Amongst the laundry list of pre-wedding “To-Dos” someone, somewhere along the way may have mentioned “premarital counseling.” However, if you are like many couples, premarital counseling may seem to be a rather ambiguous activity. Often couples ask me: “So, what do we do here? How does this work?” These are understandable questions and in this article, I address what this process is and how your relationship can benefit from it.
Education for Marriage
Premarital counseling essentially provides couples with “marriage education.” In the counseling sessions, we will talk about the major phases that you can anticipate throughout your relationship. For example, did you know that the first seven years of marriage are some of the most difficult? In fact, approximately 50% of the marriages that end in divorce do so within the first seven years. (Gottman, 1995) Having a general map of what to expect in the years to come can be reassuring and make you more hopeful. If you are looking for new ideas to add to your relationship toolbox, premarital counseling will help you with that. Additionally, I administer the Prepare/Enrich assessment, which helps us to efficiently hone in on the strengths and challenges in your specific relationship.
A Neutral Space to Prepare for Marriage
Tackling some of these hot topics amidst the chaos of picking out color swatches for the Big Day may feel risky. However, premarital counseling provides an opportunity to speak to your partner in a neutral space, with a trained professional as your guide. In the long run, avoiding issues only leads to erosion in the relationship. By the end of our sessions, you and your partner should expect to have a deeper understanding of each other. This enables you to start good habits now, and lean into your concerns together, hand-in-hand. Here are some common topics that the process often covers:
- Religion and Spirituality
- Work-Life Integration
- Emotional Connection and Intimacy
- Support Systems
- Extended Family
- Time Management and Stress
Premarital Counseling for Christian Couples
Being married is a decision to become connected: Legally, physically, and spiritually. This is a decision that is renewed daily. From the moment you wake up, your actions and commitment can reflect your unification. Conversely, a lack of intentionality can leave room for slow erosion and disconnection. From the beginning of mankind, God declared that “It is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). If we are created for connection, how come we can so easily find 101 ways to mess it up? From a spiritual perspective, we can understand that God’s decision to allow us free will also leaves room for sin and wrong choices. We have to make a decision to follow God. In a similar vein, we have to make a decision to treat our partners with love and respect. God’s vision of marriage is that it should mirror His image and exalt His love for the world.
Premarital Christian Counseling as You Prepare for Marriage
The number of sessions of premarital counseling that couples require can vary greatly from couple to couple. As a Christian counselor, I have found that, on average, premarital couples often find between three and seven sessions to be a good fit for their goals. The work is tailored to the stage of your unique relationship. This experience can, therefore, be beneficial for you whether you have been together for nine months or nine years. Sessions typically include practicing new communication techniques and co-creating healthy relationship expectations.
Premarital Christian counseling can be a new experience for many people. Trying something new for your relationship can be a neat way to bond during the often hectic engagement phase. Moreover, the literature shows that premarital counseling can provide a buffer against future problems. Specifically, researchers have found that couples who participate in premarital counseling are 30% less likely to get a divorce. (Carroll & Doherty, 2003). The bottom line is: Start early and get ahead of the curve.
– Carroll, J.S., & Doherty, W. J. (2003). Evaluating the Effectiveness of Premarital Prevention Programs: A Meta-Analytic Review of Outcome Research. Family Relations, 52(2). Retrieved May 3, 2016, from: https://www.questia.com/library/journal/1P3-332103811/evaluating-the-effectiveness-of-premarital-prevention
– Gottman, J. (1995). Why Marriages Succeed or Fail: And How To Make Yours Last. New York, New York: Simon & Schuster.Photos
All photos courtesy of Wyatt Fisher, www.ChristianCrush.com, via Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0)