Pre-Marital Counseling: What is it? Who is it for? What can we expect?
Deciding to spend your life with someone is a huge commitment. Pre-marital counseling (or pre-engagement, pre-moving-in-together counseling) can help you strengthen the foundation of your relationship as you step into this meaningful next chapter of your life together.
What is Pre-Marital Counseling?
Pre-marital counseling is a building block for a successful future!
Preparing for the big day with your significant other can be both exhilarating and exhausting. In the flurry of planning, stress, and excitement, it can be easy to lose sight of what happens after the wedding. Pre-marital counseling is a great way to intentionally carve out time to set your relationship up for success and kick-start the ongoing work required to maintain a healthy marriage.
Pre-marital therapy is designed to do 3 main things:
- help you develop and enhance communication tools for connection
- increase awareness of how you cope during relationship distress, as well as
- help you identify aspects of your relationship that need to be discussed further to build a stronger foundation.
A trained couples therapist will lead the way in helping you get to know yourself and the person you’re about to marry on a deeper level, including:
· How you both communicate
· How do your communication styles change in times of stress
· Expectations each of you have for marriage
· Life goals and values you may or may not share
· Your strengths and growth areas as an individual and a spouse-to-be
· Strengths and growth areas of your relationship
· Exploring your individual differences and how those differences can bring both life and conflict to your relationship
The uniting of people is also the joining of each partner’s backstory, personal beliefs, dreams, and values. Premarital counseling is a space for couples heading into marriage or a major relationship transition to explore each of these facets together and increase the level of openness around important topics that could become triggers for future conflict.
Who is Pre-Marital Counseling For?
Pre-marital counseling is for everyone!
Early in our relationships, we revel in learning all about each other, we tend to see our differences as fascinating or as strengths (or we minimize them), and we often can’t believe that we’ve found someone so perfect. These positive illusions are normal in our relationships, and they are especially strong in the beginning!1 We all have them, and they are, in part, what brings us together and connects us so deeply. But they can also blind us to the inevitable challenges down the road, challenges that ALL couples go through in managing differences, stressors, and handling conflict well.
Pre-marital counseling can provide you and your partner with increased confidence that you are well-equipped for tough times that may lie ahead. Too many couples wait until conflict or misunderstandings become overwhelming before they seek help—pre-marital counseling is a preventative approach that enables you to be proactive in preparing for tough times rather than reacting to relationship stress. Pre-marital counseling sessions can help you explore strength and growth areas as a couple and as individuals, which can kickstart the continued growth you will experience. Awareness of your growth areas and goals for improvement can set you up for success to deepen your love, passion, and friendship.
So, whether you have “talked about everything” or are just getting to know each other, pre-marital counseling or couples therapy can help you accentuate your strengths and further develop your areas of growth so that you can continue to build a relationship that not only lasts a lifetime, but also that continues to be fun, intimate, and supportive.
What Can We Expect from Pre-Marital Counseling?
During this exciting time in your life, it is important to build up time to continue investing in developing a healthy relationship. Pre-marital counseling is a great way to intentionally invest in becoming a better version of yourself as a partner and to work on your relationship together as you get ready to take this next step.
Your premarital counselor will help you and your partner delve into sensitive topics that will help you understand yourself and your partner on a more intimate level. The healthiest, happiest marriages are those where each partner feels confident approaching difficult topics calmly, curiously, and respectfully. Discussing some of the following questions in pre-marital counseling can lead to increased understanding and intimacy, as well as a higher capacity to cope with relationship stressors in ways that bring you closer rather than drive you further apart:
· What kind of foundation is our relationship built on?
· How will our relationship change over the years?
· Am I bringing the best version of myself to this marriage?
· How do I make sure I keep growing as an individual once I join my life with a partner?
· How do we ensure we have the skills necessary to make it through tough times?
· Does my partner make me want to grow as a person? As a couple?
· Does my partner want to grow as a person? As a couple?
Your couples counselor also will guide and coach you as you and your partner discuss important topics such as:
· Sex (or diving into sex therapy or finding a sex therapist)
· Political leanings
· Religious beliefs
· Family of origin
· Past trauma
· Personal insecurities and fears
· Boundaries with in-laws and friends
· Whether to have children or how to co-parent if you already have kids
Your premarital counselor will also provide you with information about how long-term relationships tend to change over time – for better or for worse – and where you have the power to advocate for the type of marriage that gets better with time. There are likely several ways that you and your partner are similar and different from each other – and this combination of your two unique personalities is why you fell in love. Your premarital counselor will work with you to understand how similarities or differences can become potential points of contention, and help you establish a dynamic that allows you to foster a relationship where you continually feel compatible not just despite your differences, but because of them.
How is Pre-Marital Counseling different from Marriage Counseling
In many ways they are similar. Pre-marital counseling and marriage counseling are both tools to help individuals become clearer about their values and personal areas of growth and to gain the insights and tools to effectively manage differences and inevitable conflict to build a connected, flourishing relationship. Couples coming to marriage counseling are more often focused on repairing or reinvigorating their relationship, while couples coming for pre-marital counseling are more often looking for insights and tools to equip them for the road ahead. Either way, pre-marital counseling, marriage counseling, and couples counseling can be valuable tools to help couples build lasting, connected relationships.
1. Fowers, B. J., Veingrad, M. R., & Dominicis, C. (2004). The unbearable lightness of positive illusions: Engaged individuals’ explanations of unrealistically positive relationship perceptions. Journal of Marriage and Family, 64, 450-460.