The lessons of love, in an easy 6-week formatThere are a million things to do before marriage. Couples often spend several months juggling a hectic schedule to arrange a wedding hall, send invitations, purchase gifts to exchange and find a place to live. How about taking a pre-marriage class?
A number of such courses are being offered for future couples ― and singles ― who want to prepare for a perfect marriage. Usually, marriage and family counselors or religious organizations offer these courses, and both the number of offerings and the number of people attending them have been increasing over the past few years. The courses hold discussions on the meaning of marriage, personality and gender differences, talking with one’s mate and even sex tips.
“Because I’ve decided to get married and it’s new for me, I wanted to be prepared mentally and emotionally,” said Hwang Su-yeon, who is attending a pre-marriage course at the Korea Legal Aid Center for Family Relations.
The majority of the courses were created with religious or feminist motifs. Duranno Family & Counseling Institute started a course for Christian couples, but non-Christians are also invited to attend. Instructors at the course offered by the legal aid center emphasize fostering “democracy at home” and an equal sharing of household chores between husband and wife.
But the most common reason for the classes was what many Koreans consider an alarming increase in the divorce rate. Korea’s is the second highest among members of the “rich men’s club,” the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
“After long experience in marriage counseling, I realized that there is a need for precautions against family breakdowns,” said Kwak Bae-hee, the president of Korea Legal Aid Center for Family Relations. Ms. Kwak has been involved in marriage counseling for almost 35 years.
“I have seen many marriages that went wrong at the beginning. If they are going to do it, they have to do it right,” she said. “That’s why couples need education.”
Duranno Family & Counseling Institute set up its pre-marriage class in 1995; it was perhaps the first in Korea. In the beginning, the course was given twice a year for 30 couples, but the frequency has increased to seven times a year, with 80 couples per course. The institute said at least 10 couples have to be turned away for each course, and are put on a waiting list. The Korea Legal Aid Center for Family Relations started its course four years ago and offers it twice a year.
The first day of the course at the legal aid institute begins with a lecture and discussion of different ideas about marriage, followed by a discussion among the couples of their views about marriage. Koreans generally think highly of their family lines, and Korean men and women have different perceptions of marriage, instructors said.
“Women tend to think of a family as a husband, a wife and children, but men are likely to include their parents as members of their family,” said Woo Ae-ryoung, an instructor at the legal aid institute’s course.
Instructors encourage the participants to begin at least once from scratch to consider if they really want to get married; to think about whether they consider marriage a choice or fate; and to ask themselves if they are capable of fulfilling the obligations that marriage brings.
“We instruct them in what it means to be happily married. We talk about qualities to be considered when selecting a spouse,” Ms. Kwak said. Affection, she continued, should be one basis for marriage, but Koreans often stress other qualifications, such as wealth and status. She said these conditions are means, but should not be goals. “The purpose of our program is to instruct them to not emphasize those material conditions.”
On the second day of the legal institute’s course, the participants learn about gender and personality differences by discussing how men and women react in various situations. Some organizations have the participants take the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality test and another based on William Glasser’s “choice theory” of basic needs to help analyze their personalities and compare them with their intended’s.
Instructors teach how couples can deal with conflicts by identifying each other’s communication styles and abandoning unhealthy communications styles. “Even if your husband cheated on you, you don’t have the right to insult him,” Ms. Woo said.
Ms. Kwak said that Koreans tend to overlook their future spouse’s flaws before marriage but are inclined to be more critical about those flaws after getting married; they should do the opposite, she said.
The issues that resonate the most with couples are those closely related to daily life, said Ms. Yim, such as money and sex.
“Rather than employing symbolic descriptions of sex, the course touches on the practical and physiological sides,” said Park Hyun-jung, a social worker at the legal aid center. Lee Keun-hu, a physician in charge of the sex education parts of the course, said he uses slides, graphics and other illustrations to explain sexual matters.
The Korea Legal Aid Center for Family Relations tries to focus on the realistic side of marriage, such as inequality between a husband and wife, divorce and infidelity, and brings up legal issues such as financial settlements after divorce. That might stir some unease ― isn’t that too negative a tone for engaged couples? ― but the participants seem to disagree.
“It is objective rather than negative and more realistic than romantic,” said Oh Su-jin, one of the women attending the course. “There aren’t negative sides. This gives me a chance to look at marriage with objectivity.”
“We also need to learn the negative sides of each other,” said Hwang Su-yeon, who was attending the course at the legal aid center with her fiance. “Things are not always positive. We are going to learn about the bad things sooner or later; we are still in the process of learning about each other.”
Bae Myeong-cheon, Ms. Hwang’s fiance, agreed. “I accept the parts that I think will be helpful, but discard things that I don’t think are necessary.”
by Limb Jae-un