I had coffee with Connie Penhallurick from Relationships4Life today to talk about pre-marriage education and it was nowhere near as scary as you’d imagine! Pre-marriage education is nothing like Robin Williams dished out in License to Wed, but most people think it’s weird, scary or for people in big trouble, so I asked connie a bunch of questions.

Introduce yourself Connie, who are you?

I have several hats, I’m a wife and a mother to two little girls and most recently I’ve started my own business, Relationships4Life, and it’s a relationship building service. I’m from a little town called Yeppoon, I met my husband in Townsville which is where I got my qualifications and experience as a psychologist. For the past ten years I’ve been working in the counselling industry and out of that comes my interest is in working with couples.

Is everyone that comes to you “broken”?

Many people come to me with personal barriers or difficulties and some forecast it being a problem in the future so they come to learn ways to cope or deal with future problems.

Who needs pre-marriage education?

Every couple that are preparing to get married. It doesn’t have to be couples that have issues because the relationships is about to go through a change with a new commitment, a forward movement in their relationship.

Why do you think pre-marriage education is scary for so many people?

I think there’s a misunderstanding that it will bring forth things that aren’t broken. The process is assumed to be intrusive and assuming, but it’s not! Some couples have the fear that they will be told how to live their life.

So what is your role when you sit down with a couple

My role is to facilitate open and honest communication about issues that affect the relationship now and would continue to affect the relationship through marriage. It’s about getting couples to think and plan about the future of marriage and what kind of marriage they want to have.

What do you think makes a good marriage?

Connectedness, communication. They’re probably the two most important things. When you have connectedness you can forgive, you can make allowances, you have appreciation and consideration for each others needs. If you imagine, when you have distance you’re going to start assuming things, you’ll feel out of touch with them and they’ll feel out of touch with you.

What facilitates connectedness is communication.

What’s a good benchmark for communication in a strong relationship?

It’s about making time for each other, quality time, not in front of the TV but maybe over a shared meal or even just a five minute catchup on how their day was. Making time for each other isn’t just about problem solving but also about giving the other person and opportunity to input into your life and to share in your life.

When I say connectedness I mean mental, emotional and physical connectedness.

I heard of a couple this week that have not farted in front of each other five years into their marriage, would you think they are connected?

They’re probably connected on the things that matter but there is still a small problem there. Should we share 100% of ourselves with our partner, maybe not. Being open and honest means there may be exceptions. And I think having some mystery in some ways helps maintain a level of interest into the marriage.

What are your thoughts on the Five Love Languages?

I think there’s lots of value in learning about the love languages, it encourages people to meet the needs of their partners and also their own. It’s about compromise between each other.

So what happens when a couple comes to you for education?

What happens first is that we have a meet and greet informal appointment. It’s an opportunity to meet me and for me to introduce them to the FOCCUS survey.

FOCCUS stands for “Facilitation open couple communication, understanding and study, FOCCUS”. Some of the topics include: personality match, lifestyle expectations, problem solving, extended family issues, readiness for marriage, personal issues and commitment.

The FOCCUS survey or questionnaire is completed after the first session online, in their own time, separately, it takes anywhere from 30 to 40 minutes to complete.

After the FOCCUS questionnaire we schedule a meeting to discuss the results and for me to facilitate a conversation about the results, and what they mean.

There’s no rights and wrongs, or winners or losers, it’s like a relationships health check.

The second session is a one-hour feedback session, and there is also a third one-hour feedback session.

What are you hoping to achieve over the three sessions?

When the couple has an increased awareness of their relationship, when they’ve identified what their values are as a couple, they’ve now increased their own awareness of each others needs, and there is an understanding of their strengths and areas for on-going development.

What does on-going development look like?

For some couples it may mean they need some counselling, or they may warrant further personal discussion on some areas or they might just need to give further consideration to certain areas of their relationship.

Very few go on to further counselling, it’s more of an awareness thing.

How much does pre-marriage education cost?

$350 for three sessions, that’s the total price for the couple.

Where does it happen?

It happens in my office in Ashgrove, a private and comfortable setting and keeps the discussions out of their own home.

Finally, do you have any marriage or relationships resources, books, blogs that you recommend?

There’s a book called ACT With Love by Russ Harris. ACT stands for acceptance and commitment therapy but also stands for physically acting with love [actmindfully.com.au].

The Five Love Languages book by Gary Chapman is good and there’s even an online test you can do [5lovelanguages.com].

The other book I have to recommend by John Gottman called ‘The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work’ [gottman.com]

How to contact Connie

Email connie@relationships4life.com.au