Tag Archives: Premarital counseling

Why Shacking Up Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be

Couples who shack up before marriage are more likely to divorce, experience domestic violence, have sexual and emotional problems, and be involved in affairs. Yet, regardless of the statistics, people continue to do it.

The myth couples use to justify shacking up is that by living together before marriage, they can “test drive the car” and have a more satisfying and longer-lasting marriage. But it’s just the opposite.  People shack up because they are skittish about commitment and, therefore, more likely to call it quits when problems arise.

In addition, couples who shack up actually lose objectivity because they’re not looking at the relationship from a distance.  They literally haven’t had the “space” to step back and objectively consider whether this person is truly the best match for them.  Instead, they sort of just drift into marriage.

Another reason not to shack up: You won’t have a healthy relationship with your extended family.  A supportive extended family is one of the things that makes a marriage work.  However, moms, dads, siblings, and other family members are not going to expend as much effort, caring, and commitment to you as a couple when it’s an iffy situation.  People often forget that and then complain about their family not treating their shack-up stud or honey like family. Well hell, if you want them to be treated like family, make them family!

Quite frankly, if you shack up, you are basically saying that your future marriage isn’t valuable enough to be worth waiting and making tough sacrifices for.  I love it when people shack up and then demand a traditional wedding. How can you choose to live in a tremendously untraditional way and still expect your parents to cough up the money for a traditional party?  If a kid wants to slap the face of tradition, they are on their own.

Finally (and most importantly), shacking up hurts kids.  If (and usually when) a woman gets pregnant in a shack-up situation, there is a high probability that the sperm donor will split within two years, which results in a never-married-single-mom raising a fatherless child. A guy who is screwing a woman without laying down his life for her doesn’t want to be a dad – he’s just getting off.

In my opinion, the best way to test your compatibility for marriage and reduce your chances of divorce to almost nothing is:

1) Don’t have sex until you’re married.
2) Date for at least one year before you get engaged.  
3) Participate in a structured premarital counseling program which includes psychological testing. 

However, I know most of you are not going to do that.  So, operate at your own risk – or rather, the risk of your kids.

When Parents of Adult Children Remarry

A parent’s remarriage is not only extremely tough on minor kids, but it’s a touchy subject for adult children as well.  Be it death or divorce, you may feel like you’re still grieving the loss of your mom or dad while your other parent has simply moved on.

However, adult kids have to put themselves in their parent’s shoes.  Your parent may have had a very long, good marriage (except for the ending), and now they no longer have a companion or best friend. They may feel lonely and long for that connection again, and they often find it with another spouse.

So, how can an adult child better adjust to their parent’s remarriage? Here are some tips:

1. Don’t be negative.  Though your parent doesn’t need to ask your permission to get remarried, they would probably like your support.  Being negative won’t stop the marriage, and it will only create bad feelings between you and your parent.

2. Don’t compare.  Don’t measure the new spouse (“the stepparent”) against your own mom or dad.  It’s not about you – it’s about your parent being happy.

3. Accept the situation.  “Acceptance” is a word I use a lot with callers on my program. It’s a very important part of moving on because it means you’re no longer fighting something.  When your parent gets married again, hopefully they are going to be happy and find joy.  That may be hard for you to accept or like, but you need to do it if there is going to be peace.  The first thing you can do is get on board.  Accept the new “stepparent” and do everything you can to make them feel welcome in the family.  Break your back trying to do that instead of treating them like an outsider.

4. Show respect.  You may have to dig down deep sometimes to find something good about your parent’s new spouse, but you need to show respect because you’re sharing your parent with them.  Your parent may marry someone who isn’t very nice.  If that happens, you’re screwed, but you can be less screwed if you do your best to kiss up to them as best you can.  Fake it.  Make believe.  When you go home, you can brush your teeth, but while you’re there, you’ve got to act sweet no matter what. Otherwise, you’re not going to see your mom or dad.

5. Don’t expect love or affection either way – ever.  Maybe love and affection will develop. If it does, terrific, but if it never does, it’s not the end of the world.  Not everybody is an emotional match.

6. If the new spouse has children or grandchildren, understand that “the female runs the roost.”  If your dad marries a woman with kids, her kids are going to have priority unless your dad is very strong.  And even if he is strong, he may abdicate his strength for the sake of not wanting to be alone.

The bottom line is that people tend to be more emotional about things the closer they are to them.  For example, if there’s a disaster somewhere in the world, the first thing you want to know is if there were any Americans involved and if any of those hurt were from your state, city, or neighborhood.  The closer they are to you, the more emotional you feel. A similar dynamic is at play in stepfamilies.  You don’t feel the same way about your father’s new wife as you do about your own mom.  However, a word to the (hopefully) wise: make it seem as though you do.  Human beings have developed ways of appearing to be open and friendly (bowing, shaking hands, smiling, offering bread, etc.), and I suggest you use them all.  Feelings usually develop in a better way over time if you put forth these efforts.

