Get ready to surprise yourself.
To whom, if anyone, did you and your partner talk to about marriage before you got married? Did you get advice from your parents? Some married friends?
If you’re part of a faith community, you might have had the opportunity to talk with a member of the clergy before you got married (or maybe it wasn’t an option, if you wanted to get married in a church or synagogue). What do you learn in these sessions? How might they impact your sex life, and your relationship? Here’s what some women had to say about their experiences in pre-marriage, faith-based counseling.
Before she got married, S and her husband, who have been married for 14 years and have 2 small children, took a pre-cana class, which was required to get married in the Catholic church. Pre-cana revolves around a list of conversations couples should have before marriage, about kids, finances, practicing religion, etc. S and her husband took a 15o item survey that included statements like, “I have talked to my partner about my student loan debt,” and “I have talked to my partner about my previous relationships,” things she and her husband had already discussed.
“It was about having the conversations that cause relationships to end because people don’t have them,” she said. The second part of pre-cana was a class for couples, facilitated by the church. The best part of that, S said, was hearing from two couples who talked about how their relationship had changed over decades. “It was good to hear how relationships have phases, how they’re supposed to change as you get older.”
Helene did not expect to gain much from the pre-cana class she took with her fiance. “We’d been dating since we were 17 years old and had already had sex and spent a great deal of time together. But when we talked about important issues with an older married couple, it helped me realize what I felt was important. Sex isn’t something that couples talk about enough. Such as, what limits are there? What is your partner actually comfortable with? How often? I think men and women differ on this and it was good to have this talk before saying yes at the altar. ”
J and her husband, both Jewish, had both been gradually getting more religiously observant over the course of their relationship. When she was engaged, J took a class about the laws of family purity (in Hebrew, taharas hamishpacha), relating to menstruation and the appropriate times for sexual intercourse between a married couple. What truly impacted their relationship, said J, was the fact that before their wedding, she and her husband decided against having any physical contact. “The fact that we lived separately helped the transition immensely, but it was still trying for the first couple months. Not having any physical contact between strangers in today’s culture is difficult, but to avoid such with one’s partner is a whole different ball game.”
Once they were married, J and her husband observed the laws of family purity, which essentially involve refraining from sex during one’s period and for a certain amount of days after, and refraining from touching while she’s menstruating. This took some getting used to, but J feels that ultimately, it’s been good for their relationship.
“We’ve been married for almost three years, and while I don’t specifically look forward to ‘off time,’ I appreciate deeply that we have opportunities to express verbally our attraction to one another — whereas, without taharas hamishpacha, a couple would express this attraction physically and instinctively. After three years of marriage, holding hands is still exciting. That’s a feat, married or not!”
For C, who did premarital counseling in her Southern Baptist church, the experience proved valuable in terms of day to day living. “We learned how to avoid escalating annoyance over something petty, like the way one partner does a chore, into a fight by not assuming the petty stuff reflects your partner’s moral character. That’s one very specific lesson from counseling that stuck with us.” She described the meetings that took place between she, her then fiance, and their pastor as ” a really beautiful and spiritual experience.”
C found herself surprised by the fact that the counseling helped to clarify her religious beliefs and challenged what she expected to hear about sex from her pastor. “Because the church so strongly discourages sexual expression in public and before marriage, we had an unspoken assumption that there’d be something weird or repressive taught about it in counseling, but that wasn’t the case at all. Our pastor talked to us about sex in pretty much the same way he talked about communication: that it should be safe, free, affirming, and frequent.”
Susanne Alexander is a Relationship and Marriage Educator/Coach who often works with couples who are members of the Baha’i Faith. Regardless of faith, though, Alexander says that marriage preparation can be a great source of enrichment for couples. “Coaching sessions give us the opportunity to explore how their family experiences might affect them as a couple, whether they are on the same page with having and raising children, how they communicate and solve problems, whether they have many character strengths, what their views are about sexual experiences and intimacy, how they spend their time, their beliefs and values, how their personalities fit together, and more.”