Premarital Counseling: What Is It, What To Expect & How To Find A Premarital Counselor

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Considering going to premarital counseling before you and your partner get married, or take a major step in your relationship?

Here's everything you need to know: What premarital counseling is, what happens in sessions, effectiveness, and how to find the right premarital counselor for you.

  1. What is premarital counseling?
  2. What happens in a premarital counseling session?
  3. When to seek premarital counseling
  4. Should we get premarital counseling?
  5. Does premarital counseling work?
  6. Types of premarital counseling
  7. What is Pre-Cana?
  8. How much is premarital counseling?
  9. How to prepare for premarital counseling
  10. Common premarital counseling questions
  11. What to do if my partner doesn’t want to attend premarital counseling
  12. How to find the best premarital counselor
  13. Find a premarital counseling near me

What is premarital counseling?

Premarital counseling (also called “pre-marriage counseling”) is a specialized type of therapy that helps couples prepare for both the rewarding, and the challenging, experiences of marriage. The goal of premarital counseling is to help partners understand each others’ values, traditions, and goals going into a marriage.

Unlike couples therapy, which is typically sought when a problem arises in a relationship, premarital counseling aims to predict issues that may arise in the future and help couples develop ways to deal with them down the line.

Couples can see a licensed couples therapist trained in premarital counseling, or go through a religious institution. Premarital counseling is not necessary mental health treatment, but it is often provided by mental health practitioners. Many licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFT) provide premarital counseling.

While premarital counseling is often associated with religion and some religious traditions do recommend or require it, it is also available in a wide range of non-religious therapeutic settings.

What happens in a premarital counseling session?

Most premarital counseling sessions involve open, honest conversations with your partner on a variety of subjects, including an examination of values and expectations.

If you have any particular concerns or issues you want to address, these topics may drive your counseling, but often, the counselor takes the role of leading the discussion and working through a range of questions to help you gain insight into your current relationship and your expectations for your future together.

The counselor’s role isn’t to judge your relationship or decide whether you’re ready to get married; rather, they’re there to guide your discussion and help you identify and resolve any potential conflicts or areas of weakness in your relationship.

Counseling may also help you identify your relationship’s strengths and give you ideas for how to build on this strong foundation in the future. Additionally, a premarital counselor might offer you educational resources related to your relationship, such as strategies for more effective communication or tools for creating a budget together.

Some premarital counselors may want to have separate sessions with each partner, but the majority of your sessions will take place with your partner.

Many premarital counselors use written questionnaires to get to know you as individuals and as a couple, and this information can help you spot and plan for important differences between the two of you. Sometimes, counselors may also give you homework to complete between sessions.

When to seek premarital counseling

Some couples might seek premarital counseling after they get engaged, while others might do so when they’re considering marriage but haven’t yet decided it’s right for them.

You might also consider a version of premarital counseling if you and your partner are contemplating any kind of long-term commitment to each other, even outside of traditional or legal marriage.

Every situation is different, and ultimately it’s up to you and your partner to decide whether premarital counseling is right for you.

Should we get premarital counseling?

That said, if you’ve worked through particularly difficult phases of your relationship in the past, it may be especially helpful to revisit those issues with a professional and make sure you’re prepared to deal with them effectively in the future.

Couples who come from different faiths, races, or cultures may also find premarital counseling particularly useful, since bringing together different background can lead additional stresses.

Premarital counseling can also be helpful for just about anyone, even if you and your partner feel completely ready for marriage and haven’t identified any particular issues in your relationship. Everyone has blind spots and areas where we’re prone to conflict, so having a few sessions with a counselor can be a helpful way to spot potential weaknesses and address them before they become problems.

Does premarital counseling work?

Several studies have indicated that premarital counseling may be an effective way to increase satisfaction with married life.

In one well-known study from the journal Family Relations, researchers found that couples who received premarital counseling saw a 30% improvement in positive outcomes during marriage, when compared to those who did not receive premarital counseling.