*A quick note to parents who are remarrying with adult kids:

Don’t put your spouse’s kids in your will.  Only your own kids should be in your will, and by the same token, you shouldn’t expect your spouse to put your kids in theirs.  In addition, I suggest signing a prenup and making sure that all insurance policies are clear about who is a beneficiary.

This is why I recommend six months of premarital counseling to ALL couples considering marriage so that issues like finances (and whose family you’ll be seeing during the holidays!) can all be sorted out objectively.  I even believe that at some point during the process of creating a stepfamily with adult kids, everyone in the families should come in for counseling and discuss the potential problems, difficulties, and jealousies which could arise.

13 Things to Discuss Before You Marry

We all get nervous before big moments in our lives.  When you start school, graduate, or arrive for the first day of a new job, your stomach is sure to be doing flips.  So when you get married, it’s only natural and normal to feel some anticipatory anxiety.  However, there’s a huge difference between a few pre-wedding jitters and getting cold feet.

Getting cold feet is a message from the inside that you may be making a mistake.  Unfortunately, a lot of folks ignore this feeling because they think:

1. “It’s too late. We’ve dated for so long, and I have too much invested.”

2. “I don’t want to be alone.”

3. “It’s too embarrassing and/or expensive to call off the wedding.”

4. “He/she is really nice, and I don’t want to hurt his/her feelings.”

5. “He/she will change after we get married.”

How can you avoid getting cold feet at the altar?  Go through at least six months of premarital counseling.  Oftentimes people ignore doubts, red flags, and gut feelings because they don’t discuss their issues and concerns BEFORE they get married.  By seeing an expert who specializes in premarital counseling, you’ll go over things like:

1. Money. How do we spend it?  What about savings? What about budgets? Who takes care of the money?  When it comes to money, there are two types of people to varying extremes: those who like to spend and those who like to save.  It’s extremely important to discuss finances and prenups (which I think are absolutely necessary in second marriages involving children so that the kids are protected).

2. How alike are you?  People say “opposites attract,” but that only works for magnets, not for people.  The more you have in common with your partner, the better. You need to discuss your backgrounds, religious beliefs, values, and dreams for the future.  What are your views on loyalty, honesty, and dealing with anger?  What behaviors are off-limits?  You should talk about all these things and never assume they will change after you are married.  If you want something about them to change and it doesn’t, don’t get married!

3. Communication skills.  Many people come from families where they really don’t communicate.  They don’t sit down calmly and honestly speak the truth.   You and your partner need to be able to say to each other, “These are my expectations, hopes, dreams, desires, etc.,” and then ask if they are reasonable.  If your partner says, “I would like to have more freedom, come and go as I please, and not have to call when I’m going to be late for dinner,” then you know it’s a good idea to call it quits.
It’s vital to assess how someone communicates before you get married.  Some people use communication as a destructive tool to get what they want, and others use it to hurt their partner or justify themselves when they’ve lied or misbehaved.

4. Life outside of marriage.  Which hobbies and activities are you going to do together and which are you going to do separately with friends?  Am I not going to be able to ride my motorcycle because you don’t ride?  Some people are so insecure, possessive, or demanding that they won’t let the other person have a life.  Many women, in particular, don’t want their men to have guy time (which can be very disastrous).

5. Do you want to have kids?  How many? What does discipline look like? Who’s going to take care of them? What happens if one of you has fertility issues?  Are you open to adoption? Having two people cooperate to raise a child is a huge deal.  Compatibility issues in how you parent can lead to big problems down the road.  This is why it’s important to look at each other’s family dynamics.  People develop a lot of neurotic tendencies from their childhoods that may never change, such as how loving or attentive they are. Observe how your fiancé/fiancée is with other people’s kids.

6. Employment.  Do you travel a lot for your job? Do you plan to relocate often? Do you stay at the office late? Do you have any time for family?  Certain jobs (trucking, medicine, law, military, etc.) require a lot of commitment.  You have to analyze yourself and ask, “Do I want to marry somebody who isn’t going to be home at seven every night?  Do I want my spouse to be just visiting when he/she walks in to the house?”

7. Sex! Find out what each other’s fantasies are.  If their fantasies include small farm animals, you know to hit the eject button.

8. Daily life: Who’s going to be responsible for which household chores and bills?  Are you actually going to raise your kids, or are you going to farm them out (so that when you’re old and decrepit, they farm you out)?

