Got the premarital jitters? He’s used to it.
One psychology course changed Dr. Benjamin Caldwell’s major—and his career aspirations. Thirteen years later, education is still the focus of his life.
Both passionate and empathetic, Dr. Caldwell spends his days talking couples through relationship challenges as a licensed marriage and family therapist. He is also assistant program director of the Marital and Family Therapy master’s program at Alliant International University in Sacramento.
Dr. Caldwell acknowledges that human attachments are resilient and powerful. He’s seen nearly 100 couples for premarital counseling since he started practicing over a year ago—and he’s still an optimist! He believes that therapy and hope can move relationships in a positive direction, especially if it’s up the aisle.
Who sees you for premarital counseling?
Most of the couples I work with for premarital counseling are probably in their 20s to 30s, since that’s the common age for getting married. There is a variety.
Are these couples engaged, and how long before they plan on getting married?
They are usually engaged, and somewhere in between three months and a year away from the actual wedding date.
Is it a bad sign that couples see you before they are even married?
No. It’s actually a good sign. It shows that a couple is willing to have sometimes-difficult conversations, and willing to do some preventive work. I prefer to see couples before they get married instead of six or something years after they have been married and are no longer happy and thinking of leaving.
Have you had any couples experience breakups in the process of counseling?
Not really. I’ve had couples with work to be done. There has never been a couple who split up during counseling.
I’ve never told any clients, “You two shouldn’t be married.” That’s not my place. It’s my place to say, “This looks like it is going to be a challenge for you; let’s see what we can do.” But its not like that awful movie that just came out with Robin Williams, License to Wed. It’s not like your counselor is trying to break you up to test your relationship. That’s not how it works. I’m here to be helpful.
What’s the biggest transition couples face going into marriage?
People have a lot of ideas that come from their own families about what marriage is supposed to look like; they tend not to have that as much in a relationship. It is a challenging transition.
Do families often get involved in the counseling or come up in conversation?
Family members often come up in the counseling process. That’s a natural thing, as you transition into a new family. There has to be shifts that take place and some of those are uncomfortable.
Any crazy in-law stories?
[Laughs] Not that I could tell you without my clients being mad at me.
Is wedding planning ever discussed during sessions?
It is among the biggest topics, especially if it is close to the wedding. For as complicated as it is to plan a wedding these days, by and large, I’ve been impressed with how my clients handle it.
It’s stressful, that’s part of the nature of putting a wedding together. I see a lot of husbands contributing much more than they would have 10 or 20 years ago. I see a lot of wives-to-be say, “Yes, it’s stressful, but that doesn’t change my joy in doing it.”
Are you invited to the weddings of your couples?
Funny you should mention that. I’m unfortunately missing a wedding this weekend. Not often, but occasionally. I leave that up to the couples. What I do ask couples to do is to send me a wedding picture, so I can get an update on how things are going for them, and see that they are happy and that the marriage went off well.
What are your thoughts on long-term relationships and marriage?
A lot of studies have found that there is meaningful difference between marriage and relationships. For some reason, and we don’t know why, marriage seems to benefit couples and communities in ways that long-term relationships do not.
For example, the risk of domestic violence is much lower for married couples than it is for unmarried couples. For reasons like this, I tend to be a strong proponent of gay marriage. I would like to see that opportunity available to everyone.
Have you ever done premarital counseling for homosexual couples?
No. I think some of that has to do with the conflicted issues around marriage that same-sex couples have to deal with. Among the same-sex couples who I know and have worked with, there is this feeling of being torn with marriage in general, of really wanting that level of commitment but not being a fan of how it’s been used politically to oppress same sex couples.
Do religious sources push clients to see you, and have you ever signed any type of verification?
Well, it’s not a “have to” thing. I give all my couples that go through the process a certificate, just because it deserves congratulations. Some of the conversations we have are difficult and meaningful about the future of their relationship. It’s an accomplishment to make it all the way through.
Do you know what your couples do with their certificates after?
I’ve heard different things. I give them the certificate along with a packet of information that talks about all we have discussed here. I tell them, “If you want, hang it on the fridge, frame it, or burn it,” but the work they’ve done is the most important. The certificate is just a symbol of what they’ve done. One couple planned to stick it in a file and pull it out in about five years.