Ten years ago I was addressing envelopes for our wedding. My mind was filled with decisions about flowers and reception music. I was paying the first month's rent for the apartment we would be moving into that August when we returned from our honeymoon in Maine. Both of us were neck deep in pre-marriage counseling, but hardly paying a bit of attention to any of it.
Fast forward ten years.
I have a stack of envelopes on the counter, but they aren't mailed because I have to get new 41 cent stamps. My mind is filled with decisions about bill paying and which toys to keep out for Sydney to play with. I have cupboards filled with babyfood and rice cereal since we started Jules on solids yesterday. The countertop has papers highlighting our last Well Baby check where we learned that we have a nicely proportionate baby who is in the 75th percentile for everything (16 1/2 pounds of pure love).
My life is night and day different from where it was ten years ago. But some things are the same. I'm still in love with Jason. And marriage counseling?
Not because of any problems. (Relax, Mom and Dad.) Just because we're still committed to making our marriage the best it can possibly be, realizing that everything requires constant work, especially a marriage that now involves two kids.
I confess I wouldn't have tried an online marriage counseling program were it not for the offer from Parent Bloggers Network. When they sent me an email asking if I was interested, my initial thought was, "We don't need marriage counseling. We don't have issues that warrant that kind of service." I grew up in a culture that believed marriage counseling was only for marriages that were struggling, not marriages that were healthy. Why work on fixing something if you knew you were in it for the long haul? Then I thought about this a little more and decided that this kind of thinking made absolutely no sense. In fact, it was probably all based on the fear of gossip that tends to run rampant in church circles: "Psst...did you hear? Jason and Stephanie are in counseling," followed by sad shaking of heads.
Good grief. Let's break this notion of only struggling marriages need counseling right now. Even strong marriages can always get stronger. The question was: Would this online service be helpful to people who already had a strong, solid relationship, or was it just for couples on the brink of ruin?
Well, as Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott say: "eHarmony marriage is not about work. It's about about discovering the simple skills that build a better marriage, and a better life."
Maybe you're thinking, eHarmony? Isn't that that online dating program? Yes it is. But they also have an online marriage program that believe or it not isn't totally crazy. In fact, I kind of like it. A lot. The set-up is that you and your spouse separately take this questionnaire that asks about every facet of your life. You answer questions about your perceptions, your ideas, your religious, family, work, mental, spiritual, political opinions. It's very thorough.
After Jason and I did it we discovered two things on our own right off the bat. First, we have a lot of good things going for us. When Jason was finished with the questions, he gave me a big hug and said, "I'm so happy with our marriage." Because when you're answering questions like, "I trust my spouse," "I feel my spouse is committed to our relationship," and "I don't think my spouse is manipulative," you are reminded that you have a good thing going on. The second thing we learned is that I am more precise in answering questions. I made sure that when I strongly agreed/disagreed with a statement my little answer arrow was all on one side or another. Jason played it a little more fast and loose, with his answer arrow in the general ballpark. Not a big deal except later on when we were reading the marriage wellness articles together, there were suggestions about Jason being more accepting of me not bringing in the money for the family. If there's one thing I am sure of it's that he doesn't wish I was bringing in more money. Well, maybe he does wish that my existing job paid better, but not that I was working harder at it.
What eHarmony Marriage provides is a Marriage Wellness plan that is tailored to your needs based on the questionnaire. It gives you videos and exercises to do together, and it gives articles that you can read separately. Truthfully, I probably spent more time reading the articles than Jason did, but that was largely because I have more issues than he does (that is, personal issues, not issues with him). However, we did watch the videos together and went through the discussion exercises.
Even though I never would have thought online counseling would have been helpful for us, what the program did for us was get us talking about the issues we already knew we had. We have a very uncomplicated relationship, one without any cracks in the foundation or questions of our future. Nevertheless, there are areas that we can work on. For instance, having a baby can sometimes put a damper on your love life. At least it did for us. Something about being exhausted and having a baby chomping at the lady bits makes me feel very unattractive. After going through the eHarmony videos regarding this area, we are now talking about how to strengthen this area and what sort of steps we can take to improve this part of our marriage. I think the videos are my favorite part because they are so well done, and the segments with Dr. Neil Clark Warren are really great. He has such an engaging, unpretentious style of speaking. His marriage advice was helpful and lined up with our beliefs.
Probably one of the best things about the program was that we were actually able to do it. Had it been something that required us to get out of the house without the kids, we wouldn't have done it. The cost of actual counseling combined with the cost of babysitting would have made it financially impossible for us. Heck, if we had extra money and time floating around we'd be doing date nights instead of spending our evenings folding laundry, which is what we did last night. Even though eHarmony Marriage isn't a free program, it's reasonably priced. I couldn't find the actual price figures, but I did see them once (after I did the questionnaire) and it was in the double digits. Probably cheaper than an evening of dinner, movie, dessert and babysitting. And for some people, going through the counseling program might just insure a future of dinners, movies, desserts and babysitting. (UPDATE: It's $49.95 for a month's access to all the videos and personalized advice. They suggest doing the program over the course of three months, which is discounted to $39.95/month if you sign up for three months. Either way, a month's subscription is cheaper than an evening out.)
So, my overall estimation of the program? I think it's a good thing. I don't think I would have spent money on it without a recommendation from someone I knew personally because I would have been skeptical about the actual content of the counseling. However, now that I've done it I'm really glad I did. We still have a few articles and videos left to watch, and I'm looking forward to seeing what else I can discover that will make our marriage even better. In short, I think the counsel is wise and the effort is worth it. I would definitely recommend it to my friends and family.
Today, we're getting marriage counseling, and we're listening, really listening because...well, because we're in love and nothing is going to keep us from staying that way.