How important is premarital counselling?

Premarital Counselling

You’ve set the date. You’ve bought the rings. You’ve rented the tuxedos. You’ve booked the venue (and maybe even squabbled over where to put Aunt Gertrude on the seating chart). The two of you have spent so much time, money, and effort planning your ideal wedding—but how much energy are you putting into planning your ideal marriage?

For many, the seemingly never-ending list of tasks to accomplish before you get married can distract you from what’s most important: building a secure foundation for the journey you are about to embark on with the one you love most. Your wedding day will come and go. But, if done well, your marriage will last a lifetime. Premarital counselling can be a powerful way for you and your partner to prepare for the life and family you are creating together.

Studies reveal that premarital counselling is an effective tool to use as you begin your married life. Researchers have discovered that it is a helpful way to improve your communication and conflict management skills while increasing your overall relationship quality and satisfaction. Couples who engage in premarital counselling have a more realistic view of marriage and a deeper level of commitment to each other. These couples reported having an easier adjustment to married life than those who didn’t participate in premarital counselling.

Although counsellors, marriage and family therapists, educators, and some clergy members may have different approaches to preparing the couples they work with for marriage, the goal of premarital counselling remains the same: to help you and your partner have the conversations and build the skills you need before entering into a lifelong marriage commitment. Here are several of the many ways premarital counselling can help your relationship thrive:

Premarital counselling is a form of therapy that is provided to couples to prepare them for marriage. This counselling plays a vital role in this preparation. It is provided with the aim of helping couples have strong and healthy relationships, thereby giving them a greater chance of enjoying a stable as well as satisfying marriage.

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Why Marital Counseling is Provided

Premarital counselling is provided in order to help couples enhance their relationships prior to marriage. Through this counselling, couples are advised to discuss numerous topics, including the following:

  • Intimacy, affection and sex
  • Communication skills
  • Finances and money management
  • Expectations, beliefs and values
  • Children and parenting
  • Decision making and conflict resolution
  • Dealing with anger and emotions
  • Roles in marriage

Getting premarital counselling is a great way for partners to enhance their ability to communicate and establish realistic expectations from one another. It’s also an excellent way to develop conflict-resolution skills.

It is important not to forget the fact that when each individual brings his/her opinions, values or history into a particular relationship, they do not always match with their partner’s. Oftentimes, people get married believing that it will fulfil their emotional, financial, social, and sexual needs – and it does not turn out as they had expected.

When differences and expectations are discussed before marriage, the couple can develop ways to understand as well as support each other after they are married. Early intervention is crucial because the risk of divorce is normally at greatest early in marriage.

Premarital Counselling

Improved communication and conflict management skills

Difficulties in communication may be the number one reason couples seek out marriage counselling. Often, the strategies we naturally utilize to make our voices heard during conflict or manage the emotional intensity of our conversations can be counterproductive and even damaging. Premarital counselling can provide you with the specific skills you need to have more productive conversations and better deal with conflict in your marriage, potentially preventing some of the challenges you may face down the road.

When couples go to counselling, they talk together with a counsellor or religious leader who has the training needed to help them better understand one another. Couples who go through this type of counselling inevitably build better communication skills because they have a neutral party there to help them understand one another. No doubt this is one of the biggest benefits of premarital counselling. In addition to learning how to communicate individual needs and desires better, couples also learn how to understand each other better. They gain compassion and communication skills that will get them through the tough times.

A better understanding of core values and differences

How do you move forward when you discover your dream of quiet country life is at odds with your partner’s desire for the hustle and bustle of a big city? If you allow them to sneak up on you, your differences can feel threatening or impossible to reconcile. They don’t have to be, though: Our differences can enrich and enliven our relationships if we know how to approach them with openness and honesty. Premarital counselling can help you and your partner develop the skills you need to compromise and cooperate as you build your life together effectively.

A better understanding of communication styles and needs

When she’s stressed, she needs space. When he’s stressed, he needs to talk it out. If she gives him space when he’s stressed because that’s what she would need, he may end up feeling resentful and alone. Sometimes, marriage can feel like two people who speak completely different languages living under the same roof. Premarital counselling is a perfect opportunity to deepen your understanding of your partner’s communication style and needs, including how you give and receive love, approach managing stress, and what you need from each other during conflict.

