A Guide to Premarital Counseling

Updated on March 4, 2018
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Dr. Yvette Stupart is a clinical counselor and educator. She gives insights on how to experience emotional health and relational well-being.

Premarital counseling helps you to lay a solid foundation for your marriage.
Premarital counseling helps you to lay a solid foundation for your marriage. | Source

What Is Premarital Counseling?

The increase in the rates of separation and divorce in many countries is cause for concern. The fact that many couples enter marriage without adequate preparation is also unsettling. While premarital preparation may not prevent problems in marriage, it gives couples tools to strengthen their relationships, and prepare for future challenges in marriage.

Premarital preparation is an educational process that includes various topics and themes to effectively prepare couples for marriage. According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies, in an article, A framework for future research in premarriage education, "In general, premarriage programs seek to engage couples in the process of reflection and skills training with the aim of promoting and supporting the development of strong, stable relationships."

Marriage preparation may take various formats including premarital counseling or marriage preparation courses offered by churches and other organizations. They could take the form of couples counseling, small group counseling or a larger class with systematic instruction. Whatever the format, the objective is to help you to deal with areas of conflicts that might lead to challenges in your marriage.

This guide addresses the general issue premarriage preparation but focuses specifically on premarital counseling. It presents the benefits of premarital preparation, looks at the related research and statistics, and details some the important areas addressed during process of premarital counseling.

Why Do You Need Premarital Counseling?

1. Improve your knowledge of each other.

2. Identify and explore important issues.

3. Assess your compatibility.

4. Address possible areas of difficulty,

Statistics on Premarital Counseling

Health Research Funding organization cites what it terms "Twenty Significant Premarital Counseling Statistics." Much of these these statistics indicates the benefits of premarital counseling. As you look closely at some of the statistics, you will find that:

  1. For 93 percent of Americans, a happy marriage is one of the most important goals.
  2. There is a 30 percent higher marital success rate for couples who received counseling before their wedding than those who did not.
  3. Forty-Four percent of couples who are getting married agree to premarital counseling before they take their wedding vows.
  4. Seventy-five percent of weddings take place in a religious setting. This presents an excellent opportunity for premarital counseling before the event.
  5. Divorce proceedings every year involve more than 1 million children and increase the likelihood of their growing up in poverty.
  6. The average cost of a wedding is between $12,000 and $15,000. Premarital counseling costs only 1-2 percent of this amount.

Make it your goal to create a marriage that feels like the safest place on earth.

— Greg Smalley
Prepare for your marriage not just your wedding before you get married.
Prepare for your marriage not just your wedding before you get married. | Source

Helps You to Know Each Other Better

Dr Barry Davidson, family psychologist, explains that "premarital counseling is very important for any couple that is planning to be joined in the 'lifetime covenant' of marriage." Premarital preparation is beneficial because, at this stage, you are more open and receptive to changes.

Preparation will help you to understand yourselves and your partner better. You may try to show yourselves in the best possible light to each other during the courtship period. But premarital counseling could help you to gain deeper knowledge and understanding of each other before marriage.

It is possible for you to enter a marriage relationship and know each other only on a superficial level. However, during the marriage preparation, there are opportunities to explore your beliefs, values, expectations and other areas that are important to you as a couple. This makes way for greater sensitivity to each others' needs in marriage.

Things I Wish I Had Known Before I Got Married

Enables You to Identify and Explore Important Issues

Another advantage of pre-marriage counselling is that it explores the similarities and differences between you and your partner. It also assists each of you to communicate your hopes and expectations for the marriage. Even more, you get an opportunity to work through areas of potential conflicts that are identified in a safe and supportive environment.

It is highly likely that what both of you experiences in your own families could influence how you behave in your relationship when you get married. In fact, research suggests that couples usually behave like their parents in handling their responsibilities, especially in challenging situations. