Exchanging wedding vows is serious business, but as long as both partners are committed to making the marriage work, it doesn't really matter whether the wedding takes place on a beach in front of a justice of the peace or in a church with ministers and 500 family members and friends, experts say.
Thoroughly exploring all the issues a couple can be expected to face is what premarital counseling is all about, says Ginger Culbertson, a licensed marriage and family therapist. And that means talking about more than finances and how to raise the kids, delving as well into expectations, what each partner wants the marriage to be, and how the spouse can help make those visions a reality.
"They have to be willing to talk to each other, risk saying the things that they think the other person might not agree with, and you have to have some real maturity and ego strength to be able to do that," Culbertson says.
And even if a couple has been through premarital counseling, it never hurts to seek counseling anew when difficult issues come up in a marriage. "Tune-ups are good," Culbertson says.
When it comes to the qualities a marriage must have to succeed, one word keeps coming up: communication.
"I think placing God inside of your marriage is the most important thing, whether that's a public ceremony or whether it is eloping," says the Rev. Sean Dogan, a Baptist pastor. "I would personally recommend a church ceremony, not just because of the ceremony, but because of the other things that go along with it."
Many churches, including Dogan's Greenville, S.C., church, offer premarital counseling. Dogan says he isn't hesitant to tell a couple if he feels, after counseling the pair, that they aren't ready for such a serious commitment.
Dogan agrees that being able to talk about things is key in making a marriage work.
"Love is the number one, and I think love has to be accompanied with honest communication, friendship, and progressive change," Dogan says.
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