Experience working together as a team

In order to be successful, marriage requires the ability to work together as a team throughout your lives. Seeking out help as you begin your life together sets a strong precedent for how difficult times will be handled in the future. Premarital counselling is a shared goal and commitment the two of you are fulfilling together—and can help you develop the skills and have the conversations you need to build a strong foundation for the team you are creating.

Creating a deeper sense of shared meaning

Marriage is more than owning a home, saving for retirement, having 2.5 children, and marking things off of your to-do list until you die. Marriage is about being better together than you would be alone. Marriage is about creating a brand new family all your own. Marriage is about having someone by your side who loves you deeply even though they’ve seen you at your worst. As you begin your life together, premarital counselling can help you create a deeper sense of what you want the purpose of your marriage to be.

It Provides an Opportunity to Address Issues

Premarital counselling also provides a great opportunity for couples to confront issues that could lead to divorce before they become serious. By talking with a counsellor, couples may be able to settle money disagreements or talk about their plans to have children. Addressing issues before marriage is the best way to ensure a solid foundation for the future and to avoid serious conflicts after the big day. Of course, it’s important for couples to be candid when they attend premarital counselling. That’s the only way to realize the benefits of this time-honoured tradition.

It Helps Couples Plan the Future

Many premarital counsellors do more than just help couples talk through their current issues. They also help them plan activities for the future. A counsellor can help couples set financial or family planning goals, and can help them find ways to accomplish those goals. Premarital counselling is the perfect place for couples to talk about the expectations that they have for married life and what they want personally in the future too. Premarital counsellors help their clients focus on healthy goals and relationship changes.

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It Lets Couples Absorb Wisdom

Talking with someone who has been married for a long time is another big benefit of seeking premarital counselling. When you talk to a counsellor, you benefit from a voice of wisdom on the subject of marriage. It’s more than just someone sharing what they’ve learned from a book. It’s someone sharing what they’ve learned from real life. Many premarital counsellors have struggled with the trust, intimacy and financial issues that tend to plague young couples. They can provide tested advice and essential encouragement.

It Allows Couples to Discover New Things About Themselves

Counsellors ask a lot of questions when they’re working with engaged couples. Listening carefully to your partner’s answers is a great way to learn more about that individual. Yes, many couples perceive that no one knows their partners better than they do. However, counsellors can help bring out important information that a partner might have been reluctant to share. This offers great growth opportunities while helping couples learn more about each other. It’s also a safe space for individuals to share things that they are nervous or upset about with their partners. It can be particularly helpful if one individual in the couple has been in failed relationships before.

You will be better equipped for developing a healthy, happy relationship

First, as noted above, you need to receive adequate preparation and training in order to receive your driver’s license. It is required. Getting married is a much bigger, more important life decision than getting a driver’s license. It has far more implications and impacts on your life! Receiving premarital counselling will help you be better prepared to do marriage well, to have a happier, healthier relationship. 

And premarital counselling is not just for “problem” relationships. We all can use some guidance and training when embarking on an unknown adventure! Whenever I offer pre-engagement or premarital counselling, whether with a couple or in a group setting, I make sure to cover topics such as communication, conflict resolution, finances, spirituality, family history, and leisure activities/shared interests. It is important to be aware of how you and your partner think about these topics. It is also crucial to learn important skills, such as the Speaker/Listener Technique, in order to do them well. Usually, we haven’t even really thought about these topics, or with marriage in mind. Or, maybe we have not had them healthily modelled for us. There are great benefits to having a trained therapist provide some focused attention on how to do these things well. It will help to make our “adventure” go much more smoothly!

You will get an objective evaluation of your preconceived ideas and expectations

Second, the saying “you don’t know what you don’t know” really is true. There are many things that you don’t know that you can’t know about marriage until you get there. Just being in love and knowing each other well does not magically prepare you for marriage. We all go into marriage with expectations that we are not even aware of. We think our way of doing those things is the right way because that is how we did it in our family growing up and it is the normal way. The problem is, this way of thinking leads to conflicts with our spouse because they have the same idea about their way of doing things! For example, maybe we expect to spend holidays with our extended family because that’s what we did growing up – it just wouldn’t be Christmas if we didn’t! Yet what we don’t realize is that maybe our spouse is expecting to celebrate with just immediate family, because that’s the “right” way to celebrate Christmas; that’s what they did growing up.

