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Why I’m glad we did premartial counseling, before we got engaged

April 28, 2018

Editor’s note: Mary Hall is the Life editor at the Daily Journal and is newly engaged to Mike Naughton, a software engineer with HBK Engineering in Chicago. When not planning their wedding, the couple enjoys traveling, bingeing sitcoms and eating Peruvian food. In her new monthly column, Something New, Mary explores wedding planning for today’s couples — from what traditions to take or break, to sticking to a budget when you’re footing the bill.

When you think of premarital counseling, what comes to mind? I picture Robin Williams playing Rev. Frank in “License to Wed,” sitting in an office with a pastor you probably don’t know very well, answering awkward and personal questions.

For Mike and I, it looked quite a bit different: just us, sitting on the couch on a Sunday afternoon, watching a series of quirky videos filmed in the ’90s and discussing some workbook questions privately.

We also started about six months before we got engaged, and I’m so glad we did.

Last fall, Mike sent me a Huffington Post article titled “Why my husband and I chose pre-engagement counseling.” We had been talking about marriage for a couple of months, but reading this article made us think more thoughtfully about how we transitioned from dating seriously to getting engaged.

The article outlined two main arguments in pro:

• Wedding planning takes focus away from premarital counseling. Even if you have the best intentions, an interview with another DJ probably will supersede an in-depth discussion of your family history.

• Once you’re engaged, it’s harder — both emotionally and practically — to break up or postpone if red flags arise. Once you set a date, buy a ring and announce it on Facebook, calling off an engagement is much more daunting.

So, Mike and I set aside Sunday afternoons for six weeks and started Marriage 101, a faith-based video series that comes with a workbook and some books to read.

While a faith-based program isn’t for everyone, the topics it explored — from conflict resolution to how close we are to our families to expectations in parenting — were universal.

And yes, while some of the videos were really corny, I appreciated the emphasis on discussing these big topics as a couple.

There were expectations we each had on how we would spend money or the best ways to communicate we didn’t even realize. We learned we problem-solve in very different ways. We learned to be completely honest in a way I’m not sure we would have in front of an acquaintance.

And now on the other side of the ring, I can tell you Mike and I don’t have whole Sunday afternoons very often to just sit and dream about what we want our future lives to look like.

I don’t want to knock traditional counseling, but for us, the nontraditional road was worth it.