9. How committed are you to the relationship? With looks, health, abilities, kids, finances, and family, there are many changes, phases, and challenges in life.  Are you committed in the relationship, or are you just a fair weather spouse?  I would say that about 70 percent of divorces result because people are not committed to a relationship – when it’s not going good, they find another place to go.

10. Personal space.  Everybody needs time to be alone with their hobbies and thoughts.  A lot of women have trouble giving their husbands personal space.  Guys are generally relieved when their wives want to go spend the day with their girlfriends: “That’s wonderful honey, are you sure you don’t want to go for the weekend?” = “Yes! No nagging for six hours!”

11. How are you going to keep the marriage exciting?  What’s your idea of a good time together? Is it hanging out with a lot of people? Watching sports? A candlelight dinner? A walk in the park? Soaking in the tub together?  After they get married, many people say, “My husband/wife doesn’t do anything.”  Well, perhaps that’s because you guys never talked about what would be fun.

12. Family.  My advice: If you really, really, really can’t get along with his or her family, move 3,000 miles away.

13. Know your odds.  Statistics show that couples who live together before they’re married are more likely to get divorced. Couples who have been previously married and divorced are also more likely to get divorced.  Don’t learn the hard way by thinking “Well, we’re different.”

How to Be a Good Son-in-Law

Why is being a good son-in-law such a big deal?   Well, statistically speaking, we see a significant drop in the divorce rate when men get along with their wives’ parents, especially their fathers.   But even more importantly, it affects kids.  Grandparents are very important to a child’s sense of well-being because they can add depth and security to the loving relationships in his or her life.  The better your relationship is with your in-laws, the easier it is for your child to grow close with them and have more positive role models. 
 
For these reasons, I recommend that people think seriously about potential in-law problems before they consider marriage.  If you’re walking into a situation where your future in-laws hate you, you may want to rethink whether or not this match is right for you. 

Losing family connections is bad for everyone involved, as I learned all too well from my own parents.  My mother was a war bride from Italy, and my father was a nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn.  My dad’s mom did not like the fact that he had married outside the faith, even though the only thing Jewish about his family was that they were culturally Jewish and celebrated Passover and Yom Kippur.  My mother also didn’t speak English very well, which made my mean grandmother all the more vicious.  She used to call up my mom almost daily saying how she wished my mother and me were dead.  It was a source of great strife in my family.

The less familial the connection is with your in-laws, the less happy, secure, and supported your marriage is going to be. Period.  That’s why I advise couples to do at least six months of premarital counseling so they can cover these kinds of issues before they get married.     
   
So, assuming your in-laws are reasonable people, here’s a list of things for all you men out there on establishing a good relationship with your wife’s parents:

  • Respect their daughter and take good care of her.  I am not the mother of a daughter, but if I was, I’d be in the face of her future husband saying, “You’d better take care of my baby.  Treat her with respect, love, and protection.  The most important thing to me is that you don’t hurt her and that you make her happy.”
  • Be there when their daughter needs you.  I’ve heard too many stories about men who were too busy doing one dumb thing or another and missed the birth of their child.  If you’re not at the hospital with your wife when your baby is born, you’ll be missing out on a lot of great parent-child bonding.
  • Act and look like a respectable man. If you want to have a meaningful relationship with her parents, act like a real man.  Don’t look or behave like an idiot. 
  • Reach out to your father-in-law.  The relationship between a father and a daughter is special. It will mean a lot to your wife and your mother-in-law if you can build a relationship with your father-in-law.  Find things that you have in common with him and go from there. Invite him to a ball game, go with him to a local event, or simply take him to lunch. Just spend some “guy time” together.  And if you aren’t married yet, be sure to ask for his daughter’s hand in marriage before you pop the question. This is a show of respect that he will appreciate.
  • Attend family gatherings and engage. Don’t be frivolous about not attending family gatherings.  Unless it’s unavoidable, never let your wife and kids go to a holiday gathering at her parents’ house alone – you are missing a fantastic opportunity to build upon your relationship with your in-laws and the extended family through conversation and a shared experience.
  • Build good relationships with their other children. Try to connect with your wife’s siblings and their
  • Consult with your wife on how to handle sticky situations.  If it seems like there’s a growing issue, consult with your wife.  She knows her parents better than you do.  If you think a situation is a little sensitive, ask her for advice on how to respond.

Above all, treat their daughter like a queen and not like one of Henry VIII’s wives you’re going to behead.  Simply put: be nice.  It doesn’t kill you to be nice, does it?

