Premarital counseling is a specialized form of counseling that is dedicated to preparing engaged couples for marriage.
Premarital counseling is typically done by a licensed therapist, clinical social worker, coach or religious leader.
Why choose it?
There are many great reasons for experiencing premarital counseling. People who are from divorced families may want to ensure that they are fully prepared for the realities of marriage. Couples who want to focus on preventing destructive problems from developing in the first place may want to work on essential relationship skills. People who value exploring psychological issues may opt to participate in premarital counseling in order to make sure that they understand their own and their partner’s motivations for marriage. And some couples choose premarital counseling because they are required to do it in order to get married.
What should you expect?
You should expect a safe space to explore the strengths and challenges of your relationship and your backgrounds. Premarital counseling is often focused on building on the strengths of a couple, learning techniques to prevent problems, and learning skills. This makes it very different than individual counseling – where the focus is generally on a particular problem or difficulty managing a phase of life.
What kind of topics are typically discussed?
Premarital counseling sessions can focus on a wide range of topics depending on the style and preferences of the counselor that you choose. However, most premarital counseling generally focuses on a few core areas. These are the topics that generally trip up even the best marriages from time to time, so it is especially important to work through any difficulties in these areas before marriage.
Typical premarital counseling topics include the following:
As you can imagine, communication issues top the gripe list of many marriages – even good marriages. So, most premarital counselors will want to get to know how you communicate as a couple. The counselor will probably not only ask you questions about the history of communication in your relationship, but will also observe how you communicate in person. If you are nervous about the idea of someone else observing your interactions as a couple, then perhaps try doing some work in the privacy of your own home related to improving communication. If you do decide to go to premarital counseling – good for you – because the counselor is likely to make some useful recommendations for ways that you can communicate better with your partner.
Conflicts and Conflict Resolution
Ask any married couple which skills they would like to improve in their marriage – and I guarantee a significant portion will say, “conflict resolution skills.” So, of course, premarital counseling will also focus on this key area of any intimate relationship. You probably can’t imagine it right now (because chances are you are an engaged person deeply in love with your partner) but there will come a time when you will probably be surprised at how much you can dislike someone that you love so much! That’s where conflict resolution comes into the picture. So, in premarital counseling you will learn essential skills for managing conflicts that are inevitable in any long-term intimate relationship.
Be ready to also talk about money in premarital counseling. Money issues are one of the top three reasons why married couples end up separating. So, exploring your financial values and whether or not you are both on the same page regarding your short term and long term financial goals is crucial. Planning a wedding together can often be the first time couples are really faced with sorting out their different financial values, so discussing any issues you are having in this area with your premarital counselor is an excellent idea. This is especially true if you find yourself bickering over what to spend money on for wedding. An inability to sort out your differences now spells inevitable conflicts in the future.
If you and your partner are from different cultural or racial backgrounds then these differences are likely to show up in expected and unexpected ways. Premarital counseling is the perfect place to discuss these differences. If you and your partner are different in any of these ways then you are probably already aware of the ways that these differences can play out in wedding planning. Because even if you are both pretty flexible around traditions, it may not be the case that your parents are so flexible in this regard. And things get even trickier if children enter the picture! So, taking the time to discuss your different values in premarital counseling can set the tone for your marriage in terms of being able to delve into your differences in respectful ways.
You are likely to explore any differences you may have related to your religious beliefs and values during premarital counseling. This is of course even more likely if you choose to go to a religious leader for counseling. So, this can be a time that you both figure out the role of religion in both of your lives and the ways that you both envision practicing (or not practicing) your respective faiths. The impact of religion on marriage is not to be underestimated. Research has shown that when two people of different faiths marry, they are more likely to end up divorcing. This is probably related to the role that religion plays in managing stress. If the members of the couple use religion in very different ways then it may create a barrier between them during an already stressful situation. But more research needs to be done in this area to make any conclusive statements. But the take home message is this: if you marry someone with different religious beliefs then your own take the time to plan for how these differences will be managed before life gets too stressful!
Premarital counseling is also a time when you will explore your family history with your partner. Now this doesn’t mean that you have to share all kinds of family secrets and disgraces with your partner – your partner will more than likely learn about these things over time. But it is a time to explore the really important issues like important family dynamics (for example, the impact of divorce on your family) or whether an important illness has shaped your family functioning (for example, an alcoholic parent or a sibling with a mental illness). This is a time for your partner to begin to understand who you are in a deeper and more fundamental way. And most importantly you can discuss a plan for managing how these things will affect your marriage.
If you’ve been married before or were in a long-term relationship that impacted you in profound ways then you can use the space within premarital counseling to discuss your relationship history. Now keep in mind that your partner is not likely to want to hear all about the details of your previous relationship – so it is not the time to work through any unresolved issues you may have (use personal therapy for that!). But it is a time to address any issues that may come up regarding your relationship history in a matter of fact way. This is of course especially important if there are children from your previous relationship in the picture.
Now that you have a good sense of what premarital counseling is all about – why not give it a shot?