March 24, 2021

Photo credit: Safinas Photography

As a systems-oriented marriage and family therapist, my short answer would be: because the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Creating something greater than ourselves is an intrinsically human goal. From the first cave dweller who painted their story on the wall to the astronauts who put a flag on the moon, we all want our lives to mean something. I always tell the couples I work with: I have three clients each session- the two partners and the relationship. Marriage is a formal way to recognize, nurture, and respect that third party.

Attachment science shows us that we are wired for love. Brené Brown says it beautifully, “A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to.”

In premarital work with couples, I collaborate similarly to how an investigative journalist might- digging deeply into the who, what, where, when, why, and how. Once couples can process a shared awareness, they can establish the foundation upon which they build their marriage every day after. Learning to understand and successfully respond to each other’s “bids”, defined by John Gottman as “the fundamental unit of emotional communication,” couples fulfill each other’s requests to connect; thus, strengthening their shared world. By doing so, they are creating something infinitely bigger than themselves as individuals.

One could make the argument that any failed marriage is the victim of neglect. And, that the vast majority of this inadvertent lack of care is simply due to a shortage of skills and awareness. Premarital counseling is a space for couples to learn preventative measures, create shared meaning, and build useful tools to prevent this senseless travesty. When exploring couples’ shared values, I often pose the question “what do you want to say ‘yes’ to?” This gets to the concept of intentionality. Paraphrasing Lewis Carroll, George Harrison’s Any Road speaks to this same message, “if you don’t know where you’re going any road will take you there”. If couples’ goals are to build safe, sustainable marriages in which they can both continually grow and develop their best selves, knowledge is power.