Shacking Up Does Not Lead to a Stronger Marriage

Remember this little ditty?: “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage.”  Nowadays, this rarely happens.  For a lot of adults it’s, “First comes love (maybe), then comes ‘shacking up,’ then comes a heartbreaking split involving children.” 
 
Many shack-up couples claim, “We’re living together to improve our chances of having a great marriage.”  I recently even had a young woman on my program whose own father told her to do just that.  I couldn’t believe it.  As research shows, shacking up actually has the OPPOSITE effect.  I have been saying this for 30 plus years.

For the small percentage of cohabitants who actually go on to marry, the majority of them end up getting divorced, or they experience spousal abuse and infidelity.  The simple fact is that shacking up does not lead to stronger marriages.  I love it when someone writes to me saying, “Well, I shacked up and my partner and I are still together.”  So what?  That doesn’t mean shacking up is good.  There are people out there who smoke like crazy and don’t get lung cancer.  Does that mean we should tell people to smoke because some people have dodged a bullet?

Of course, if two people want to shack up it’s their own personal choice, but they should know it leads to reverberations – even when there aren’t kids involved.  For example, how is your extended family supposed to accept someone as “family” when you’re not even willing to make them family?  People become family through birth, adoption or marriage.  If you’re not willing to make somebody family by making a commitment to them, then you can’t get angry when the rest of your family says, “Leave him/her home, they’re not family,” or, “Of course we don’t want them in the family photograph, they’re not family.”   Furthermore, don’t be surprised when other family members with kids don’t want to hang out with you because they don’t want their kids to think your behavior is OK.

There’s enough research to show that cohabiting dissolves families, impacts children, and increases instances of sexual abuse, drug abuse, crime, illiteracy, and out-of-wedlock pregnancy.  In addition, studies reveal that only 45 percent of couples who live together go on to marry, and of those who do marry, there is a 45 percent higher risk for divorce than people who have never shacked up.  Only 15 out of every 100 shack-ups will result in a “long-term successful marriage”.
 
When cohabitants do marry, they tend to be less committed to the long-term future of the relationship, and they are less reluctant to terminate it.  Cohabitation is, in part, an acceptance of leaving.  One study found that the more months young people are exposed to cohabitation, the less enthusiastic they become about marriage and having kids.

Most importantly of all, since shack-ups have such a high dropout rate, there’s a better chance that kids will end up devastated.  All too often, kids are made or hauled in to a shack-up situation.  Moreover, kids who come from divorced parents frequently go on to shack up themselves.  It’s a ripple effect. 

Kids who live in homes with parents shacking up are more likely to:

  • Become involved in unmarried sex because their lives are very sexualized outside of any context of marriage and family. 
  • Experience sexual abuse in the home.
  • Have emotional and social difficulties due to problems with forming permanent emotional attachments.  When they reach adulthood, they struggle to find happiness and productive marriages.
  • Experience poverty, poor achievement in school, and a litany of other problems.

So, what should you do if you have already gotten yourself involved in a shack-up situation? 

  • Stop!  If your relationship matters to you, then you and your partner need to cease shacking up.  The longer people shack up, the less likely they are to move on to a long-term successful marriage.
  • Seek premarital counseling.  This is really important in establishing the communication and relationship skills needed for a successful marriage.  If you have already been shacking up, then developing these skills is even more crucial because you’re used to living with insecurity.   
  • Protect your kids.  If you’ve put your kids in a shack-up situation, understand that this is not in their best interest.  Stop being selfish, weak, scared, or any combination thereof. 

If you know someone who is revving to shack up or is currently shacking up:

  • Talk to them.  Bring the facts to their attention.  Although facts seem to bother some people’s emotions, make them aware anyway.  
  • Celebrate marriage. If you are happily married, share your experiences with other people – especially young people. They need to know that happy marriages exist.

Regretting the Divorce

Over the many, many years I’ve worked as a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice and on the air, I’ve done a lot of research on divorce, especially when it involves kids.  The scientific literature differs very much from popular literature in what the happiness quotient is after a divorce.  Scientific literature suggests that a good three quarters of people who divorce regret it.  Maybe not immediately, but 10 years later, they do.  “I should never have done it” is the kind of thing usually uttered privately after a divorce.  And after the papers have been signed, the property divided, the child custody settled, and the emotional pain still lingering, it’s usually too late to go back. 

Half of women and a third of men stay angry at their former spouse after a divorce.  They mentally just don’t move on.   They have to deal with a host of things: loneliness, painful memories, having to get new friends, uncomfortable changes, uncertainty about how they are going to pay their bills (people don’t usually go up in economic standing after their family is torn apart).

