couple on a regular basis. Each style has its own strong points to support couples. Couple counseling would fit better with couples who want to address their unique relationship characteristics and their distinctive fortes and styles.
“The belief is that premarital counseling is necessary to encourage the strength of a marriage before it takes place and to prepare and anticipate challenges and conflicts that could arise in the marriage in the future.”
At KIN & KiDS, we highly encourage couples to have a relationship “inventory”: PREPARE (Pre-Marital Personal Relationship Evaluation). This relationship tool customizes the questions to each couple to understand their unique strengths and growth areas. This tool is able to predict divorce with an accuracy of 85% or more. Over 2000 couples in Malaysia and over 3 million couples worldwide have used it. It is currently available in its fifth version.
At KIN & KiDS, we understand couples’ financial constraints and are committed to doing all we can to enable couples to undergo premarital counseling at affordable rates.
Many of the engaged or “premarital” couples I meet tend of being idealistic about what it takes to function as a married couple. It is only after their honeymoon period that they begin to learn what a marriage relationship is really like.
As a trainer of the PREPARE/ENRICH Facilitator Certification, I have educated facilitators to be aware of the differences in relationship characteristics between premarital and married couples. Premarital couples tend to exhibit higher levels of optimism than other couples while masking their underlying issues and incompatibilities. The most common incompatibilities among couples are generally in the areas of communication, conflict resolution and financial planning. Couples that have many incompatibilities may need more time to work on their relationship before marriage.
Typically, premarital couples are more motivated to work on improving their relationship compared to long-married couples as the former have high levels of commitment and tend to be more willing to be open to change and pursue growth in the relationship. For the counselor, this trait is a key one to bring into the marriage for a lasting relationship.
“Typically, premarital couples have high levels of commitment and tend to be more willing to be open to change and pursue growth in the relationship.”
To prepare for marriage may be a daunting task and sometimes a confusing endeavor. Someone once likened premarital counseling to swimming lessons while on the shore. Many of the lessons may simply not be applicable until couples have “taken the plunge.” We think it is better to jump in with some swimming lessons than taking the plunge with no preparation and hope you will learn to swim once you hit the water!
If you are interested to find out more about our pre-marital counseling program package, please contact us.
Jabatan Pendaftaran Negara “Statistik perceraian mengikut pecahan negeri dan kaum 2012”. Boo, S.L., (2014, March 3).
One divorce in Malaysia every 10 minutes. Retrieved from http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/one-divorce-in-malaysia-every-10-minutes Olson, D.H., & Olson, A.K. (2000).
Empowering couples: Building on your strengths. Minneapolis, MN: Life Innovations. Caroll, J. S. & Doherty, W. J. (2003).
Evaluating the Effectiveness of Premarital Prevention Programs: A Meta-Analytic Review of Outcome Research. Family Relations, 52 (2), 105-118. National Council on Family Relations.
About the author
Joash is a Premarital Therapist and Board Certified Life Coach at KIN & KiDS Marriage, Family and Child Therapy Center. He is also the certified trainer and facilitator of PREPARE/ENRICH and Couple Checkup programs at Focus on the Family, Malaysia. He is a professional clinical member of the Association for Marriage and Family Malaysia. Read more about him here.