There will be expectations about all sorts of things within marriage, but we usually don’t know we have these expectations until they are not met! Receiving training from people who can give you knowledge and skills to do marriage well will help you identify the expectations that you have and the areas that may be the ones that will most likely cause trouble. Premarital counselling is a great way to explore these preconceived ideas and expectations with an objective third party who can help you figure out how to collaborate and come up with your new family’s way of doing things. They will help you begin to talk and work through those areas so that they will become opportunities to draw closer together rather than cause problems and push you apart. You can’t be completely prepared for marriage, but you can be better prepared! 

You will receive reliable counsel based on research

That leads to a third reason why you should participate in premarital counselling. The preparation that you can receive is not just a collection of nice-sounding ideas that someone thinks might be helpful. We have actual scientific research that informs us of what does work in marriage relationships and what doesn’t, what we should do and what we shouldn’t do. We can trust the reliability and validity of the information because it is research-based.

For example, John Gottman, a leading couples researcher, states in his bestseller Seven Principles for Doing Marriage Work that he has found from his research that there are specific ways of responding to our partner that predict disaster for our relationship. Responding with criticism, contempt, defensiveness, or stonewalling (emotionally shutting down and being completely unavailable) in increasing measure is a robust predictor for divorce. Gottman also found that the negative effect of such responses is so influential that it requires five positive interactions to offset the effects of one such negative interaction. We all know that it is important to be kind in relationships, but research helps us know specifically in what ways it is important to be kind!

You will enter into marriage with a framework for building a healthy relationship

A fourth reason to get premarital counselling is so that you will not be flying blind in your marriage. Getting premarital counselling will give you a sense of stability, safety, direction, and an idea of where you are going and what you are doing. It will take some of the potential fear out of the decision, and give you more hope, purpose, and guidance. It will provide a framework for building a healthy relationship, and equip you with the tools and skills necessary to navigate conflicts successfully and to have meaningful conversations.

For example, Gottman provides antidotes to criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling to be used in their place. Rather than being critical, we should have a softened, gentle approach to bringing up complaints. Instead of being disrespectful about an offence, and how our partner failed us, it is much more productive to be descriptive about how we are feeling and thinking about the offence, how we are experiencing it. So, rather than only knowing what we shouldn’t do, and then being unsure of how to respond, we now can have a clear roadmap of what we should do without all the guesswork. We will have a plan.   

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You will be equipped to change your unhealthy tendencies

Many people fear to have a marriage as their parents did. Perhaps their parents got divorced, or their parents just live together as roommates, barely tolerating each other. Many people fear to have that kind of marriage, and so they are afraid to get engaged or to get married. Or they grit their teeth and decide to work hard and make sure that that does not happen, just by sheer will power. The problem is, just saying “I’m not going to have a marriage like that,” or “I’m not ever going to do it that way,” is not enough. Sheer will power is not sufficient. We need to develop an awareness of what might have gone wrong in those types of marriages, and how we may have some of those same tendencies ourselves. We need external help to change patterns and to model that we have witnessed. A trained premarital counsellor can provide that external assistance and perspective.

The benefits of premarital counselling were probably one of the farthest things from your mind when you decided to get married. As the date draws nearer, you may begin to wonder how preemptive counselling can strengthen your relationship with your soon to be husband or wife. Imagine having the benefits of having a third-party weigh in on common marriage concerns like raising children, religious beliefs, how to deal with extended family, coping strategies for secular couples, and more.

When it comes to marriage, set yourself up to succeed! Be proactive in seeking out good marital preparation. It is helpful to look for someone trained in marital counselling such as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. Recognize that just like getting your driver’s license, getting your marriage license requires adequate training and preparation. It will be worth it – you will reap the benefits for the rest of your life!

Remember that premarital counselling is for all couples. If you’re a marriage and family therapist, offering premarital counselling is a great way to help others and build your client base. Of course, it’s also a great way to share the wisdom that you’ve gained in your marriage.

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