Getting married is an exciting time that is usually filled with lots of festivities such as wedding planning, showers, engagement parties, dress or suit shopping, and countless other activities. If you are planning on marrying soon, premarital counseling is something that you should consider adding to your list. In this blog, we hope to explain premarital counseling and why it is important.
Do I Really Need Premarital Counseling?
The idea of premarital counseling might be intimidating. You might be thinking something like “My partner and I are happy! Why would we need to talk to a counselor?”. The bottom line is this: being happy and satisfied in your relationship does not exclude you from being able to talk to a counselor. In fact, this is a perfect time to talk to a counselor. According to Caroline Ross, LPC, “Premarital counseling can be the best investment made in strengthening ties, improving intimacy and promoting longevity in the couples overall relationship.” Premarital counseling focuses on establishing a foundation for how your marriage will continue to grow and be successful. It is no secret that no marriage is perfect. When people come together with different backgrounds, personalities, pet peeves, preferences, and experiences it is inevitable that somewhere along the road, things might get bumpy (Groom, 2001). Premarital counseling will help you and your partner discuss and process some of these topics before they become a problem. Even if you have been with your partner for many years, chances are that you still have some important things to learn about them. Better Help says that engaging in counseling helps couples “learn how to identify issues, have difficult conversations, and handle conflict that will inevitably arise at some point in your relationship.”
What To Expect From Premarital Counseling
In order to get prepared for your first premarital counseling session, let’s discuss some topics that might come up.
First, your counselor might take an “inventory” of you and your partner’s lives. This might include topics such as how you grew up, your relationship with your siblings and parents, what your parent’s marriage was like, past relationships, past traumas, or any ACEs (adverse childhood experiences). Why is this important? These topics help to assess your type of attachment style, which developed in early childhood. Your attachment style usually has a large impact on how you connect with others, how you manage conflict, and how you view commitment (Simpson, 1990). It is so vital that you and your partner understand each other’s attachment styles so that you can connect and communicate effectively.
Next, your counselor might help you and your partner establish needs and wants in your relationship. This is the time to be completely honest and open with your partner and yourself. Identifying your own needs and wants, and listening to your partners needs and wants will help you form a “direction” for your relationship. Below are a few important topics that you can use as a starting point. Ask yourself and your partner which topics are a priority, and which ones are less important to you.
- Parenting styles
- Leisure time
- Date night
- Career goals
After you and your partner have a good understanding of what each of you needs and wants, work with each other and your counselor to identify and plan action items that will increase satisfaction and cohesion between you and your partner. For example, if your partner identified certain savings goals as a need, you would work together to plan a budget and build a savings account. If you identified date nights as a need, you might plan to have a date night planned every month in order to feel satisfied. Clint Reeves, LPC, says, “Prior to competing in an event like the Masters, professional golfers learn all they can about the par of the course, the traps, the hazards, the shape of the greens, the location of flags, etc. This foreknowledge increases the probability of their success that serves to sustain a professional level of play for years to come. Premarital counseling not only provides a couple with the foreknowledge of what the essential elements of a sound marriage are, but also, how to use those elements in the creation of a loving and enduring marriage.”
Another topic that might come up in premarital counseling is how to deal with any unresolved or recurring topics of conflict. Most partners have one of two things that might trigger or begin a cycle of conflict. Some of these might include communication, jealousy, finances, chores, or infidelity. Have an open conversation in your counseling session in order to get closer to the root of the problem. Remember, just because you have conflict in your relationship, does not mean that it’s destined for failure. In fact, conflict can be a healthy part of marriage. Premarital counseling is the perfect setting to discuss this, because it’s a safe environment where the goal is to grow and be successful. Your counselor might give you some homework or techniques to try that will help alleviate the conflict and solve some core issues before your big day, (Murray and Murray, 2004).
You might be wondering how many sessions are appropriate for premarital counseling. The truth is that there is no specific answer. It is simply up to whatever is beneficial for you and your partner. On average, most couples attend anywhere from 6-10 sessions over the course of 3 months. Some couples can meet their goals in 4 sessions, and some couples need more sessions. It is also recommended that premarital counseling be completed at least 3 months before your wedding so that you practice new skills, have time to process important information, and so that you won’t be overwhelmed too close to your big day.
Debunking Myths About Premarital Counseling
Lastly, I want to debunk some myths about premarital counseling that might be holding you back. The first myth is that premarital counseling is only for people that are religious. This is not true! Historically, most couples do complete marriage counseling with a pastor or the officiant of their wedding. However, modern and inclusive premarital counseling has become more common, and anyone can benefit from it. Premarital counseling can be effective for those who cohabitate, have long distance relationships, for those who are blending families, or for those who choose not to enter into a legal partnership. Furthermore, many counselors offer premarital counseling that does address religion or spirituality. The second myth is that going to premarital counseling means that something is wrong with your relationship. This is not true!! One unique thing about premarital counseling is that it is preventative in nature. Premarital counselor can help you and your partner avoid major conflict in your relationship down the road. It can also help prepare you with tools to manage conflict when it occurs (Gottman and Krokoff, 1898). Love and relationships can be overwhelming and scary at times. A counseling space will be a calm, neutral, and safe environment to communicate and grow with your partner! The last myth that is important to address is the belief that premarital counseling is a waste of time. I get it, you are busy planning a wedding, managing a work schedule, and maintaining some sense of relaxation and down time. Try and reframe the thought of “this is a waste of time” to “this is an opportunity to connect with someone I love”. Many couples find that when they have an open and safe place to communicate, such as counseling, they feel lighter and encouraged once they leave.
If you are getting married soon, or are taking the next important step in your relationship, reach out today at (256) 239-5662 or online to get started with premarital counseling. It will be the best decision you make this week!
Groom, J. (2001). What works in premarital counseling?. Journal of Pastoral Counseling, 36, 46.
Gottman, J. M., & Krokoff, L. J. (1989). Marital interaction and satisfaction: a longitudinal view. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology, 57(1), 47.
Murray, C. E., & Murray Jr, T. L. (2004). Solution‐focused premarital counseling: helping couples build a vision for their marriage. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 30(3), 349-358.
Simpson, J. A. (1990). Influence of attachment styles on romantic relationships. Journal of personality and social psychology, 59(5), 971.