On Becoming a Couple – Marriage Preparation & Enrichment

On Becoming a Couple – Marriage Preparation & Enrichment

No! Try Not!
Or Do Not!
There is no try
— Yoda

A colleague of mine, John W. Jacobs, M.D. – my mentor, continuing source of support and encouragement, and the only other board-certified psychiatrist and systemic family/couples therapist I know – wrote in his book All You Need Is Love and Other Lies about Marriage, “expectations of marriage are often so unrealistic that even the strongest of relationships [sometimes] doesn’t stand a chance.”

The life-long sometimes arduous task of helping couples strengthen their marriages against the inevitable ravages of time, and counter the myths of unending bliss, is one of tremendous import and consequences. The uncertainties of marriage preparation and the adaptations of the Becoming a Couple family life cycle stage are varied and complex, especially as the meanings of marriage have changed dramatically. Both Carter & McGoldrick and John Gottman, among others have written extensively on this topic. A therapeutic pre-nup would be much more helpful than a legal one.

The six-week marriage preparation and enrichment educational program developed by Phil Guerin and colleagues at the Center for Family Life, has three stated goals:

  1. Teaching couples how family relationships work

  2. Teaching couples the route that normal problems and personal relationships are likely to take

  3. Teaching couples the options for dealing effectively with these difficulties over time

Marriage to a “soul mate” is often viewed as the solution to all of life’s difficulties. “Real marriage for real people”, is a life-long process that requires continuous reinvestment to be sustaining and long lasting. The temporary insanity of romantic love, as the good Dr. Freud referred to it, gives way to the realization that the qualities and attributes that were initially most attractive become those that are most loathed and problematic. The qualities haven’t changed but our interpretations and the meanings we bring to them have changed dramatically.

Marriage requires commitment to a new family system and realignments of many, if not all previous relationships. Knowledge of the family as a developmental system and the major issues of sex, money, children and in-laws can alert couples to potential marriage and relationship-destroying stressors and transitions. Dr. Jacobs enunciates three critical factors that help maintain mutually satisfying marriages:

  1. Ronald B. Cohen, MD of Family Focused Solutions (familyfocusedsolutions.com) discusses the arduous task of keeping a marriage healthy, happy and intact for the long haul and how systemics family therapy can help.   The careful and wise initial choice of a mate

  2. A more realistic understanding of internal and external stressors

  3. The ongoing willingness to address concerns, differences and dissatisfactions

Each of us has the ability to be more loving, thoughtful, and considerate. Unfortunately, unfinished business often gets in the way of working on new relationships. Family systems therapy provides a constructive path to exploring and understanding the rules of ones family of origin, one’s role in it, and the ongoing influence of these experiences. Self-differentiation, the process of partially freeing oneself from the emotional entrapment of one’s family of origin, provides a secure base from which to develop the strength and responsiveness of the emotional marriage bond.

If you are considering marriage and would like to have a loving, intimate, and supportive relationship, commit fully right now to listening, learning, adapting and allowing your partner, more often than not, to have the last word. Give it all that you’ve got to nurture and enrich what can be the experience of a lifetime.

Please share your thoughts and experiences concerning Marriage Preparation & Enrichment in the “Leave a Reply” box below. To request more information and/or schedule an initial consultation, click here. If you found this post useful, don’t keep it a secret. Go ahead and share this article with your own networks. You are encouraged to click on the buttons in the second to the right hand column at the bottom of the page.

Ronald B Cohen, MD, PC www.familyfocusedsolutions.com Ronald B. Cohen, MD
Bowen Family Systems Coach
1 Barstow Road, Suite P-10
Great Neck, NY 11021
(516) 466-7530

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  1. Jillian Beverstock, MS, LMFT on July 17, 2013 at 2:37 pm said:

    Ronald, well said again! I honestly think that is why therapists need to know and understand family systems. Marriage has changed but the underlying needs for connection and attachment are always there. To respect each other and to be able to truly listen is so important. I also believe fully what you said about “understanding the rules of one’s family of origin” is key.
    Thank you again for sharing your thoughtful words.

