CHRISTINA DEHAN JALOWAY
One of the first things my now husband, Kristian, and I did after we got engaged was call his therapist--who also happens to be a marriage and family counselor--and make an appointment to meet with him as a couple. In the midst of the craziness of wedding planning and adjusting to new jobs, Kristian and I carved out time each week to go to counseling, both as a couple and as individuals. Both of us had been in individual counseling for awhile at that point, which made our premarital counseling even more fruitful. And while it cost money and time, we both agree that going to therapy was the best thing we did (other than praying together daily and frequenting the sacraments) to prepare for marriage.
If you’ve never been to therapy/counseling, this may sound strange. Why would you go to counseling as a couple before you even get married? Doesn’t that mean that you’re “messed up” or crazy--or that your relationship is already on rocky ground? Isn’t therapy just for people with a diagnosed mental illness or serious relationship issues?
Absolutely not. The reality is that we live in a fallen world, and even if we came from a relatively healthy family, we have been wounded by the sins of others--often in ways that can remain hidden until we get engaged, married, or start having children. That said, I know that many Catholics are skeptical about the value of therapy, so I’ve compiled a short list of reasons why you and your fiancé might consider going--either as individuals, a couple, or both.
Therapy can strengthen your relationship with the Lord.
Our bodies, minds, and souls are so deeply connected that our psychological and emotional wounds can have a negative impact both on our physical health and our relationship with Christ. Some women (and men) have such difficult relationships with their fathers that they find it nearly impossible to address God as “Father.” Before I started going to therapy and taking medication, in spite of my excellent spiritual director, my anxiety was so intense that I could rarely sit still for longer than a few minutes, which made it almost impossible to pray. In my experience, a competent Catholic or Christian therapist can help you reach a deeper level of intimacy with the Lord by giving you the tools to clear out any psychological or emotional obstacles that may be in the way.
Individual therapy helps you identify your wounds and begin to heal.
Contrary to popular belief, you don't have to by physically or sexually abused to have emotional wounds. As you may have already discovered, engagement can bring out old wounds related to family, ex-boyfriends, etc, which can cause fear and anxiety regarding your impending marriage. Regardless of what your wounds are, we all have them. And the only way those wounds will heal is if they are brought into the light.
Self-medication through coping mechanisms (work, shopping, alcohol, food, dieting, exercise, Netflix binging, etc) only works for so long--and it definitely doesn’t work well when you’re trying to love another person in sickness and in health, till death do you part. A competent therapist can help you uncover your wounds, assess them honestly, and begin the healing process so that you can avoid hurting others, especially your future husband and children, because of your wounds.
Your therapist can help you break cycles of dysfunction.
Each one of us comes from a different “school of relationship”; that is, we all learned how to love (or hate), how to fight (or avoid conflict), how to forgive (or hold grudges), how to maintain healthy boundaries (or put up walls), from our families of origin, and especially from our parents--who came from their own schools of relationship that may have been dysfunctional to varying degrees.
No matter how well we were taught by our parents and siblings, we were still taught by flawed human beings. There are probably a few lessons we never learned and a few we need to forget. Therapy can help you and your fiancé sort through what you want to keep from your families of origin, and bring into your own marriage, and what types of dysfunctional behavior you want to avoid.
Couples therapy can help you and your fiancé pinpoint and work toward resolving potential areas of conflict before you get married.
Marriage and family therapists agree that most couples come to counseling several years too late. The best time to get counseling is before any major problems surface, which is why pre-marital counseling is such a good idea. And while you may be required to meet with a priest or deacon a few times as part of your marriage prep, he simply won’t have the time or training to give you what a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) can. This is especially important if you or your fiancé has a history of addictive behavior, comes from an abusive family, or has experienced trauma of any kind in previous relationships.
A final note: I know many couples worry about the financial strain that paying a counselor may cause, but when you consider that you and your fiancé will be married for the rest of your lives, it becomes clear that putting money toward therapy is a better investment than buying your dream wedding dress, going on a fancy honeymoon, or having two meat options at your reception. Therapy is the only gift that will keep on giving for the rest of your married life.
If you have any questions or want more information on how to locate a Catholic therapist in your area, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org .