A firm foundation is essential to any building. No matter how pretty or striking, without a foundation, a building cannot withstand the stresses and strains of the world. It will crack and eventually collapse. Just like a building, a marriage also needs a firm foundation to help the couple stand together. Premarital counseling aims to help the engaged couple as they lay the bedrock of their marriage relationship.
What is premarital counseling?Premarital counseling is counseling that you attend together as an engaged couple before you get married. The first question any engaged couple gets asked is, “When is the wedding?” This is understandable since weddings are special, joyful occasions marking the beginning of your married life together.
It’s easy for an engaged couple to become focused on the wedding day because of all the planning involved. However, the wedding is just one day, and years of your marriage stretch ahead of it.
Dating is different from being married, especially for Christians who do not live with their future spouse before the wedding. Premarital counseling takes the long view and looks ahead to how the couple can live together successfully in their marriage after the wedding day.
This is done by helping you identify potential issues or problem areas that could impact your marriage, as well as providing tools to help you successfully navigate daily life and unforeseen challenges.
5 Reasons for Premarital Counseling
Studies show that couples who attend premarital counseling are 30% less likely to consider divorce. The goal of premarital counseling is to give you the best chance of building a strong, healthy, satisfying, and stable marriage. We will look at five interrelated reasons why you should consider premarital counseling.
1. Identifying potential areas of conflict Marriage involves the joining together of two people. Although there is fun and joy in this, it can be harder than it appears. The husband and wife come from different backgrounds and have different personalities and upbringings. Even couples who are culturally similar can have vastly different experiences of family life growing up. These differences may seem small before the marriage but can potentially cause conflict later.
Many of us have assumptions about what marriage will be like, and we are often not aware of these assumptions until they are challenged. Premarital counseling addresses the most common areas of potential conflict, helping you as the couple work through your assumptions. The counselor may raise issues that you have not considered yet. They are aware of the types of issues that regularly affect married couples and can help you talk through your expectations.
Existing areas of conflict may need to be addressed. Or there may be past trauma or abuse that the couple needs to work through, or even anxiety over getting married. Marriage will not magically solve problems and it can make them worse if they are not recognized or dealt with beforehand. Ignored issues tend to get bigger and more difficult to deal with.
A superficial discussion between the couple might make it seem as though the issue is settled when it is not. A counselor is often more adept at helping people articulate their concerns and can assist with working on solutions. These conflicts won’t necessarily be solved by premarital counseling, but the couple will be aware of them and have a starting point for dealing with them. It is much better to go into marriage aware of actual and potential conflict areas.
2. Dealing with conflict Premarital counseling cannot predict every challenge or conflict a couple will face. And all couples will experience conflict at some point in their marriage. Knowing how to deal with conflict in ways that do not damage your marriage relationship is essential. People cope with conflict in different ways. Some withdraw from their spouse, while others confront issues head-on. Some people get defensive and angry, whereas others might do all they can to keep the peace.
The differences in how you deal with conflict may cause misunderstanding and hurt or make it hard for issues to be resolved. Over time, unresolved conflict can result in resentment, anger, or discouragement.
A key part of premarital counseling is helping couples identify their respective responses to conflict, weighing the strengths and weaknesses of each response, and helping you devise a conflict resolution strategy that takes both of your natural tendencies into account.
This may not sound very romantic but unresolved conflict is a relationship killer. No marriage is ever perfect or problem-free, but you can learn how to navigate difficulties in ways that build and strengthen your marriage.
3. Communicating effectively
Closely related to conflict resolution is effective communication. Being able to communicate well with your marriage partner can help you avoid conflict. Each of you can feel free to approach the other and be heard and understood. It can also help create a calmer environment in which to deal with conflict. Effective communication provides a firm relational foundation for your marriage.
Premarital counseling can help to provide tools to assist with effective communication. For example, learning to be honest with each other and not hiding feelings through fear of hurting our partner or being hurt by them, or speaking kindly to and affirming each other to prevent unnecessary hurt. A communication breakdown can significantly impact a marriage because it affects trust and honesty. Effective communication helps foster a sense of security.
4. Setting realistic expectations
We all enter marriage with expectations of our partner. Many of these expectations are unconscious but create a framework for how we think our marriage will function. These expectations cover all areas of marriage, from weighty issues to everyday concerns.Weighty issues include how we will make decisions as a couple; how often we will have sex; how we will show affection; how many children we would like or whether we even want to have children; how we will parent any children we have; and how we will manage our finances.
Everyday concerns include who does which chores; who will be the primary cook; how late you like to go to bed; and whether you should eat breakfast together in the morning. Some of these might seem trivial, but these smaller concerns can cause resentment if unrecognized and unaddressed, as they rub away at the affection and trust within a marriage.
Unrecognized expectations, whether weighty or trivial, can put a real strain on a marriage relationship. Premarital counseling helps couples identify their expectations as well as learn to consider their partner’s perspective on issues.
5. A willingness to seek help in the future
Finally, attending premarital counseling may make you more willing to seek professional help later in your marriage. There may be future conflicts or issues that require outside help. Many of us are reluctant to get outside help as we feel we should be able to deal with things on our own. Seeing the value that counseling gives at the start of our marriage might increase the likelihood that we will seek outside help if needed later in our marriage.
Premarital counseling will not necessarily be easy. Challenging discussions may need to be had along with a willingness to let go of certain expectations for the sake of your partner. But it gives a glimpse into how you as a couple will navigate marriage together and grow in your relationship. It is not the magic bullet, but you are investing in your marriage before it even starts and will reap the benefits in the years of come.
“Cherry Blossoms”, Courtesy of Cody Chan, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Mars”, Courtesy of Omid Armin, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Just Married”, Courtesy of Andres Molina, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Honeymoon”, Courtesy of Maciek Sulkowski, Unsplash.com, CC0 License
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