With such a large amount of people getting married and a 50% divorce rate in the U.S., it’s important to work through as many problems with your partner as possible before getting married. Often, people use premarital counseling. What is premarital counseling? Why is it important and what are its religious traditions? What are its benefits and challenges? When should you start it and what are some tips to help make it easier?
What is premarital counseling?
Premarital counseling, also known as pre-marriage counseling, is a type of couples therapy and counseling designed to benefit a couple who is considering long-term commitment, such as marriage. The goal of the therapy is to be able to identify, pinpoint, and address any (potential) areas of conflict within the relationship early on. The therapy also teaches each partner strategies to help effectively discuss and resolve conflicts within the relationship. This avoids further issues within the couple like depression, infidelity, etc.
It’s such an important step in one’s life to get married. It’s also astounding the amount of divorce that couples go through not only in the U.S. but also around the world. Getting counseling beforehand has been proven to help the marriage have a lower probability of divorce. The U.S. state of Colorado considers it so important that they considered requiring premarital counseling for every couple who is engaged before they marry. According to healthresearchfunding.org, 44% of couples today go through premarital counseling.
Why is premarital counseling important?
It’s important to have premarital counseling to help a couple be able to set off their marriage on the best food possible with the best coping methods and most knowledge about their relationship as possible. The counselor responsible and licensed to perform premarital counseling is a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT). However, people getting married in a religious setting might also have their officiant, the person performing the wedding, be their counselor, as well.
Research has shown that prevention is 3 times more effective than intervention in relationships and on average, couples wait six years before seeking help when they have trouble. In premarital counseling, couples are able to discuss several different aspects of the relationship. With the goal of identifying problematic areas and giving coping mechanisms to help the couple through these issues, the counselor discusses, among other things, career goals, finances, child-rearing methods, intimacy, and family dynamics. Sometimes the “in case of divorce” is talked about (it’s not bad luck, but it is important to talk about). Couples can also talk about having an open marriage or how infidelity stands in the relationship during their counseling sessions.
Within the counseling, couples will address as many issues as possible, but also learn how to work through the issues in the years to come. For example, the couple will figure out their finances as best as possible and then learn ways to help talk about finances in the future. In general, premarital counseling is recommended for every couple, problematic or not, because it helps couples get off on the right foot in their financial and child-rearing life.
It depends on each therapist- some choose to see each partner one of one for a couple of sessions while other counselors whose to work with both partners at the same time during the entirety of therapy. Individual sessions are good because each partner can state any issues, concerns, weaknesses, and strengths in the relationship. Each partner can speak more openly and talk about the reality a little bit easier. Joint sessions are good because the couple talks about any issues together while the other partner is present.
Each partner has the opportunity to describe their perfect marriage and what steps they took to get towards that goal for the perfect partner. They may also talk about any challenges they feel are impeding them from getting their perfect partner.
Some therapists use a Couples Resource Map which is a “map” that helps each partner be able to find resources to use when faced with challenges- individually and as a couple. This map also works as a plan of action to use if concerns and issues arise. These additional resources to turn to when faced with challenges can include seeking spiritual guidance or going to counseling.
Other therapists and some religious institutions like to use compatibility questionnaires in order to see where the couple stands. While sounding intimidating, a compatibility questionnaire is simply a quick assessment to see where the couples’ strong suit is. That is to say, where the couple has a solid foundation and where they need to put in some work. Rather than thinking of it as a test, because it’s not, it’s a resource used to help the counselor help the couple identify the issues they need to work on. While there are lots of questionnaires out there, here is a good example of one that covers lots of bases.
Religious traditions in premarital counseling
These days, about 75% of weddings occur in churches and religious settings. Although, that number is declining. However, many churches do not require premarital counseling in order for a wedding to happen. That said, many churches and people encourage premarital counseling. Others require that a couple goes through counseling before agreeing to perform the ceremony.
