Read an Excerpt
Before You Begin
We never had premarital counseling, but we spent the first year of our married life in therapy. Once a week, we met with a counselor who helped us iron out the wrinkles we never even saw before getting married. Not that we were in serious trouble. But we had this naive idea that after our wedding our life would fall naturally into place, and a marriage preparation course or counseling never entered our minds. We had dated for six years before our nine-month engagement, and we had a lot in common (even our first names). We simply thought we would tie the proverbial knot, set up house, and as the fairy tales say, 'live happily ever after.'
But we didn't. The first years of marriage were difficult right from the start. Literally. In the limousine ride away from the church, as both of us waved good-bye to our family and friends through the back window, I (Leslie) began to cry.
'What's wrong?' Les asked.
I kept crying and didn't answer.
'Are you happy or sad?' Les put his arm around my shoulders and waited for a reply. When I didn't answer, he asked again, 'What's going on inside you?'
'I don't know,' I whimpered. 'I don't know.'
Les gave me a squeeze with his arm. I knew I was hurting him, but
I didn't know what to say or why I was feeling so sad.
Except for the clanging of the tin cans behind us, the ride to the airport that afternoon, June 30, 1984, was quiet. As we waited for
14 Before You Begin our flight in a smoke-filled terminal at O'Hare Airport, both of us felt hazy about what we had just been through. Were we really married?
It didn't feel like it. We were newlyweds, but we felt more like refugees.
After boarding the plane, we fell into our seats, exhausted. So much time and energy had led up to that wedding ceremony. And it had gone as planned. But now what? Both of us sat on the plane,
emotionally spent, quietly pondering the meaning of marriage. What was it all about, this marriage? Why didn't I feel any different? Who was this person I married, really?
For Better or Worse?
Let's be honest. The 'till death do us part' statement of the marriage vow rings increasingly ironic. In the 1930s, one out of seven marriages ended in divorce. In the 1960s, it was one out of four. Of the 2.4
million couples who will get married this year in the United States,
it is predicted that at least 43 percent will not survive. For too many couples,
marriage has become 'till divorce do us part.'1
Every couple marrying today is at risk. More than two-hundred thousand new marriages each year end prior to the couple's second anniversary. After they toss the bouquet and return the tuxedos,
couples often assume they're headed for marital bliss. But a study of those who recently tied the knot revealed that 49 percent reported having serious marital problems. Half were already having doubts about whether their marriages would last.2
The truth is, most engaged couples prepare more for their wedding than they do for their marriage. The $50-billion-a-year wedding industry can testify to that fact. According to experts, the average two-hundred guest wedding today costs twenty-two thousand dollars.
3 More than one million copies of bridal magazines are sold each month, focusing mainly on wedding ceremonies, honeymoons, and home furnishings --- but not on marriage itself.
Before You Begin 15
Looking back, it seems silly that Les and I did so much to prepare for our wedding and so little to prepare for our marriage. But the truth is that less than a fifth of all marriages in America are preceded by some kind of formal marriage preparation.4
One wonders what would be the effect if the same amount of time,
energy, and money spent on the ceremony was invested in the marriage. Planning the perfect wedding too often takes precedence over planning a successful marriage. And lack of planning is the ultimate saboteur of marriage.
The wedding-bell blues are common after the excitement of an elaborate wedding celebration. 'The emotional high of ordering engraved invitations, selecting music for the ceremony, and choosing a china pattern took my attention off the big picture,' a young bride told us. 'The ceremony was more tangible and less of a gamble than the marriage. I put my energy into the wedding and hoped for the best.' For too long the trend has been to fall in love, marry, and hope for the best.
This book offers a different approach.
How to Predict a Happy Marriage
Over the last three decades, marriage specialists have researched the ingredients of a happy marriage. As a result, we know more about building a successful marriage today than ever before. For example,
happily married couples will have:
* healthy expectations of marriage
* a realistic concept of love
* a positive attitude and outlook toward life
* the ability to communicate their feelings
* an understanding and acceptance of their gender differences
* the ability to make decisions and settle arguments
* a common spiritual foundation and goal
In short, the indicators of a healthy marriage form the basis of the seven questions we pose in this book.5 Every couple should be aware of these issues before (and after) they marry. Taking the time to understand these issues is like investing in an insurance policy against divorce.
Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts (SYMBIS) is based on the fact that marriage doesn't have to be a gamble. As a psychologist (Les)
and a marriage and family therapist (Leslie) who counsel hundreds of married couples,
we have learned that living happily ever after is less a mystery than it is the mastery of certain skills. Although married life will always have its difficulties, mastering these life skills will steadily and dramatically improve your relationship.
Many couples wrongly blame in-laws, money, and sex for breakups and marital dissatisfaction. However, the hot points in marriage usually result from poor communication, gender issues, and lack of spiritual health, to name a few. This book cuts to the heart of every marital conflict. Whether single and dating, in a committed relationship,
contemplating marriage, or already ensconced in one, this book will help you learn the skills you'll need for a lasting and happy life together --- before unhappiness sets in.
Getting the Most from SYMBIS
We wrote the first edition of this book ten years ago, and since that time it has been used by hundreds of thousands of couples who want the very best for their marriage. That's why we've updated and expanded it with the latest and greatest information on lifelong love. In addition to shoring up any lag in research findings, we've added new material on sex as well as money. Over the years we've heard from many couples who have wanted more information and exercises on these topics. We've also added an online premarital assessment that can be found at www.RealRelationships.com.