Ask the Expert: Good Marriages Don’t Happen by Accident

November 1, 2017
Words by Jennifer Stein
Photos courtesy of Jefferson Todd


Sitting down with a clergyman is often required to be married in church, synagogue or other place of worship.  However, if you are planning a destination wedding, it is possible premarital counseling will not be required by your officiant. This may be one less thing to do, but are you missing an important step in your planning process? 


As a specialist in marriage and family therapy, Bill Retts, PhD, has spent many hours helping couples prepare for their big day. He is uniquely qualified to speak of the value of premarital counseling; Destination I Do asked him to share some of his thoughts. 


I DO: What are the benefits of premarital counseling?

Dr. Retts: “There are many myths about marriage and one of them is that good marriages just happen. Many couples think that if they just love each other enough, they will automatically have a good marriage. This just isn’t true. Another myth is just because two people are emotionally healthy and mature, they will automatically have a good marriage. Again, not true! To have a great long-term marriage, it has to be ‘intentional.’ It won’t happen by accident.

Premarital counseling provides the opportunity to do two things: identify common mistakes that many couples make, and develop a model that can be used in building a healthy long-term marital relationship.


I DO: What subjects do you typically cover in premarital counseling?

Dr. Retts: One of the biggest areas involves differing expectations. Each person comes into a marriage with expectations that are a result of the role models they have had and their life experiences. Premarital counseling sessions provide the opportunity to explore a number of questions to help the couple discuss their expectations. For example:  Who will be the breadwinner? If both work outside the home, how will the household responsibilities divided up? Will they have children? If so, what beliefs do they have related to parenting? What are their expectations related to their lifestyles? How will their values and religious beliefs impact heir relationship and children?  How will they divide their time between work, friends, being alone?

There will be differences, and what is critical is for the couple to understand that it is not my way or your way, but our way. Creating a unique, flexible relationship becomes the foundation for the future. It is not easy, but rewarding. Differences can create conflict or strength. To have a healthy, long-term marriage, the couple needs to develop a model for handing differences that both reflects their unique personalities and is flexible enough to handle change that will inevitably come into their lives.


I DO: What qualifications should a couple seeking premarital counseling look for in their counselor?

Dr. Retts: Consider beginning with a pastor, priest or rabbi who has had experience in premarital counseling. Many counselors and psychologists who specialize in marriage and family are certified through the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (AAMFT). One of the best ways, however is to ask someone they trust who has a good marriage for a referral. They just might know someone who has helped them get to where they are!


Dr. Retts has a Ph.D. in counseling psychology and has been in private practice in Phoenix and Scottsdale for 32 years. He has been married for 37 years and has 2 adult children. 


Wyndham Alltra

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