Patricia is quiet and reserved. Chris is social and outgoing.
Their romance might seem a cookie-cutter version of “opposites attract,” but the Crystal Lake newlyweds said it would take much more to achieve a lifelong marriage.
“We’ve learned to accept each other’s differences, embrace them and work with them as opposed to change them,” Chris Williams said. “If you really love the person and want the person in your life, just do whatever effort is required.”
As the national divorce rate hovers near its lowest point since 1970, according to The Associated Press, marriage counselors are optimistic that couples who employ strategies such as the Williamses and who partake in premarital counseling will be better equipped to avoid divorce.
Dan Blair, a Crystal Lake counselor, said relationships usually crumble because of outside stresses – such as financial demands, medical issues, work schedules or pressure from extended family – or because of built up internal resentment.
“These are issues that you do not see a good way to resolve, so you just put it aside and continue to live your life together,” he said.
While shelving the problem might create short-term peace, it doesn’t go away.
“The issues remain unresolved, and you start feeling more and more helpless, like a victim in the relationship,” Blair said.
Blair has performed both marital and pre-marital counseling for 11 years, and said he had seen his share of couples who had a few kinks to work out before they walked down the aisle.
Sometimes couples come to Blair to discern whether they should marry at all. Others use counseling as a preventative measure, to learn how to deal with differences between each other.
“Over time the differences between them become more apparent and less tolerable,” Blair said.
However, differences don’t necessarily mean a couple shouldn’t marry.
Couples who marry in Catholic churches throughout the Rockford Diocese must complete a rigorous marriage preparation program, which includes meetings with the ceremony officiant, a multiple choice test, an overnight retreat and natural family planning classes.
The scan-tron test couples take is a premarital inventory, called Facilitating Open Couple Communication, Understanding and Study, or FOCCUS. Questions on the test are broken down into categories, such as communication, personal interests, finances and religious life, among others.
The soon-to-be spouses take the tests separately, and their answers are scored against each other. The scoring gives the couples an idea of which topics they agreed upon and which ones they haven’t addressed at all.
“You can’t fail,” said Monsignor Daniel Hermes, of St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Crystal Lake. If there’s an area in which both people indicated disagreement, it’s highlighted on the test so the couple can discuss the topic.
The Williamses attended premarital counseling at St. Mary Catholic Church in Huntley. One of the tips their officiant, the Rev. David Reese, gave them was to set appointments to talk with each other when they have a disagreement instead of potentially having a heated argument as soon as the disagreement happens.
“That way they have time to prepare ... for that conversation, versus attacking them right away and telling them in the moment that you’re angry,” Patricia said. “Nobody likes to be attacked, so having those couple of days to prepare for a lengthy discussion is nice.”
Hermes said he advised couples to make sure to take time for one another, even if their schedules become busy with work or children. He suggested weekly date nights at a restaurant or coffee shop, which give couples a chance to talk and catch up the way they might have when they were dating.
He also advises couples to make sure that they take time to pray together at least once daily, in a form with which both spouses are most comfortable.
“That is the most reliable predictor of a lifelong marriage,” Hermes said. “The reason is that it’s such a powerful message, that there’s more than just me and you in this marriage. There’s God there, too.”
But the underlying theme behind prayer, date nights or any of the techniques used to strengthen a marriage is to continually work on it, he said.
“A wedding is a day. A marriage is a lifetime, so that’s what we’re trying to do – build a great lifetime together.”
By the numbers
Marital status of McHenry County residents older than 15:
• 57 percent are married
• 28.8 percent never married
• 8.9 percent are divorced
• 4.3 percent are widowed
• 0.9 percent are separated
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2007 data