Premarital counseling, a specialized type of therapy usually provided by marriage and family therapists, is believed to offer benefit to all couples who are considering a long-term commitment such as marriage. Typically, the goal of premarital counseling is to identify and address any potential areas of conflict in a relationship early on, before those issues become serious concerns, and teach partners effective strategies for discussing and resolving conflict.
Why it's done
Premarital counseling can help couples improve their relationships before marriage. Through premarital counseling, couples are encouraged to discuss topics related to marriage, such as:
Beliefs and values
Roles in marriage
Affection and sex
Children and parenting
Dealing with anger
Time spent together
Premarital counseling helps partners improve their ability to communicate, set realistic expectations for marriage and develop conflict-resolution skills. In addition, premarital counseling can help couples establish a positive attitude about seeking help down the road.
Keep in mind that you bring your own values, opinions and history into a relationship, and they might not always match your partner's. In addition, many people go into marriage believing it will fulfill their social, financial, sexual and emotional needs — and that's not always the case. By discussing differences and expectations before marriage, you and your partner can better understand and support each other during marriage.
Early intervention is important because the risk of divorce is highest early in marriage.
Couples counseling can help intimate partners address concerns that arise in the course of their relationship, but premarital counseling can help partners identify areas likely to cause conflict later on—finances, child-rearing methods, career goals, and family dynamics, among others—and either work through these issues in the early stages of the relationship, if possible, or develop a plan to address them in the years to come.
Premarital counseling is generally recommended for all couples, even those with a relationship untroubled by significant issues. Beginning a commitment such as marriage with couples counseling is not only helpful because it can help each partner address their thoughts, concerns, and expectations for the partnership, but also because it can help couples feel more at ease with therapy if they experience difficulty later on.
In premarital counseling sessions, couples have the chance to explore topics like finances, children, and intimacy—three areas where many couples experience challenges. Partners can also develop communication and conflict resolution skills and address any fears they might have about marriage, whether these concerns result from one's personal relationship history, family background, or otherwise.
Seeing a couples counselor can help partners prepare for marriage or other long-term commitment, and many licensed marriage and family therapists provide premarital counseling as a part of their practice. Intimate partners seeking premarital counseling may choose to seek counseling with a therapist, attend a workshop or group therapy session, or participate in a community program.
Challenges of Premarital Counseling
Premarital counseling may pose challenges for some individuals, and couples may initially avoid or dread counseling out of fear or anxiety over what issues may be revealed. Difficult topics or areas of significant concern may be raised in counseling sessions. Some couples may be discussing their individual values and beliefs or ideal partnership roles for the first time. While bringing differences of opinion up for discussion may help some address and successfully resolve them in therapy, others may decide certain issues are irreconcilable and choose not to marry.
Therapy offers participants a safe space to discuss concerns, but hearing a partner raise issues or express thoughts about the relationship and the role of both partners in that relationship may lead to hurt feelings or generate conflict. Being truthful about relationship doubts, expectations, or goals for the future may lead to short-term conflict between partners, but many partners are able to work through this, with the help of a therapist, and begin their partnership with a strong foundation.
How you prepare
The only preparation needed for premarital counseling is to find a therapist. Loved ones and friends might have recommendations. Your health insurer, employee assistance program, clergy, or state or local mental health agencies also might offer recommendations.
Before scheduling sessions with a specific therapist, consider whether the therapist would be a good fit for you and your partner. You might ask questions like these:
Education and experience. What is your educational and training background? Are you licensed by the state? Are you credentialed by the AAMFT? What is your experience with premarital counseling?
Treatment plan. How long is each session? How many sessions should I expect to have?
Fees and insurance. How much do you charge for each session? Do you accept my insurance?
What you can expect
Often in premarital counseling, each partner is asked to separately answer a written questionnaire to assess their perspectives of one another and their relationship. These questionnaires can also help identify a couple's strengths, weaknesses and potential problem areas. The aim is to foster awareness and encourage couples to address concerns proactively. Your counselor can help you interpret your results together, encourage you to discuss areas of common unhappiness or disagreement, and set goals to help you overcome challenges.
Your counselor might also have you and your partner use a tool called a Couples Resource Map — a picture and scale of your perceived support from individual resources, relationship resources, and cultural and community resources. You and your partner will create separate maps at first. Following a discussion with your counselor about differences between the two maps, you'll create one map as a couple. The purpose is to help you and your partner remember to use these resources to help manage your problems.
In addition, your counselor might ask you and your partner questions to find out your unique visions for your marriage and clarify what you can do to make positive changes in your relationship.
Remember, preparing for marriage involves more than throwing a party. Take the time to build a solid foundation for your relationship.