On pre-marriage counselling

It’s been over a year since our wedding, and I’m happy to say the good times have outweighed the bad. I’ve heard rather discouraging stories from friends who have said that the first year of marriage is the HARDEST. I expected it to be tough. You’re learning to let go of your ‘self’, and accommodate someone else’s ‘self’ into your everyday life. This has of course been an ongoing process since the dating phase, but now it’s official! There’s no turning back – this union is meant to be for a lifetime. With the ‘lifetime’ commitment, things have changed – become more serious perhaps? Perhaps given us both a bit more security to really be ourselves, discuss our thoughts, and plan things together as a team? I know this has been the case for me.

One of the best things I think we budgeted into our wedding prep was going to pre-marriage counselling. It’s a more popular concept in certain countries; in my city, it’s 50/50. Some social circles really believe in it and encourage their friends and family to go, while in other circles it’s more a taboo subject. I say taboo, because any type of counselling here may risk being frowned upon. You must be seriously mentally ill to need any sort of counselling, right? There’s still the lingering stigma, especially in the older generation, that counselling or psychological help is reserved for the crazies. “Better to suffer in silence than to let Mrs Lee next door know you need help from a counsellor” kind of thinking. I don’t think it’s as popular here as say, the States, where quite a few people I know have a personal counsellor and have a resource to reach out to if encountering a tricky life situation; there’s no shame in discussing it either.

What do you talk about in pre-marriage counselling? Stuff that you would probably read from a marriage prep book – but there’s something comforting about being in a room, discussing topics that might be a bit unsettling to talk about. The counsellor (if he/she is any good) acts as an impartial referee.

For us I think one touchy topic was finances. I dare say that for a lot of people, talking money isn’t easy – I mean like really talking money: how much each person owns, what are his/her debts, how money is going to be spent, contribution break down, what’s considered a luxury purchase, what is each person’s spending and saving habit, how much will be contributed to the parents/siblings of each spouse, how much should be budgeted for unforeseen events, etc.

This is an example of a tricky subject because of the starkly different value system that each spouse might have been brought up under. In some households, the wife and husband share everything – joint accounts, joint names in real estate, finances can be discussed openly, the couple seeing and believing themselves as collectively owning the family wealth. In others, and I find this the more popular model especially for modern families where both husband and wife earn similar incomes, the husband and wife’s wealth is completely separate. Contributions are roughly divided 50/50. Should some unexpected event arise, both will contribute to the required funds equally. There’s the third popular model, where the husband earns all and his wife (who, in the older generation, was often a stay at home mom) is in charge of managing (and sometimes) growing household wealth. And of course there are the many variations in between.

I don’t want to go into detail about our original families’ household finance arrangements, because I risk divulging something very close to heart that isn’t completely mine to divulge, be it my own original family or my husband’s. The thing is, with discussing finances, you ultimately broach into other even touchier topics such as priorities, gender roles, favouritism, value systems, and perhaps, even unravel a source of a lot of hurt and conflict. For us, going to counselling to begin the process of discussing finances, and to obtain some tools on how to effectively map it out, was a good decision. But that was just the start – the practising in everyday life is where the real lessons are learnt.

I’m always curious as to how other families work finances out. I think every model has its merits, and I have friends and family who were raised relatively happily out of different models. I do feel this is one of the topics that we are in desperate need of guidance on, but which gets little attention. Best to be prepared than to be grasping at straws when we find out about our spouse’s secret Ferrari purchase or multiple maxed-out Brand related credit cards!

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10 comments on “On pre-marriage counselling

  1. Pre-marriage counseling has been taboo within my community circles back in Malaysia. As you said, counseling is taboo within certain cultures and often stigmatised. Talking about money is definitely a touchy topic because whether you like it or not, money equates to survival in this world, or at least makes like a little cushier and more comfortable.

    Different types of financial structure works for different couples and households. Personally, I’ve always liked the idea of the two parties in a union having their own separate finances. Not to say that they can’t trust each other with a joint account and joint everything. I suppose with separate finances, you get to keep a part of yourself – you keep that part of yourself you put out there in the working world and you learn not to be entirely self-reliant on the other person.

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    • Money and survival – Mabel that is indeed something that’s intertwined. I hadn’t thought about it this way – more like money equates to security, but when you think of it in the most basic sense money does help us, at least in the countries we live in, survive. I suspect Malaysia culture and HK culture in this respect is similar – that counselling is rather taboo. I haven’t decided which model is best for our household yet 🙂 and hello! Long time no see! Good to hear from you and thanks for stopping by and giving insightful comments as usual!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I did not even know that there is something like pre-marriage counseling! But then again i am not well informed in too many things (just looking and my tax papers right now with a huge headache…)
    It’s been now four year since I married my wife and before that we were living already together for another two years. Only in the beginning we actually checked who spends how much money, writing down everything to have our finances under control. Afterall we were both still students back then at university and only she had besides that a full-time job. Now fast forward to the planned wedding in 2012, we didnt really bother too much thinking about any finances. Not that we are super rich and don’t ever have to worry but somehow it is not our priority. Through luck and also hard work we managed to get a stable life and in case things would turn very sour in our relationship everything would be split in half (standard law at least in Germany and Finland) but anyways we hope and work on it that this will never ever happen.
    As said before, only during the first year we checked on our spending. Afterwards it was just that whoever felt like it just payed whatever was neccessary. In 2014 we moved to Germany and got a shared bank account as actually nearly all people I know have it (in Germany that is, in Finland most have still their own accounts besides one shared one)

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    • That works too CCF 🙂 I think as long as there’s a clear understanding that each will pay when they feel like it and someone always is happy to pay, it’s a great system. You two seem to have done very well and been so loving in the relationship; and navigated a lot of tricky situations together (including cross cultural wedding, moving, kid), so whatever you’re doing is working out great! There are many things I don’t know about either – like I have no idea how marriage/couple finances work in Germany or Finland so thank you for sharing that.

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  3. When the hub and I married he had loads of money and I had little. I was a single mom working in ministry – the dividends it paid were WAY more spiritual than financial. We didn’t even discuss finances before the wedding, it was just understood that he was happy to share all he had. I used to jokingly say, “what’s yours is mine and what’s mine is mine,” but I didn’t really mean it. It took a few years for me to transition from “your money” to “our money.”

    So happy to read that your marriage is going well. Bless you pixie.

    P.S. I was thrilled to see that you left a comment for me the other day. I’ve had a monster headache these last couple of days and haven’t been able to focus. Now that I’m feeling better, I’ll take another look at it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Julie you must be Chinese! THAT is a super Chinese saying (mostly in jest, but some wives take it very seriously..). Or perhaps it’s universal and I just never realized it. I’m glad your husband shares everything with you and that you have a marriage that started with a clear understanding about finances. I think the understanding that hub will share everything is huge! Spiritual “payment” is equally important although it’s so easy to overlook and undermine non-tangible contributions. Hope your monster headache has recovered … Doesn’t sound like fun at all 😦

      Liked by 1 person

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