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Why Premarital Counseling Didn't Work For Me

I went into my marriage with my eyes on forever, and I needed the tools for it.
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Discontented bride - young woman holding beautiful wedding flowers bouquet (peony)
Discontented bride - young woman holding beautiful wedding flowers bouquet (peony)

It was a beautiful Sunday morning over five-and-a-half years ago. My ex and I sat in a class with 10 other couples -- most of them in their late 20s and early to mid-30s. We were just babies compared to them. I stared at the girls' huge diamond engagement rings in wonder compared to my tiny one. I was feeling butterflies in my stomach. How did I get here?

A woman with dark hair stood in front of the class and smiled. "Welcome to your first premarital class," she said. "I'm your instructor, and I'm a marriage and family therapist. In the next 10 weeks, we will be exploring marriage and what you will need to make it last. This will be intense, and not all of you may last. But if you do, you will have an excellent chance of lasting for the long haul."

During our nine-month engagement, my ex and I took the the ten-week course described above and a four-week course with a rabbi. We didn't miss a session of either and did our homework dutifully. We weren't going into marriage flippantly. And yet here I am, divorced. What went wrong?

My parents and in-laws paid for the first class as an engagement present for us. I was more than happy to attend. I went into my marriage with my eyes on forever, and I needed the tools for it.

After introductions, we were handed spiral notebooks with the coursework and were given our first lesson and homework assignment, all based around expectations. What did we expect from our marriage? Were we both in agreement about certain issues and understanding where the other was coming from in terms of the future? Were we ready?

It seemed like we were going about things the right way, but I was still concerned as we left the class. Were we really on the same page? I wasn't entirely sure where I stood, or even if I was ready to be married. My ex and I went through our first homework assignment: a list of expectations. I would read the questions, state my answers and he would follow with his. They seemed to match most of the time, so I figured it was right and wondered why I was worrying.

In the following weeks, we learned about conflict resolution and fighting fair, sex in marriage and even how to handle our finances. About three weeks before the class ended, we met with the therapist for a private session. My ex led the conversation, talking loudly about how much he loved me, how set we were to be married and how great everything was. I quietly sat there and nodded. I felt like I was invisible, and my gut was telling me there was something amiss in this whole situation.

I was dying for the therapist to ask me questions, particularly without my ex in the room. I had a hard time being honest about my doubts when he was full speed ahead. But I was always told that this was good for me, to be quiet and to not let my worries take over. So I went along with it.

As we transitioned to the religious class, we seemed to have a good grounding. The religious class provided us some extra knowledge, but nothing that we didn't already know moving forward. We seemed to be ready. On our wedding day, the officiating rabbi said that no matter how many classes we took or how prepared we seemed to be, marriage was a whole different story. And he was certainly right.

I was amazed that after we got married, all the lessons we learned seem to disappear. Rather than fighting fair, my ex became an attack dog, calling me names when our lessons clearly stated not to do so. He was not alone; when the name-calling started, I would respond by stonewalling or completely tuning him out, which is a major no-no. Regarding compromising about sex, he had agreed to schedule it before the wedding. After we were married, he put up wall after wall to prevent us from having sex and said that if we scheduled it, it would lose its spontaneity. And finances? Don't even get me started.

It didn't make sense. Weren't we great students? We prepared ourselves dutifully and should have had a terrific marriage.

It was only several years later, when my ex and I were in marriage counseling to solve our problems, did I realize the truth. He was talking about sending our non-existent kids to a local private school. I reminded him that the night after the marriage class about children, we took a walk and I talked about how I wanted to send my kids to public school. At the time he agreed.

"I figured that we wouldn't have enough money, so that's why I said it," he said. I was curious about what other expectations he had lied about, so I went back to that first assignment one night. It became clear to me that he wasn't be honest at the time; he just said what I wanted to hear.

I continued to fight for our marriage despite the dishonesty, because I am not one to give up. But when you start with a faulty foundation, the structure just won't stay standing. And no matter how good of a student you are, you don't really know success until you experience failure and know what it looks like. After all, the key to being a good pupil in life is to learn from your mistakes.

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