Your big day is approaching — you’ve got your flower arrangements picked out, sent the invitations, and the dinner menu is ready to go. But while you’ve been planning for your wedding, have you dedicated time to also prepare for your marriage?
Premarital counseling is rarely on an engaged couple’s wedding planning to-do list. Sure, talking about weighty topics such as money, sex, and children — the three most common challenges facing couples — may not be as easy or fun as selecting your first dance song. However, it’s worth the time, energy, and though it might pose a temporary discomfort to get these topics out in the air and lay a strong foundation for your marriage.
What Is Premarital Counseling?
Premarital counseling is a type of therapy —often provided by licensed marriage and family therapists or religious leaders who act as counselors — that helps couples who are taking the next step in their relationship or want to resolve issues in their relationship before they commit to marriage. Many couples seek premarital counseling as a preventative measure, almost like going to see your primary care physician for an annual checkup. Instead of waiting until there is a problem, couples engage in premarital counseling to get ahead of any issues brewing below the surface.
Who Should Seek Premarital Counseling?
There are myriad reasons why a couple might want to seek premarital counseling. It’s a way to address a specific problem, for example if you and your partner keep getting into the same fight about each other’s spending patterns. But it is also a time to talk about sensitive topics with a neutral third party, to carve out dedicated time to discuss any fears and uncertainties about your future together, and improve the communication between you and your partner.
Premarital counseling is also a great way for couples to familiarize themselves with the therapeutic process, making them more likely to seek out support in the future should issues arise down the road. Also, you don’t have to be engaged to opt for premarital counseling. Some couples can leverage this counseling to explore and talk openly about the idea of marriage. Premarital counseling helps couples understand their hopes, fears, and expectations around marriage, allowing them to make an informed decision about the future of their relationship and whether marriage is the right step.
What Topics Are Covered in Premarital Counseling?
No topics are off-limits when it comes to premarital counseling, that’s kind of the beauty of it. With that in mind, these are some of the most commonly discussed topics and reasons why couples seek premarital counseling:
- Beliefs and values
- Family relationships
- Dealing with anger
- Time spent together
- Creating positive marriage resolutions
- Matching expectations about big life decisions such as buying a house and starting a family
- Avoiding toxic resentments
- Dismantling fears about marriage or addressing marriage anxiety
- Addressing any concerns you might have about the relationship or future together
Also, there are plenty of issues surrounding money, children, and sex that it’s important for couples to be on the same page about. We’ll dive into some questions on these topics below.
- Do you have student loan debt to pay off? How much do you have in savings?
- What is your monthly budget?
- Do you have an emergency fund?
- Do you want to keep your finances separate, joint, or some combination of both?
- Do you want children?
- How many children do you want?
- When would you like to start trying to conceive?
- What happens if you have trouble conceiving — are you open to considering adoption?
- Are you happy with your sex life?
- What if one partner would like to have sex more often than the other?
- How will you bring up the topic of sex and desire with each other?
What Happens During Premarital Counseling?
The primary focus of premarital counseling is to help couples get on the same page about certain topics and to better understand themselves, each other, and their partnership. Therefore, one of the first exercises of premarital counseling is usually for each partner to answer a written questionnaire, or series of questions, about how they feel about each other and their relationship. Your answers can help pinpoint strengths, uncover potential problems, and identify personality traits that will be useful for your counselor to facilitate a productive conversation. Then, you will interpret your answers together with your counselor and discuss any commonalities or differences in your responses. This exercise will serve to set appropriate goals based on what challenges you wish to overcome.
Premarital counseling can stir up a lot of intense, uncomfortable emotions — there may even be some crying. It is completely normal and okay to express your emotions freely in premarital counseling. There’s a lot of value to having a safe space to share some of the feelings that aren’t out in the open and be vulnerable with your partner, so utilize the space to show emotions that are difficult for you and your partner to otherwise express.
Where to Look for Premarital Counseling
Many licensed marriage and family therapists provide premarital counseling as a part of their practice. There are also couples workshops, group therapy sessions, and community programs available to couples who prefer to learn in a group setting. Premarital counseling services can vary greatly in price, depending on how intimate the support is, where you live, how long you work with your counselor, as well as the counselor’s education, credentials, and experience. If price is a barrier, you may be able to find free or low-cost premarital counseling services through community service organizations, hospitals, or religious organizations like churches.
If you plan on getting married in a house of worship, check to see what requirements they have. Many religious institutions require couples to attend some sort of counseling before performing the marriage ceremony. This type of premarital counseling is generally faith-based and can come in the form of group courses, one-on-one meetings with a religious leader, or in the form of personality or compatibility tests.
Online couples therapy is a wonderful option for couples who don’t have the time or resources to attend in-person therapy. Especially since wedding planning adds another layer of stress and time commitment to a couple’s already full life, online therapy may be a great solution to squeeze premarital counseling into a busy schedule. Online therapy is also a great way to ease into the idea of therapy, if one or both partners is new to therapy or feels uncomfortable seeing a therapist in person. Online therapy is conducted via live video, text messaging, audio and video messaging, and many people find it easier and more convenient to communicate from the comfort of their own home.
No matter what type of therapy you choose, find someone who you and your partner bothtrust. Trust is key to any successful premarital counseling experience.
While premarital counseling may be a less glamorous component of wedding planning, it is arguably the most important part of the process. After all, the wedding day will come and go, but the hope is that your marriage lasts forever. With the right support, premarital counseling can help you be more intentional about your journey to marriage and get excited about you and your partner’s next chapter together. Plus, you might even have some fun and learn something new about your partner!