YOU WOULDN'T BUY A NEW CAR WITHOUT insuring it. So why spend $20,000 or more on a wedding without some safeguards?
A growing number of couples is turning to premarital education–or, as Marriage Savers cofounder Mike McManus calls it, "marriage insurance."
Churches have traditionally offered premarital classes, but marriage and family therapists are opening up their services to engaged couples; nonprofit organizations such as Potomac-based Marriage Savers also are working to reduce incidents of divorce.
Most sessions begin with an "inventory" of the relationship. Questionnaires ask about values, communication styles, and expectations for the future. The questions on which a couple disagree become the starting point for counseling.
"What matters is not so much the score on the questionnaire but the attitude of the couple toward the score. If they have a heart for change, then the marriage can work," says McManus.
After couples fill out the Marriage Savers questionnaire, they are asked to attend six sessions with a mentoring couple, who provides advice. Participants are asked to pay $16 per couple for the entire program.
McManus claims that of the more than 300 couples his local Presbyterian church has counseled in the past decade, only 7 have divorced. About three dozen couples broke up before they walked down the aisle.
The Jewish Social Service Agency in Rockville, Gaithersburg, and Fairfax offers couples of any faith a class called Making Marriage Work. For $395, a couple takes inventory and attends 14 hours of sessions in addition to presentations by a financial planner and a family-practice attorney.
"I've had couples who are still married and couples who parted ways" before the wedding, says JSSA's Lori Gunner Kolle. "Either way, I consider it a success."
Private therapists also provide relationship counseling, generally for $75 or more an hour. Dr. Jeannie Bertoli, a marriage and family therapist in downtown DC, recommends that couples attend ten 50-minute sessions.
"I like to think of the relationship as a house," Bertoli says. "And I'm the inspector who's called in before someone buys the house."
For more information on premarital classes and counseling:
Marriage Savers, 301-469-5873; www.marriagesavers.org.
Making Marriage Work, 301-990-6880; www.jssa.org/services/makemarriage.html.
American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. See www.aamft.org for a list of certified therapists.