There are a lot of misconceptions about couples counseling in general, but particularly pre-marriage counseling.
Is it just for religious couples? (Short answer: Nope!) What does a typical session look like? (Long answer: See below!) And what benefits will you and your future spouse get out of going, anyway?
Here's everything you can expect from pre-marriage counseling – as told by a pre-marriage counselor!
The first sessions are "get to know you" meetings with your therapist
In early premarital counseling sessions, the goal is for me to get to know a couple, learn about their relationship, and hear more about each of their individual stories.
I love to hear about how couples met, who flirted with whom, and how they knew this was the person they wanted to build a life with.
Couples really enjoy this part, and I do, too!
Each session has a specific theme, with the future in mind
The overall style of each session is to discuss a particular topic couples can expect to encounter in their marraige.
This can be the marriage itself, how to handle conflict, manage money, sex issues, raising a family, and so forth.
We also take time to explore each partner’s views, experiences, and emotions – and how those build or shape their life together.
Speaking of themes... sex is a big one!
Sex will inevitably change over the time and course of a marriage, meaning it’s essential to expect this – and explore together ahead of time how you might want to approach those changes.
The most important value to share is an openness to talk about sex and an openness to work at it.
- How are we going to compassionately and comfortably talk about sex?
- Are we game to talk about it and are we committed to working at it?
- How can we express our desires, needs, and fears?
Those are the most important values I believe for any aspects of a relationship, sex and beyond.
Money is a common topic in pre-marriage counseling, too
Money represents a lot for us, and knowing what it symbolizes for each partner is a meaningful start for addressing that.
In sessions, we might talk about things like:
- Does money represent power, freedom, independence, security, success?
- What does money mean to each person, and how do you create room to reflect that underlying value in the relationship?
It’s also helpful to know what money dynamics each person experienced growing up – that can be pretty powerful in shaping our current responses. It will also help each partner have a deeper understanding and compassion for why certain money issues are so important to the person they love.
You likely won't encounter any major surprises in premarital counseling
It’s rare that a significant difference is discovered for the first time in premarital counseling.
Couples have typically discussed many of these issues, and are aware if it’s a place of agreement or a difference. Pre-marriage counseling is an opportunity to work out some of those kinks before the big day.
The key is making an effort to learn about each other's values – and meet their needs
Problem solving is a skill set most individuals already have, and use in various areas of their life (e.g., work). So we work on applying it to the relationship, too.
Let's say my partner and I have different visions of where we want to live. We have lots of practical solutions. We can compromise – for example, live a number of years in location then switch, or live in one place and frequently visit the other.
But taking another look into the differing visions might lead to deeper questions, like:
- But what are those wishes really about?
- Quality of life, time with family, lifestyle?
Premarital counseling gives you the ability to take a step further, find ways to address those underlying needs, and acknowledge how it might be hard when those needs can’t be met.
If you want to go to pre-marriage counseling but your partner doesn't, here's what to do:
If you are interested in pre-marriage counseling but your partner isn't, be direct – and emphasize the why behind the reason you want to go.
1. Start with your certainty about the relationship and your feelings.
Let them know that premarital counseling isn’t to decide if you should get married! It's a way to navigate the marriage together.
2. Express what your concerns are, or what you are hoping to achieve together.
This could be phrased along the lines of:
- "I really love you, and want to learn how to have the strongest marriage we can."
- "I’m so excited to get married, and I’m also nervous about doing it right."
- "I’m so excited for our life together, and we still haven’t learned how to talk about money or sex.”
If one partner is truly reluctant, give them space to openly discuss their hesitation or concern.
You can also identify what steps they feel open to – including reading an article about pre-marriage conversations, a book about marriage, talking with someone who does premarital counseling to find out more about it.
At the end of the day, my one piece of advice to all couples in premarital counseling is: Consistently work to be vulnerable with each other, and respond to one another’s vulnerability with compassionate curiosity.