Given the laundry list of factors that can lead to divorce (money problems, adultery, differences in raising children, and so on), the smartest thing that couples can do is to seek counseling before they say "I do." The problem is that, typically, the only couples who engage in pre-marital counseling include couples who actively practice a religion. For many couples involved with a church, temple, or another religious institution, the religious leaders there seriously encourage pre-marital counseling for all engaged couples. Yet why don't nonreligious couples step up to the plate and get some help, too?
Some studies suggest that couples who have pre-marital counseling have a lower divorce rate than other couples, but this is difficult to measure because there are other factors (or mediating variables, to be research- specific) that may help couples to stay together. For example, if the majority of couples who receive such counseling are religious, it's impossible to tease out what helps two people stay together when times get tough: practicing a religion, pre-marital counseling, or the social support of a religious community?
Having conducted couples therapy with many women and men over the years, I see how beneficial it is for couples to deal with problems early - before they morph into gigantic barricades that destroy any hope for resolution. Some couples come to therapy when a slight problematic pattern emerges, and these couples tend to improve quickly and effectively. Why? Because the resentments aren't yet set in concrete. Other couples, however, put off dealing with their problems until things get so bad that they've stopped communicating, having sex, or spending quality time together. As a therapist, I can say that the earlier a couple starts therapy, the better the prognosis is for the longevity of the relationship.
The point is simple: Pre-marital counseling is the smartest decision that any couple can make, and you don't need to be religious to try it. No matter how cohesive a couple may be, problems and differences will inevitably arise, so pre-marital counseling really functions like the best insurance policy a couple could ever purchase.
Why so many couples avoid pre-marital counseling - or counseling early in the marriage, for that matter - has to do with fear. At root, most men and women fear that talking openly about problems with a counselor will lead to even more problems and the eventual dissolution of the relationship. But please hear me when I say that the reality is counter-intuitive! Though it can be scary to vent your anger, frustration and resentments, it is the release of these feelings in a structured context that actually allows two people to move past them and later start liking each other again.
In this case, I believe that religious leaders and their respective congregations have figured out what most people still resist: everyone needs help with their relationships. Further, these couples who take the plunge into pre-marital counseling feel that there's nothing wrong with getting help prior to making such an enormous commitment. So, nonreligious couples, take notes and learn from them as your marriage will thank you many years later.