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Pre-marital Counseling

By Kirsten Valle

Posted: Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2009

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Photo by Critsey Rowe

Kirsten Valle is a business reporter for the Observer. She can be reached at kvalle@charlotteobserver.com.

Read more "Getting to 'I do.'"

Sometimes, in the blur of meetings and magazines and color swatches, it's easy to forget that the real reason for the all the planning is the marriage itself, the bond that will be there in all its simple strength long after the party ends. Thankfully, our church has been there to remind us of the meaning behind the vows, and the importance of strong groundwork before we get there.

We started our official marriage preparation almost immediately. After some minor drama – the first priest we met was double-booked for our date – we found someone to perform the ceremony and guide us through the ups and downs along the way.

Reese and I met with our priest one evening after work, and we were a little nervous that we'd say the wrong thing or somehow be deemed unfit to marry. Soon, though, we felt at ease, as the priest cracked jokes and shared stories of other couples he'd married. His first question: "Why marriage?" We looked at each other and mumbled a little before saying simply, "Because we love each other." The priest smiled.

The rest of the meeting involved logistics: Who was the best man? Where were we baptized? Since I'm Catholic and Reese is Methodist, how did we want to handle the ceremony? We haven’t yet worked out all of those details, but he assured us we have plenty of time.

A few weeks later was the next step: marriage-prep class, an eight-hour session on a Saturday in August. We were uneasy at first, filing into a meeting room with 30 or so other tired-looking couples, but we'd heard from friends that the experience was interesting and valuable, so we hoped we'd gain the same from it.

To our surprise, the day passed quickly, and we learned a lot. The class consisted of several sessions on topics from family traditions (What did we want to incorporate into our own new family?) to finances (Who would pay the bills? How many credit cards would we have?) and plenty of one-on-one discussions.

Reese and I enjoyed this one-on-one time the most. We discovered similarities we hadn't noticed before. One question on finances, for instance, asked how much one spouse could spend without discussing it with the other. I based my answer on the cost of a pair of designer jeans – surely a solo shopping spree is warranted every now and then, right? Reese, anticipating this from me, answered the same, and we laughed.

We also stumbled upon some differences. When asked to describe our families in a few words, Reese declared his calm and quiet, while I jotted down something like "rowdy" for my own. Both descriptions fit – I'm sure our families can be a little of both – but the difference in our phrasing surprised and amused us.

By the time the class ended, there was just one question remaining. At the beginning of the day, we took a 150-question assessment of our personalities and relationship that we'd use later to talk over any potential problems before they arose in our marriage. I bubbled in my answers dutifully, mulling everything from money to wedding plans to relationships with friends and family, and then closed my test booklet smugly, sure that my answers would match Reese's exactly.

A few weeks later, our priest called: He had our results and wanted to meet again to discuss them. We went through our test books and were surprised to find that while our scores were almost perfect in some categories, we’d answered differently on a number of questions.

For each question where our choices differed, the priest asked why we answered the way we did and whether we planned to talk more about the issues raised. Reese explained that he chose “uncertain” for some of the questions – for instance, whether we’d determined who would pay the bills – because we hadn’t fully discussed them before the test. I acknowledged that I probably should have answered that way on some things, too, rather than assuming we’d agree on every topic.

The session led to some good talks about how we’d make decisions that would affect our household, how we’d handle conflict (I remember saying a few times during the meeting, “Are you really uncertain about that?”) and the importance of communication for issues large and small.

Climbing into the car that afternoon, we were a little relieved all this relationship scrutiny was over. At the same time, though, we were energized by the things we’d learned about each other, ourselves and the joys and challenges marriage would bring.

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