For the couples counseling, there is no one but us, the counselor that we were able to locate by each of us calling the 'work-life balance' hotlines at our job who referred us to a counselor that we could work with. I will warn you, when each of us called the toll-free reference lines, they were quite flabberghasted that we actually wanted to have preventative counseling to help us to prepare for our marriage, apparently, this is not something that is frequently requested. Since we have different employers, our second wrinkle was in locating a Christian counselor (that isn't on their checkbox) that happens to take the referral of each of our employee assisted reference companies. It is quite an interesting situation to look up a counselor and review their website for some hint that they might know God. Then, if you don't see anything, to call up their office and ask the receptionist if their boss believes in Jesus. One lady said that she wasn't sure, but she thought so... no thanks - not what we're looking for. Finally, we found someone who could help us. Our time with her was very interesting, and while it was extremely beneficial - it was not exactly what I was looking for. After our first session, she had us to do a computerized personality profile that had results kicked back to her based on our responses to MANY questions. It was interesting to receive the results from the assessment, but it sparked a nice amount of fear in my heart that made me wonder at one point... WHAT ARE YOU DOING??? Clearly, I am too set in my ways and reluctant to see anyone else's point of view at this point in my life. What to do? But, we were able to pick up some awesome skills so that we could relate to one another better, actually listen to what the other had to say (imagine that), and come to terms with what we were going to clarify as deal-breakers becuase for the most part, what you experience is what you'll have. Because she was a female, I often felt like the points that I had with the dude were nearly intensified, she always took
Our next counseling decision was a group arrangement at our church. There were 4 other couples in the class. Where we walked away from the couples counseling wondering if we were in over our heads, we walked out of the group session realizing that we were not as troubled as we thought, other folks have some REAL issues as well! Not at all to look at them like they do not have it together, but it was refreshing to know that the smiles that we see of Mr. & Mrs. Perfect that we walk by everyday are not always genuine and we have no idea what they have had to discuss, haggle, compromise, or pray in order to get to that point. We met weekly for 10 consecutive weeks along with 2 sets of facilitators and were able to discuss topics on a weekly basis (with advanced preparatory homework) such as communication, needs/wants, expectations and roles, family background, in-laws, goal setting, financial, sex in marriage, spiritual life, and plans for your future family. You were to do your homework alone, then meet with your intended prior to class to discuss the material. When you came together in class, there was group discussion that often ended up bringing out issues that were not previously detected in the one on one sharing time.
It was a really interesting time - but we were able to really get to the core of one another by flushing out, at least in an introductory setting, most of the topics that would present itself to us as we organized our marriage. One of the most poignant experiences was that one week, the facilitator bought in a bunch of neckties and placed them on the table. He told the ladies that we were required to tie the tie around our fiances neck, but he could not help us out physically, he had to talk us through the instructions that would get the tie onto his neck in a ready position as if he were going on a job interview (so we wanted him looking good). It was an eye opener for a number of reasons:
1. I had to actually listen to him and had no other resources to rely upon in order to get it done.
2. I had to trust that he actually knew how to tie a tie, I had no experience, so his was the only way that it was going to happen.
3. I had to go along with his instructions. My dude is very unconventional, so his first instruction was to tell me how to tie it around my own neck. He did this so that he could see by sitting next to me how it was done, he had never had to explain to anyone how to tie a tie around their neck before. No one else in class did it this way, it was interesting to see that I need to acclimate myself to being the one who doesn't do it like everyone else.
4. I was not frustrated, I was determined. He took something as simple as the expression on my face as being frustration (which it was not), THAT made me frustrated. I was cool and calm as a cucumber in a tall pitcher of iced water, but because he said that my hands were shaking, he thought that I was nervous. Umm... its a tie, I know not to choke you with it!
5. At some point, one of the other ladies DID get frustrated with her fiance and in frustration told him that he wasn't telling her how to do it well enough and wanted to know if someone else could tell her how to do it,did not want to hear instruction from him anymore. Oh, dear... I think that she got the point of the lesson in the end.
Last night, we had our final group counseling session, a 'graduation' so to speak. We were told by the facilitators that we were 'approved' a few weeks prior. I was reflecting on relationships in general and came to realize that while we may have gotten through those requirements, the true 'passing' mark comes in having a successful marriage in which we both feel appreciated, honored, and respected while ensuring that we exhibit the same.