In my opinion, most marriages careening into divorce can be saved.  By saved, I’m talking about turning a troubled situation into a good one – not just coexisting.  A lot of times I nag people to just stay in a marriage in the hopes that if they just cut down on the rage and realize they have to endure and make the best of it, the tension calms and better things come out of it.  Generally, there are very simple things they can do to make themselves and their spouse happy.  

Of course, if your spouse is abusive, has had affairs, is an addict, suffers from a mental illness, or refuses to get help or follow through with therapy, then although it’s sad, a divorce is probably inevitable and you’re going to be happier to unload all of that pain.  But I think for the most part, especially after hearing from all the people on my program over the years, most divorces (most, not all) happen because someone says, “I’m unhappy and I don’t know what else to do.”  They figure, “OK, I’ll get a divorce and I’ll be happier because my marriage is the source of my unhappiness.”

There are a number of factors which can minimize your chances of getting a divorce.   If I were empress for a day, I would make it so that nobody could get married without premarital counseling.  It creates a much lower divorce rate because people work out their differences in a calm and neutral setting before the problems arise.  They have a trained professional helping them deal with the things most people avoid, which later come up and bite them. 

Additionally, as it turns out, people who actively practice one religion together and pray on a daily basis have a much lower divorce rate.  It doesn’t matter which religion.  These people are more centered.  Also, very religious people are givers.  They are not as concerned with taking.  When you have two people who are givers, the marriage works out really well.  Now, “so-called” religious couples – couples who share the same religion but are not active – do not have a lower divorce rate.   

Another divorce factor is how early you get married.  The reason?  Maturity.  The closer you are to 28 years old before you marry, the more realistic it is that you’ll stay with your spouse.  

We live in a society today where marriage and family are no longer seen as sacred, permanent and unconditional.  This lack of stability hurts the entire country.  The increasing number of second marriages, the resulting stepfamilies, and the even higher divorce rates occurring after the stepfamilies are created all contribute to the problem.  It’s not just the dissolution of the nuclear family that’s so destructive – it’s what happens afterwards.

Parent Your Child, Not Yourself

Many of you aren’t parenting in the best interest of your child.  Instead, you’re parenting to satisfy your own needs.

I get too many calls on the topic of having low self-esteem.  And that’s probably because there are a lot of parents who have no concept of how to help their kids develop a positive attitude about people and life.  You see, a lot of parenting comes from the “hurty” places: “I didn’t have a lot of freedom, so I’m going to give my kid total freedom,” or “I didn’t have a lot of freedom, so I’m not giving my kid any freedom.”  Instead of thinking about the needs of the child and what’s really healthy, parents make it all about what I experienced.  They think things like, “He looks a lot like my ex-husband, so I can’t stand him.”  

Parents conjure up all kinds of things from ugly places.  They lament to themselves, “My kid isn’t perfect, my kid has some kind of handicap or problem, my kid’s not pretty, my kid’s not athletic; my kid’s not this my kid’s not that.”  But at the root of all their complaining is just their narcissism not being fed. 

The whole “I look good through my children doing something” idea is the same mentality that creates groupies.  Girls go hump stars and sports figures and they think they’ve made themselves into something.  That’s all that’s about.  I had a wonderful conversation a while ago with a young woman who called with, again, a self-esteem question.  I asked her, “Well, how have you earned it?”  Her only comeback was, “I know how to have fun.”  Well, I’m sorry.  We don’t respect ourselves because we know how to have fun.  Don’t misunderstand me, I think it’s healthy to know how to have fun, but that’s not how you respect yourself.

So, a lot of mistakes parents make with their kids come from them still being mucked up by their own pain.  That’s why I think it is really important to have six months of premarital counseling before people decide to marry because they learn a lot about themselves, the other person, their needs, their fears, their desires, and their problems, and they learn how to resolve things, move forward, and mature.  It’s more likely that the marriage will work.

Considering this further, I thought maybe you could apply this rule to having a baby.  Maybe people should go into counseling for six months before they have a baby, or if they get pregnant, perhaps that’s when the therapy starts.  In pre-baby therapy, you can talk about what happened in your childhood, what feelings you have about your husband or wife with respect to having a kid, and put everything on the table.  It’s amazing how much better you both can deal with things once the air is cleared. 

And that’s why I’m so blunt on my satellite radio program: I’m trying to role model for all of you how to put even the ugly stuff on the table.  Because once we take a clear look at it, it has less power over us.   What you try to suppress is what has power over you.   I’d like you to be the master, not the slave to your history and emotions.

So, this is why I recommend counseling when you’re thinking about getting married, and when you’re considering having a baby.  A lot of stuff is never discussed when you’re dating.  I mean who discusses diapers when they’re dating?