Premarital Counseling: What’s Covered and Why Do It?
The time between the proposal and the wedding is arguably one of the most exciting times in a person’s life. It is filled with parties, planning, time thinking about your future with your newfound life partner, and hopefully happy memories.As ironic as it might sound, you may actually end up putting your relationship with your now fiancé on the back burner as you plan your big day. Another surprise may be your struggle to deal with practical issues such as where to live, navigating in-law relationships, and so much more.
You may even find your anxiety levels rising despite all the excitement of the times, leading to frustration, doubt, and confusion, and may hope these will dissipate once you’ve officially tied the knot. In reality, these struggles may have an even greater impact once you are married if you don’t address the practical issues and emotions that naturally come joining two lives.
Society, social media, television, movies, and even the Church have unfortunately done a poor job of painting a realistic image of what happens when two people decide to commit to the long haul with one another. Movies show people falling in love in a day, marrying the next, and living happily ever after, showing very little of the struggle and commitment marriage requires.
The Church has a way of doing the very same thing. Consider how it often addresses the subject of intimacy while one is single. The Church emphasizes purity and abstinence, then once two people are married, they are expected to automatically have a healthy sex life. This is not to say the Church needs to be providing this education. Rather, it shows how deeply ingrained the idea is that a good marriage is automatically “good.”
Because of this idea, couples may find themselves wondering why everything isn’t magically working perfectly. To their surprise, it takes work to bring two whole lives together to be shared forevermore. This is why premarital counseling exists.
Premarital counseling, also called premarital education, covers practical subjects every couple will deal with as they join together. Its goal is to prepare couples for upcoming challenges before they have even faced them so that when they do come up, the couple is ready for them, thereby decreasing the intensity of the challenge itself.
Topics to Cover in Premarital Counseling
With this common goal in mind, most premarital counseling will cover similar topics.
Here’s a snapshot of what you can expect to discuss with your counselor in premarital counseling:
Family of origin
This might come as a surprise to some couples as you might be expecting to focus on just the two of you. However, every individual has been vastly influenced by their family – how they were raised, past traumas, current relationship dynamics, and so much more.
In counseling, your therapist will likely create what is called a genogram, which is a fancy term for a detailed family tree. While creating this tree, your therapist will ask you questions about relationships within your family, how they have evolved, the strengths and weaknesses of your family, and how your parents handled conflict.
This discussion opens the door to discovering differences between yourself and your partner along with what you both hope to incorporate into your own relationship and what you hope to leave behind. This is also a time to discuss in-law relationships.
Maybe you are perfectly content with your relationship with your future in-laws, but odds are this is a point of tension and anxiety. Exploring how to set healthy boundaries and expectations for in-law relationships is a key aspect of family-of-origin conversations.
AssessmentsPart of premarital education is usually some sort of assessment. Some counselors may use PREPARE and Enrich, others may use personality questionnaires like the Myers Briggs and the Love Languages tests. These assessments provide deeper insight into the way you function, allowing you to better understand why you do the things you do and how you interact in relationships.
Doing so prepares you to express your own needs while also helping you better understand your partner. Self-reflection is an important piece in a healthy marriage, and these assessments will help start that process.
This is the most common reason couples cite for coming to therapy. Conversing about this before you are even married sets you up for success. Time will be spent on conflict styles in particular. Are you someone who needs to withdraw and process an issue before discussing it or are you someone who needs to verbally hash out the problem with your partner right away?
Did you come from a family who yelled during arguments or avoided conflict? How comfortable are you with expressing your needs, goals, and dreams with your partner? These are the kinds of questions that will be addressed as you discuss your way of communicating.
Expectations and roles
Premarital education also spends time on really practical issues. Just because you are in love doesn’t mean you will automatically be amazing roommates. Talking about expectations varying from cleanliness and bed time rituals to parenting roles and finances will help you avoid arguments about these issues in the future as they tend to crop up in marriages and take people by surprise.
Gender roles are also an important piece to cover as these are not always discussed prior to marriage. One partner may expect to stay at home with children while the other had expected both partners to work full time. Have you even talked about children? What about shared financial accounts? Again, covering these issues before they become issues is one of the goals of premarital counseling.
This is another important aspect of premarital education. Similar to some of the above issues, often times it is expected to magically have a great sex life once you are married without any education. Gaining experience talking about what works and what doesn’t for each partner, the desires each partner has, and the expectations for the amount of sex can be immensely helpful, whether or not the partners are already having sex.Intimacy is often a subject people struggle to communicate about due to its, well, intimate nature. Some people may have mental disorders that impact their sex drive, others may struggle with body image, and still others may have physical issues. Being able to talk about all of these subjects with vulnerability, humor, and openness is important, to say the least, and will strengthen many aspects of the couple’s relationship.
This is a time to dream about your future as a couple. What do you hope to achieve as individuals and together? What legacy do you hope to leave to your children? What do you hope people learn from you as a couple? What do you want your spiritual life to look like as a couple? What values do you hope to pursue together? Exploring these questions will help you paint a picture of your future together.
Premarital counseling is a commitment but most importantly it is a valuable investment in your future. It gives time and space for you and your partner to invest in your relationship and in each other. You will learn how to best support each other as you learn what you need most in order to be supported by them.
You’ll gain confidence in your partnership, thereby building confidence in your ability to face challenges that naturally come with a marriage, and you’ll have already started the conversation on some of those challenges. You’ll have had time to dream with your partner.
You will have experienced counseling together, making the idea of turning to a counselor in the future much less intimidating. Most importantly, you will have learned how to turn two “I”s into one “we” as you start the next chapter together.
If you are about to take the plunge and are interested in learning more about premarital counseling, contact me or one of the other couples therapists in the counselor directory.
“Wedding Bands”, Courtesy of Beatriz Perez Moya, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Proposal”, Courtesy of Gift Habeshaw, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Holding Hands”, Courtesy of Pablo Heimplatz, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Lovers Knot”, Courtesy of Will O, Unsplash.com, CC0 License