“Bridezillas don’t call me,” said Reverend Miriam Lindbeck, a non-denominational minister who conducts pre-wedding counseling sessions for her couples. Her program focuses on emotional and spiritual work from the inside out. “They go to my website and they aren’t interested in those concepts.”
It can be overwhelming to deepen skills in communication and conflict resolution, identify personal weaknesses, and aim to live in a way that contributes to the growth of a partner, as well as oneself. It’s easier to fret over wedding clothes and jewelry and honeymoon romance.
The effort, however, is worthwhile and long-lasting, according to Lindbeck. “We cover what they love, respect, and appreciate about each other, and what they expect from the marriage,” she said. Other basic issues reviewed: raising children, spending and saving habits, career goals, politics, religion, education, and family roles.
One of the most significant principles in a relationship is forgiveness, she said. If one person refuses to forgive the other over some transgression, then “the relationship is forever tethered to that place of separation. They stay together but there’s a certain dead place. : Forgiveness can join them at the heart.”
Lindbeck is a freelancer of sorts, as she’s not associated with an institution, but individual churches have their own requirements for pre-marital therapy. The Catholic Church requires it, as does the Episcopal Church. Marriage is sacred and it takes place with a higher power blessing the union, so reflection and assessment are part of the spiritual commitment.
“The Bible says where there is love, God is there,” said Rob Fisher, an Episcopalian priest at All Saints by the Sea Church in Montecito. Fisher’s work may be based in religious beliefs, but his counseling method is practical. He uses a commercial assessment program called Prepare/Enrich. It’s an extensive fill-in-the-bubble survey taken by the betrothed individuals.
The inventories - which cover sexuality, finances, and family of origin issues, among other topics - are then sent back to the Prepare/Enrich company and scored by computer. Fisher, a certified program facilitator, gives feedback to the couple over a series of sessions. He and his own wife used the method before they were married.
“It’s an objective survey and that aspect makes it less intimidating,” he said. Through the survey, couples identify areas of compatibility and agreement, as well as areas where problems are likely to emerge.
Almost as important as learning how to avoid divorce, the sessions give a couple a chance to slow down and savor the wedding ritual, according to Fisher. “It’s a dynamic time in their lives. Family members are amped up around them. I want to help the couple be present in their moment.”
For Ken Collier, retired Unitarian minister, helping the couple “feel married” and experience the profundity of a wedding are of utmost importance. He encourages them to write their own vows, and to choose a location that makes sense in the context of their relationship. He advises against sky-diving naked as a ceremony, just for the notoriety of it.
And he encourages the couple to include beloved family members - alive or deceased - in the wedding ceremony. He fondly remembers one couple sharing wine out of a crystal goblet that the groom’s late father had given to the groom’s mother as a wedding present. “The gesture brought the father into the wedding. It was very touching,” he said.
As for counseling, Collier tries to find out why the couple are marrying now, especially if they’ve been living together for awhile. He wants to be satisfied that they are looking for a deeper commitment, not that their parents are pressuring them, for instance. Every now and again, a young couple will tell Collier something like, “Well, if it doesn’t work out, we can always get divorced.” Needless to day, he refuses to marry them.
“If you’re not intending it to last the rest of your life, you’re not ready,” Collier said.