How to Get the Most out of Premarital Counseling

Premarital counseling is on the rise, as more and more engaged couples include it on their checklist of things to do before the “Big Day.”

Unfortunately, many couples still don’t recognize the potential benefits premarital counseling could have on their future. Until recently, it’s not been viewed as important, unless you belonged to a church or synagogue that required some premarital counseling or classes.

Why Doesn’t Everyone Participate?

According to one research survey, engaged couples are often overconfident, and refuse to consider the possibility that their relationship could end in divorce. Partners in the “honeymoon phase,” who dismiss or don’t see each other’s “flaws” as potential problems, feel premarital counseling is unnecessary. They believe their relationship doesn’t, and won’t, need it.

Some couples may not seek premarital counseling because they think it will be too expensive. Unfortunately, they are unable to recognize that the health of their relationship is certainly more than worth the investment. Other couples may reject the notion of counseling because they think it will take up too much of their time, already in short supply, due to other obligations.

Fear of what will be revealed also tends to hold couples back. Yes, talking about some issues can initially be uncomfortable and even embarrassing. But this discomfort is a temporary inconvenience, especially when compared to the lifetime benefits that counseling can provide.

An additional reason couples dismiss the value of premarital counseling has to do with the negative perception or stereotype of seeking therapy in general. Many people hold the erroneous belief that going to couples counseling means the relationship must be in deep trouble. These folks view counseling as something only needed for serious problems, so attending must mean your relationship is doomed.

Benefits of Counseling before Marriage

The purpose of premarital counseling is mainly to educate. Therapists can provide couples with the skills needed to handle difficult issues and deal with potential conflict that inevitably will arise in their relationship at some point. Setting aside some time and money for a few counseling sessions is a very wise investment in your future, and a gift to yourselves.

A meta-analytic review (a review of all research on a topic), published in the journal “Family Relations,” evaluated the effectiveness of premarital counseling programs. The study concluded that 30% of couples who underwent premarital counseling experienced an increase in marital satisfaction down the road. Or stated another way, those who attended counseling sessions before marriage were 79% better off than couples who didn’t participate!

Other research, reported in the “Journal of Family Psychology,” found that couples who participated in premarital education were 30% less likely to experience divorce within five years.

Unfortunately, the above findings were limited to medium and short-term relationship benefit. No long-term follow-up was conducted to determine the success rate of premarital counseling over many years, although there is no clear reason to assume the positive effects of premarital counseling would not last.

In my experience working with couples, the benefits of investing in some premarital therapy sessions are very clear. A successful marriage requires work, dedication, and the commitment of both partners. Premarital guidance, from a skilled professional, can be a tremendous help in learning how to nurture a relationship and keep it healthy over the long term.

Here are some suggestions for maximizing the benefits of premarital counseling:

  1. Come to counseling with an openness for learning new communication tools, as well as acquiring the ability to effectively resolve conflict.
  1. Be prepared to honestly discuss areas of both strength and weakness, which could potentially be uncomfortable.
  1. Be prepared to discuss any resentments that have already built up in your relationship.
  1. Be prepared to address the “bigger” issues: money, religion, sex life, kids, parenting, and dealing with extended family.
  1. Expect premarital counseling to be challenging at times, but well worth it for the success and health of your relationship.

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