Premarital or (pre-marriage) counseling is a short-term form of counseling for couples that plan to get married. Often required by pastors or priests, premarital counseling is typically done by clergy.
However, it is also done by Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFTs), Licensed Professional Counselors (LPCs), and Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSWs) who have been trained in the work. Christian premarital or couples counseling (whether done by clergy or not) is something that could benefit all Christian couples pre-marriage.
It is a focused, topic-based form of therapy used to help couples learn effective communication strategies, conflict management skills, and problem-solving skills so that they are ready for the commitment and work of marriage. Marriage is not something that should be entered into lightly, so premarital counseling can be vital to making it work for the long-term.
“Partners seeking counseling before marriage may also find that premarital counseling can help them better understand their expectations about marriage and address any significant differences in a safe and neutral environment.” –Premarital Counseling, goodtherapy.org
It can teach each partner more details about the future spouse, like his or her family history, personality types, love languages, and expectations of marriage. It can be beneficial for couples, and it is highly recommended for them to consider doing premarital therapy, even if they do not have any major relationship issues.
“A study published in the Journal of Family Psychology, which was conducted via random telephone survey, showed couples who had participated in some type of premarital counseling program were 31% less likely to divorce” (Premarital Counseling, goodtherapy.org). It can help the couple create a healthy relationship from the start instead of waiting until it gets bad.
The Gottman Institute has found that most often couples experiencing difficulty in their relationships will wait for six years to seek couples counseling, and sometimes it is too late by then. Premarital counseling can help couples be proactive and learn important relational skills that could help carry them through difficult times in their marriage.
Common Topics in Premarital Counseling
Though every counselor will approach this differently, these are some of the main topics discussed.
Expectations: Whether someone likes to admit it or not, he or she will inevitably walk into a marriage with expectations of self, of the other, of the future, of their home, how they will spend their time, expectations of the marriage and how they will raise their children.
These expectations can be subconscious, and they can come from family history or what the person has learned about themself, a partner, and the relationship. Often expectations are unnoticed, not voiced in relationships.
This can lead to major disappointments, miscommunication, conflict, and relational dissatisfaction. It becomes important to discuss in counseling so that unrealistic or incompatible expectations can be adjusted.
Finances: Finances are a leading source of contention in relationships. There are disagreements on spending and saving, how much to spend and save, what to spend money on, who will handle the money, unnecessary spending, financial strain, and bills. This is discussed in premarital counseling because it is important to be able to work through these issues, negotiate, compromise, and have a plan in place.
Sex: Whether or not a couple has been sexually active before marriage, most Christian counselors or clergy may request that the couple refrains from sexual activity until the wedding, sex is an important topic to discuss in counseling.
It is vital to discuss any relevant sexual history that could negatively impact future sex life. It is also important to talk about sexual expectations, especially when both (or one) of the partners are virgins. Expectations of sex that are unrealistic for the couple are not healthy and should be adjusted.
Family history: Though family history is usually discussed before a couple gets engaged, there are some things to consider (and why it is brought up in premarital therapy), like the relationship and interactions between partner’s mother and father, relationship dynamics between siblings, family traditions, personality, current patterns of behavior, and etc. Exploring these issues will give a tremendous amount of insight into a person’s behavior, beliefs, and values.
Conflict Resolution: Couples will talk about their current conflict resolution tendencies, and they will learn new skills that will help carry them through many difficult moments in the future.
Communication: Miscommunication is one of the most complained about issues that come up in couples counseling, so it is important for couples to discuss it in premarital counseling. The counselor will teach them good communication strategies, like active listening, I-statements, and others. They will be able to use these strategies for years to come.
Goals: A premarital counselor may discuss their relationship goals for the next year, five years, or longer-term. It is good for a couple to discuss personal goals, couple goals, and even family goals to ensure that they are on the same page and heading in the same direction. If a couple does not have similar couple goals for the long-term, it may indicate that they are not right for each other or are not ready to take the next step into the commitment of marriage.
Values: If a couple’s values and beliefs do not line up somewhat, they are probably not compatible. Though there are many who marry with different values on minor things, couples have much stronger marriages when they share values on major things (religion and faith, for example). It is good to discuss this before marriage to make sure that they agree on the major things.
What are some common questions asked in therapy?
The therapist or clergy will likely ask many (if not all) of the following questions in premarital counseling:
- Why are you getting married?
- How long have you known each other/been dating? (Although length of time in dating does not indicate success in marriage)
- Why were you attracted to each other?
- How can you help your fiancé better him/herself?
- What issues do you disagree about?
- What are your expectations of marriage/each other? Will one be in charge or will it be an equal partnership? What are men’s roles? What are women’s roles?
- What are your hopes/goals for your relationship?
- Who will manage your finances? Will you have separate or joint accounts? What is the maximum number of spending that is allowed by each partner without having to discuss the purchase first? Will you be a dual-come or sole-income household?
- What are your expectations of sex? How often would you like to have sex in a week?
- How will you divide household chores?
- Do you want children? How many?
- Where will you live?
- What do you believe about cheating?
- How much time do you need together? Is it important to do everything together or is alone time/friend time important? How often would you like to incorporate date nights?
- How do you communicate? Where do you need to grow in this area?
- How does your family of origin affect your patterns of behavior today?
- How will you make decisions as a couple?
- What are your religious views? Will you go to church?
- What is your personality type? Strengths and weaknesses of each person, of the couple?
- What are your views on divorce?
Marriage is the highest level of commitment one can make to another person. It says forever, thick and thin, better or worse, richer or poorer, sickness and health. It is beautiful and God-created, but couples who rush into this commitment without first discussing these issues will not be ready for what is to come.
Finding a counselor who has been trained in premarital counseling is imperative. If your pastor is going to do your premarital counseling, be ready to discuss these issues listed above. If you are not comfortable discussing these issues with your pastor, seek an objective counselor. It will prepare you for a lifetime of a great marriage.
“Engaged”, Courtesy of Nathan Mullet, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Face to Face”, Courtesy of Giorgio Trovato, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “In Love”, Courtesy of Tibor Papai, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Showing off the Ring”, Courtesy of Amy Humphries, Unsplash.com, CC0 License