Does pre-marital guidance counselling lead to a happy marriage?

The church is booked. The guests are invited. But should the happy couple undergo a spot of premarital therapy, Hollywood-style? Guy Adams takes to the couch to find out

Jerry Seinfeld recently announced his long-awaited return to TV with a reality show called The Marriage Ref. It'll see him help unhappy husbands and wives solve various day-to-day disputes, disagreements and couple-ish disgruntlements that are threatening to send their relationship the way of the divorce court. "I have discovered," he told Entertainment Weekly, "that the comedic potential of this subject is quite rich."

Quite how the happily-married comedian made this startling discovery, is anyone's guess. But when I first read his comments, they couldn't have seemed more ironic: I was sitting in a clinical psychologist's waiting room, next to my gorgeous and long-suffering fiancée, Katie. We were preparing to discuss intimate details of our private life with a local "shrink". Judging by the events that transpired later that day, Mr Seinfeld's show has indeed struck a rich seam of comedy.

At this point, a brief disclaimer: I am 31 years old. My fiancée is 30. Neither of us suffers from depression. We had happy childhoods. Our relationship, so far as I can make out, is in rude health.

And yet, we also live in Los Angeles, proud spiritual home to the therapy industry. In this town, people hire psychiatrists for their pets. Kids get through shrinks the way I used to plough through piano teachers. Entourage's Ari Gold and his wife virtually live on the couch. And, as I discovered last month, LA is a place where a man and a woman who wish to enter into an estate of holy matrimony must pony up $150-an-hour to undergo "pre-marital-guidance counselling".

Here's what happened. Last year, Katie agreed to marry me. Shortly afterwards, we decided to tie the knot in July, at a church in Monmouthshire near my parents' home. This, however, presented a minor problem: because we live and work a 10-hour flight away, the local vicar would be unable to "prepare" us for the occasion. Instead, she asked us to find an Anglican church in LA to get us ready.

In Britain, being "prepared" for a wedding is a quaintly pleasant ritual: it involves cups of tea, glasses of sherry, and a decent chinwag with the local rector. In Los Angeles, however, things are different: here, the Anglican (or Episcopalian) church likes to pack you off to the shrink.

So it came to pass that we found ourselves in the office of Dr Dominic Wallis, PhD, an affable, slightly rotund 50-something man described on his business card as a "clinical and consulting psychologist". Dr Wallis said he'd like to see us for three hour-long therapy sessions. Pre-marital guidance counselling, it turns out, revolves around two distinct procedures. The first required us to undergo a personality "evaluation".

This Orwellian process is known as an SDI or Strength Deployment Inventory test. It involves answering hypothetical questions about your personal priorities. Then someone will plot your "personality" on a multi-coloured graph. You will be revealed as a red, "assertive" person, a blue, "nurturing" person, or a green, "analytic" one. I fell into a portion of the graph that denotes "pain in the backside". So, Dr Wallis spent our first session advising Katie (a "nurturer") how to cope with spending the rest of her life doing just that.

Part two of the guidance is more problem-strewn. Dr Wallis, whose office contains an inordinate number of clocks, instructed us to fill in a 30-page multiple choice questionnaire on the state of our relationship.

On a scale of one to five (one "strongly disagree" and five "strongly agree") the questionnaire canvassed our view on 500 statements. Some felt tame: "I cannot foresee any circumstances in which I will not have a happy marriage" (I agreed). Others a touch creepy: "Sometimes, when my partner and I argue, I back down because I feel physically threatened" (I strongly disagree!). A few were downright prurient. One read: "I often worry about my partner's sexual history."

What I didn't know was that roughly a week later, Katie and I would be sat on Dr Wallis's sofa, as he divulged the contents of our questionnaires. This is where he revealed a small problem: I had "disagreed" with the statement that "I couldn't be happily married to anyone but my partner". Katie, meanwhile, had "agreed". There followed a sharp intake of breath. Divorces have been granted for less.

You might think it odd to prepare for a lifetime commitment by exposing your differences (Dr Wallis called them "growth areas"). Conversely, you might think it helpful – especially in a nation where 50 per cent of unions end in divorce.

Marriage counselling will certainly make for cracking TV, as Jerry Seinfeld says, but as I stared at my shoes and mumbled vague explanations, I couldn't help but think there were more pleasant ways to spend $150 an hour.

Some names have been changed

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Louis van Gaal
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Jay Z has placed a bet on streaming being the future for music and videos
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

    £18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

    £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

    £28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

    Day In a Page

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own