Within the Catholic Church, the Pre-Cana tradition was made to provide some form of education to premarital couples about issues such as sex, parenting as Catholics, and finances. The counseling styles range from sessions with the priest, an engaged couples’ retreat, marriage preparation classes (performed in small group settings), and even online counseling/preparation.
Within liberal Jewish traditions, it’s important to cocreate wedding traditions and rituals that work for the couples and are meaningful to them. The couple also speaks with a clergy to help answer questions such as “How can Judaism serve as a framework and basis to strengthen our relationship?”, “Do we stay kosher or give to charity (tzedakah)”, or “what do we want our home to look like spiritually?” The goal here is to help the couple get a good basis within their relationship while maintaining their religion.
Researchers from one study realized that counseling before marriage looks different within religions, between therapists, and different couples. They decided to investigate and looked at the Latino populations’ premarital counseling and found that there were common themes within their counseling. These include religion, tradition, extended family, language, sex, immigration, respect, communication, parenting roles/skills, and how to dress- with a big focus on (Catholic) religion.
Benefits of premarital counseling
Premarital counseling has been proven to lower divorce rates by 31% and has many benefits including:
- Intimate partners by addressing concerns in the relationship
- Better ability to manage conflict (together) now and later on in the relationship
- Mutual goals are created so the couple and move forward together. Finding common goals within the relationship and within life can help a healthy marriage work.
- Develop a healthy relationship in the present and in the future.
- Avoids toxic resentments because the couple puts everything on the table sooner rather than later.
- Helps couples feel more comfortable if they feel the need to go through counseling later.
- Communication skills are increased. The counselor teaches the couple how to listen and communicate effectively.
- Conflict resolution skills are increased. This includes learning how not to blow up at your partner and giving the silent treatment.
- Addresses fears that someone might have in the relationship due to any reason. It teaches the partners how to break away from their past and make peace with it.
Challenges to premarital counseling
Some people avoid premarital counseling because they feel fear or anxiety about it. It can be challenging because:
- Difficult issues, serious concerns are raised
- The choice not to marry. Some people choose that certain issues and beliefs are incompatible with the other partner’s beliefs and they choose not to get married.
- Hearing your partner express concerns about the relationship is no easy thing.
- Not everything has access to premarital counseling due to issues with payment, such as not having insurance. However, there are some low-cost counselors and many self-help books available for those unable to attend counseling. Furthermore, there are online therapists, too, if there isn’t a licensed one near you.
- Time. Some people simply don’t have the time to go to counseling.
When to start premarital counseling
There are some couples who believe that they should start premarital counseling a few weeks before their marriage. While that might work for a couple who already has a lot figured out, most often it’s best to start premarital counseling as soon as the couple is sure about where they stand. For example, when a couple first gets engaged is a good time to start going. For couples who know they are “in it for the long haul”, even if they aren’t yet engaged, it’s recommended that they go through a type of premarital counseling, too, to help them figure out finances and coping mechanisms throughout the relationship. It’s beneficial to start premarital counseling early because it enhances the communication between partners before the communication becomes too bad for the partners to stand the relationship anymore. It also helps to start early because it helps the couple plan for the future and learns how to deal with each other’s personality better. End of story: don’t put it off and start premarital counseling as soon as you’re sure about your relationship.
How to make the most out of premarital counseling
- Accept that it’s challenging. However, it’s worth it now because marriage counseling later is harder when you already have kids to take care of.
- Keep the sessions private. There’s no need to tell everyone about what goes on in the sessions because they are between you and your partner.
- There is no “winning” in counseling. Everyone needs to understand that being willing and keeping an open mind is essential. Cooperation is key.
- Show your partner gratitude. Make sure they know you appreciate that they are going through premarital counseling with you and you’re thankful for the work you two are doing together.
- Your counselor is a “safe zone” and what you discuss with them can’t be used for future arguments or any moments like “I told you so”.
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