Are you prepared for a marriage, or for a wedding?

As gay Americans crusade for the right to marriage, heterosexuals seem to be throwing up their hands.

As someone who spends her days talking about  relationships,  I say you can, indeed, have a lifelong contract with another person—but it’s success is all about the foundation. Dating is all about the frosting, but marriage is all about the cake. And yes, you can have your cake and eat it too, but not without considerable planning ahead of time.  And I don’t mean wedding planning, I mean marriage planning.

Marriage is a structure.  Good structures are built to withstand high winds, storms, lightening strikes and even kids and in-laws.

As a couple’s therapist, I talk about marriage almost daily with my clients. Most come to me when their relationship is in trouble.  As a trained attorney who practiced law before becoming a therapist, I also know how ugly it can get when contracts go bad. Often, anger and revenge fuel protracted fighting, leaving unhappy people and damaged children in its wake.

Donning dual hats as therapist and lawyer, I can say that I am in favor of premarital counseling whether or not a prenuptial agreement is in the works. Although it may seem unromantic to enter couples therapy before you walk down the aisle, a few sessions in advance of the nuptials can be worth their weight in gold. And more and more couples agree. Some couples are in their 20’s or 30’s and getting married for the first time; some are “seasoned pros” embarking on a second or third relationship. Many couples seek therapy because they have experienced the pain of divorce. They want to avoid making the same mistakes, or repeating their parents’ mistakes.

Couples therapy is essentially a trust-building exercise.  Talking about expectations, hopes and concerns, can sometimes leave people feeling exposed and vulnerable. It’s an unsexy interchange, but that’s exactly what’s called for to get real about a healthy, long-term marriage. No two people are going to agree on everything, so it’s better to get it on the table upfront, and learn how to talk to each other. Learning how to express yourself openly with your partner without losing the connection, is the definition of intimacy.

Yes, marriage is a legal contract made between parties who also love each other.  Recognizing the prosaic as well as romantic aspects of marriage at the outset helps create a lasting and enduring partnership.  It’s the best sort of wedding cake—one where the icing and roses serve to enhance the beauty, not to hide the flaws.

More posts about weddings, marriage, and pre-nups:
Saying ‘I Do’ to a Prenup (October 1, 2012)
Buddymoons (July 14, 2012)
The Emotional Prenup (June 14, 2012)
Cohabitation and a Healthy Marriage: Fact or Fiction? (May 6, 2012)
Does Couples Therapy Work? (March 21, 2012)
Marital Pre Nup (February 8, 2012)
What makes a marriage viable—or not? In a word: trust. (February 6, 2012)