Many couples in the Greater Phoenix area can give themselves the best wedding present of all — the chance to learn about marriage before stepping under the chuppah.

Attending a marriage preparation class shows just how much a couple values the longevity of their relationship. With the divorce rate in the U.S. hovering around 50%, religious organizations and various agencies offer marriage preparation programs in an attempt to help couples as they get ready for the unique relationship of marriage. Often times marriages face a difficult road because people do not have the necessary skills and awareness needed to navigate life’s complicated highway. Couples quickly learn there is much more to marriage than planning a fabulous wedding and that having lived together isn’t always the key to future happiness.

Research shows that couples who attend premarital courses tend to better communicate and problem-solve and report better relationships than those who do not. Marriage preparation helps couples see themselves more as partners and helps increase their “marital strength” as well.  

Through advance training, couples gain an understanding of their own and each other’s expectations for marriage, and learn where to find help if needed. They also send a message that their marriage really matters.

A study by marriage expert David Olson showed that 80% of the couples who did premarital training stayed together. Topics typically include:

• Good communication and conflict resolution

• Understanding finances and financial planning

• Discovering one’s beliefs and values

• Each person’s roles and expectations

• Affection, sex and time spent together

• Children and child rearing expectations

• Dynamics of family and friends relationships

• Decision-making

• Dealing with anger

In today’s world, many couples are interfaith or mixed-faith. This dynamic brings its own set of issues that need to be addressed before tying the knot. Love is wonderful, but deciding how religion and which religion — if any — will play a role in their lives together is crucial. Aside from who will perform the ceremony on that one day, the couple must decide together and early on what their home will “look like” religiously and at different holidays. The couple must decide what will work for both of them. It will take a lot of respect and empathy to make this situation work. While parents may want to voice their approval or disapproval, each couple needs to develop a plan for navigating the mixed-faith road, be confident in their choices and work to include both families in their lives at meaningful holiday times.

In some instances, “mixed faith” can mean two people of the same religion but from different levels of observance. Spending time to learn and discuss each other’s rituals or lack of rituals, holiday celebrations and important traditions can be most beneficial in helping couples understand each other’s needs and wants for religion in their lives. The key here is communication. Instead of brushing the topic under the rug, face it head on and develop a plan. Learning a skillful way to communicate is the key to success and learning this before marriage is the best route to take. 

Of course, it’s impossible to know what you don’t know. By participating in a premarital class you’ll benefit from a relationship expert posing the questions you didn’t know you needed to be answering. It’s a gift for yourself and your partner at a time when you’re preparing to enter into a union together. Don’t let your future selves struggle with unexpected challenges. Set your new family up for success. JN 

Linda Feldman is the director of family education for the Bureau of Jewish Education, where she created Jewish Marriage University and Jewish Baby University. To learn more, visit bjephoenix.org/programs/marriage-university.

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