    • Ronald B Cohen, MD on July 28, 2013 at 9:10 pm said:

      Hi Jillian,

      Thank you for your insightful thoughts. LinkedIn discussants have added:

      • I like the approach that marriage requires intentional work to be successful.
      • Long-term relationships take life-long work to keep health and happy.
      • Putting your mate first takes effort and purpose. Often the emotional bond must have commitment and solid action of both parties for it to last.

      And two thoughts from therapists in successful, productive, rewarding long term committed intimate partner relationships:

      “Marriage is a journey that needs daily attending to.”
      “If I could make a recommendation to married couples it would be to go for regular marriage check ups at your local marriage therapist.”



  2. Dervil O'Reilly on August 20, 2013 at 3:47 pm said:

    Ron, well said as per usual! Interestingly in Ireland where divorce is only a recent phenomenon, we have had to do a “Pre-marriage course”. This is not optional! In order to get married you need this certificate of completion. It is done over 6 weeks in 2 hourly sessions.

    • Ronald B Cohen, MD on August 20, 2013 at 5:54 pm said:

      Hi Dervil,

      Thank you for your kind and supportive words. Sounds very much like the six-week marriage preparation and enrichment program developed by The Center for Family Life, the outline for which is as follows:

      • The family as a developmental system
      • The genogram and the family as an emotional system
      • The marital relationship
      • Parenting young children and adolescents
      • The Extended Family
      • The major issues of sex, alcohol, money and death
      • Summary & review with plans for follow-up and further education/interventions



  3. Loren Gelberg-Goff, LCSW on August 20, 2013 at 10:32 pm said:

    Ron: Well said…Spot on… I think there needs to be a segment on handling general adversity as well. This seems to be a stumbling block for many couples who never really experienced adversity in their lives. I will share this article with my clients!

    • Ronald B Cohen, MD on August 22, 2013 at 2:43 pm said:

      Hi Loren,

      I approach “general adversity” from A Family Resilience perspective. A positive outlook, hope, optimism, mutual support, empathy and collaborative problem solving expand the universe of accomplishable positive outcomes. Focusing on strengths and resources helps families develop the ability to struggle well and empowers families to overcome persistent adversity.

      John Gottman suggests a number of transformative strategies to reduce The Vulnerability Cycle, and identifies “four simple things you can do” to resolve arguments, disagreements and grievances. Gottman’s strategies are:

      1. Learning to calm down
      2. Listening and speaking non-defensively
      3. Validation and understanding
      4. Practice, practice, practice



  4. Lauren Anzaldo on January 24, 2014 at 3:30 am said:

    Thanks for this article. I appreciate that you raise the issue that even happy, healthy marriages take work and that conflict and adversity can arise for any couple. No doubt!

    I also like how you incorporate Gottman’s work. I see a lot of utility in his methods.

    I am curious if you’re seeing an increase in couples who view divorce as an easy option if they are unhappy and who have difficulty with the concept of having to work at marriage when true love is so, for lack of a better word, romanticized. Are they accepting of the idea that all marriages need a tune up once in awhile?


    • Ronald B Cohen, MD on January 27, 2014 at 5:05 pm said:

      Hi Lauren,

      Divorce is never easy. While it is always an option it is never a solution. The “romanticisation problem” is most present in the pre-nuptial stage. By the time most couples arrive in my office, the sheen has worn off replaced by blame, bitterness, loss of credibility, chaos, turbulence and angry projection. It then becomes a process of decreasing emotional reactivity in the marital dyad to help create safety and stability, working on self-differentiation with each spouse individually, and addressing the most intense extended family triangles.

      Along these lines, two thoughts from therapists in successful, productive, rewarding long term committed intimate partner relationships:

      • “Marriage is a journey that needs daily attending to.”
      • “If I could make a recommendation to married couples it would be to go for regular marriage check ups at your local marriage therapist.”

      Hope this helps.


      — Ron

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