20/05/2014 05:31 BST | Updated 19/07/2014 06:59 BST

Investing in Marriage for a Change

Marriage is meant to last happily forever after, isn't it? Rather than the wedding. So why do most of us invest loads of time and money on the one day and hardly give a second thought to the lifetime commitment?

Not to suggest that we enter into matrimony lightly, but for the most part we do expect Forever After to happen miraculously, without any preparation.

Let's face it, most of us wouldn't dream of taking on any other worthwhile new experience, such as driving or rock climbing, for instance, without some proper training.

So why do we get married without preparation? Me included. Thirteen years ago, when I married in my late thirties, I didn't give marriage preparation a second thought. As far as I was concerned, I was prepared.

As a relatively nice person and a fairly reasonable one, too, why would I need preparation? Furthermore, I hadn't fully understood that marriage preparation courses were available.

But when I did understand, I still couldn't be bothered, nor could Paul. We concluded that marriage prep was not for us, even if we did come from different nations and different cultures altogether. Clearly, the concept was for folk with hurdles to overcome, not for people like us, who were quite evenly matched fundamentally, and who were madly in love.

Well, fast forward all these years later, and I have to admit ignorance: not that we aren't still madly in love and well-matched, but let's face it, marriage isn't the easiest of work, though years ago, one acquaintance told me that she and her husband never had to work at their marriage ... never.

I suspect they are in the minority. Surely, the majority would benefit from marriage education beforehand?

Sila Lee, co-founder of Holy Trinity Brompton's (HTB) Marriage Preparation Course with her husband Nicky, echoes this notion because: 'inevitably, every couple will face issues because of different backgrounds and life experiences'.

Even so, the idea of marriage preparation is not the norm. Many folk don't see the need for it, or are sceptical for one reason or another.

Scepticism around the HTB course ranges from being worried about discomfort in the presence of a minister, priest, etc., who might be dogmatic, to fearing that the intimate details of their relationship will be disclosed.

Though Mrs Lee said that this sort of scepticism is 'swept away' after the first session, she and her husband want to change perceptions amongst a wider audience.

'We want to change the negative perceptions in society,' Mrs Lee said, 'and make marriage preparation totally the norm. We want people to see it as positive to invest in their marriage.'

Sadly, marriage education is often perceived or misunderstood as a form of counselling or intervention, causing people to see it negatively. But actually marriage preparation is more about 'prevention than it is cure', Mrs Lee said.

While there are organisations such as Relate that deal with counselling and intervention, marriage preparation is meant to be a pre-emptive measure. The overarching benefit is that it proposes tools to help deal with relevant problems from the onset.

The HTB course offers a structured setting, in which couples can identify the issues specific to them and then learn very practical relationship tools in certain areas, such as communicating, dealing with finances, keeping love alive, resolving conflict and maintaining a healthy sexual relationship.

Mind you, this is only one example of marriage preparation in the UK. Many other churches, the Church of England, as well as charities such as Care for the Family, Marriage Care and Prepare for Marriage, also offer marriage preparation. Organisations in other countries do too, although HTB's course runs in 116 countries.

Though Paul and I missed out on marriage prep, three years into our marriage, we signed up for HTB's Marriage Course, which is a follow-on from the marriage preparation course, if you will.

One key outcome for us was learning about love languages; a concept based on Gary Chapman's Five Love Languages. I now understand that no matter how nicely I talk to Paul, or how many presents I buy him, he doesn't feel really loved until I lavish him with physical affection.

And that has been a big effort for a girl whose family perceive holding hands and hugging, for example, as over the top, let alone kissing in public. Oh dear!

Without marriage education, I tried to show love the way I wanted to receive it, but with inside information, I have certainly become more affectionate, but even I still have a way to go.

Thus, eager to discover more and more, and to help others along the way, too, we've volunteered as a support couple for the Marriage Preparation Course for about ten years now.

Many couples have told us how the concept has been positive for the early years of their marriage. Some have already gone on to do the Marriage Course.

Harry Benson of the Marriage Foundation said that marriage preparation is not only practical, but is also very effective. On the organisation's website, he wrote that 'marriage preparation has been shown to improve relationships, reduce conflict and reduce the divorce rate'.

The Marriage Foundation has also sponsored research, explaining that attempts to strengthen marriage must focus on the early years and include choices made before marriage.

That's great news for those who opt for marriage preparation. But what about those who don't?

Let's just hope that they will inevitably become a part of this cultural shift that the Lees and other marriage prep proponents dream of; making marriage preparation the norm.

Mrs Lee remembered when the idea of wearing seat belts was alien, but years later, after a major repositioning campaign, there is hardly a soul today that would consider not wearing their seat belt.

However, as she pointed out, campaigns take time, effort and loads of money. Well, so do weddings. So why not invest in marriage for a change?