Another study in the Journal of Family Psychology found that couples who received premarital counseling were more likely to seek counseling when they encountered issues after marriage.

Types of premarital counseling

Premarital counseling sessions come in several different forms. A few of the most common include:

What is Pre-Cana?

Pre-Cana is a specific form of premarital counseling for couples who are planning to marry in the Catholic church.

Some churches require Pre-Cana before allowing couples to marry, and many offer options for interfaith couples.

Pre-Cana usually requires multiple meetings with a priest either as a couple or as part of a larger group class, and online options for these sessions may be available through some churches.

The goal of Pre-Cana is to educate couples about the expectations of marriage according to Catholicism and help them prepare to uphold its principles together. The topics covered in Pre-Cana often overlap with those covered in secular premarital counseling, including finances and plans for children, but with a greater focus on the role of religion and faith in the couple's life.

How much is premarital counseling?

In large cities like NYC and Boston, premarital counseling costs on average $150 - $200 per session. In smaller cities like Providence, you can find therapists who offer premarital counseling for $100 - $150 per session.

The cost of premarital counseling sessions can vary widely depending on your location, though they usually cost about the same amount as a general psychotherapist.

That said, because premarital counseling usually has a set number of sessions, it is often less expensive overall than other forms of counseling or therapy.

Counseling through a religious institution may come at a lower fee, and online sessions will usually be cheaper as well.

In most cases, health insurance plans will not cover premarital counseling sessions.

How to prepare for premarital counseling

Before your first session with a premarital counselor, it can be helpful to sit down with your partner and discuss your hopes and expectations for the counseling process.

If either of you has any particular concerns or issues you’d like to work on, this gives you a chance to express that desire ahead of time and go into the first session with a shared agenda.

You might also look at the above list of topics and questions to identify any that seem especially important to you, so that you can be sure you spend adequate time on them in counseling. Similarly, one or both of you may have some discomfort around some of the subjects listed, and it may be helpful to talk through those feelings ahead of time so you can best support each other during counseling.

Additionally, you can reduce any anxiety about your first session by making sure that you’re both clear on all the logistics around counseling. Check that you both know the answers to the following questions:

Above all, it’s helpful if you both do your best to go into your first session with an open mind. Premarital counseling can be exciting, scary, surprising, difficult, and joyful, so take a moment to acknowledge together that you’ll try your best to be open to whatever comes up.

Common premarital counseling questions

You’ll likely discuss a wide range of topics during premarital counseling, to help you and your partner get a full picture of your relationship and its strengths and weaknesses.

Though this list is by no means exhaustive, some of the premarital counseling questions and topics you’ll likely encounter include:

Money and finances

Communication

Beliefs and values

Sex and intimacy

Children and family relationships

Household duties

Careers

Personal backgrounds

Decision-making  

Spending time together and social life

Related: Premarital Counseling Questions: 52 Qs You'll Ask – And Answer

What to do if my partner doesn’t want to attend premarital counseling

Though premarital counseling is designed for couples to participate together, many counselors are also open to seeing individuals without their partners. You can still explore many of the same questions on your own, and some counselors may also be open to having your partner join sessions later on if they decide they want to. Check with your counselor about their approach to these issues before scheduling your first session.

Note that some religious traditions may require that both partners attend premarital counseling in order to be considered married according to that tradition. If this is the case for you, you might consider talking to a religious leader about possible next steps if your partner is reluctant to participate in counseling.

How to find the best premarital counselor

The most important factor in finding a premarital counselor is to find someone that you and your partner feel comfortable with.

While it may be difficult to gauge chemistry and personality fit prior to your first session, simply knowing that you might not mesh with every single counselor can be empowering – it may inspire you to keep searching until you find the right counselor for your needs.

Additionally, you’ll want to be sure that your counselor has training and experience in premarital counseling. Many premarital counselors are licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT), which means that they have graduate or postgraduate degrees and advanced training.

Some questions you might ask on your initial calls with potential premarital counselors include:

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