Marriage is an exciting and — let’s admit it — challenging phase of our lives.
Building a future intertwined with someone else’s is intimidating. But spending your life with a partner, someone who helps you feel safe and loved, makes all the ups and downs worth it.
Not every engagement has a happy ending — in fact, the divorce rate for American marriages sits at 44%. But the divorce rate is continuing to decrease as couples find ways to make healthy marriages last.
Sometimes, it takes a helping hand to get you to a place where you and your partner can approach an upcoming union with confidence. Professional advice in the form of premarital counseling can help you and your partner set realistic expectations to keep your relationship strong before — and after — the altar.
Engaged couples need as much support to prepare for marriage as anyone else undergoing a significant life change. The pre-wedding period comes with romantic expectations of marriage that can cloud a couple’s vision of the future. These are normal facets of any relationship, but navigating these instances with compassion and grace requires understanding and practice.
The purpose of premarital counseling is to facilitate conversations about issues you may encounter in married life — on the topics like finances, careers, and children — to ensure you’re on the same page from day one. These discussions will help you identify potential conflicts and equip you with the skills to address them before they take a toll on your soon-to-be marriage.
Benefits of premarital counseling
A lot of hard work goes into a successful marriage and seeking counseling before you tie the knot can set you and your partner up for long-term success and a healthy relationship.
Premarital counseling is when a counselor helps an engaged couple develop a realistic perspective of their future together. These counselors often empower couples with the necessary skills to adapt and improve their relationship as it progresses.
Outcomes of premarital counseling vary from couple to couple, depending on the challenges they’re working to address. But the benefits of premarital counseling may include the following:
- Finding a healthy perspective on marriage. It’s easy to become wrapped up in a romanticized image of what you think married life may look like. Premarital counseling can help you develop firmer expectations of your life together and ground those expectations in reality.
You’ll examine your relationship with a realistic and compassionate lens rather than feeling disappointed your spouse-to-be doesn’t conform to unfair and uncommunicated ideas of a long-term partnership.
- Identifying potential challenges in your relationship. Sometimes challenges arise in a marriage that can derail the relationship, such as financial stress or poor work-life balance. A counselor can help you recognize potential landmines and support you in getting the help you need to resolve the issues.
- Recognizing how family can impact your partnership. The homes you and your partner grew up in shape what you expect from a marriage. Even if you and your intended grew up with similar values, differences in your families will impact how you view finances, domestic responsibilities, children, and more.
A counselor can help you identify potential conflict points and teach you the art of compromise to build a healthy, happy home that suits both of your needs.
- Helping you share your feelings. No matter how close you are to your future spouse, sharing your emotions, especially the negative ones, can feel challenging. Counselors can teach you to feel comfortable being vulnerable and exchanging all different kinds of emotions.
- Discovering priorities for yourself and your married life. Counseling involves a lot of introspection and analysis. You’ll learn new things about your partner while discovering things about yourself, like what’s important to you in a relationship.
This knowledge will help you set healthy boundaries, identify potential areas of conflict, and express your expectations and desires for your married life.
The benefits of premarital counseling can deepen your relationship and give your marriage the solid foundation of trust and understanding to make it through tough times. With the help of a professional, you’ll be equipped to confront challenges in a way that reinforces your connection. From financial objectives to physical intimacy, they’ll guide you and your partner to boundaries that align with both of your needs.
Types of premarital counseling
There are three different schools of couples counseling. Some counselors will stick to one type of therapy, while others will integrate various therapeutic styles into a customized program for each couple based on their needs.
Your premarital counselor may draw on:
- Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT). Drs Sue Johnson and Les Greenberg developed this short-term form of counseling to strengthen the attachment between partners. It focuses on communication skills and creating a secure emotional bond so spouses can overcome challenges rooted in emotion-related issues.
- Psychodynamic Couples Therapy. This form of counseling helps couples identify and address factors like the desire for affection, fear of abandonment, or distress stemming from disapproval. Partners will learn to understand and accept each other while building conflict-resolution skills that spring from a position of love and appreciation.
- Gottman Method. Created by Drs. John and Julie Gottman, the Gottman Method uses in-depth analysis to assess and address potential conflict areas. The purpose is to help strengthen the bonds of friendship, increase intimacy, and build problem-solving skills to create a stronger relationship.
Regardless of which school of therapy you and your future spouse choose, the effectiveness of premarital counseling depends on your relationship with a counselor. Take the time to interview candidates and ask questions to ensure they’re the right fit for you.
Be certain they respect your individual values and will focus on the areas of your relationship that require work. If either of you feels uncomfortable with this person, listen to each other’s instincts and find another therapist.
Remember, you have options when it comes to couples counseling. If one-on-one therapy with a licensed premarital counselor isn’t available, you may be able to access workshops and seminars that meet your needs.
What to expect from premarital counseling
Premarital counseling programs vary from professional to professional. Regardless of the individual processes, therapy sessions should be a safe space for you and your future spouse to openly express concerns about life beyond your wedding day.
You and your partner may begin with individual premarital counseling sessions so your therapist can get to know you before interacting with you as a couple. You may even have to complete a questionnaire to assess your compatibility with your partner on various subjects, including money, parenting, spirituality, careers, and family issues.
Once they bring you together for joint counseling, your counselor will help unearth you and your spouse-to-be’s strengths and weaknesses as partners. You’ll explore the assumptions you both have for your life as a married couple and assess the broader issues affecting your relationship.
Your counselor will also work with you to develop a tool kit to help you cope with the inevitable conflicts of life together. This will likely include effective communication and problem-solving skills, the ability to set boundaries, compromise, and more. At the end of your sessions, you’ll walk out of your program more prepared to navigate the world as a united front.
Start married life on the right foot
Marriage is a life-long commitment that deserves the same care and preparation as any other serious change. We don’t need to wait until problems arise before seeking help with our relationships. That’s the purpose of premarital counseling: confronting potential issues before they spiral out of control can set committed partnerships on the path to success.
With the help of a trusted premarital counselor, you can become secure in the knowledge that you’re marrying someone invested in staying by your side — no matter what challenges you both face.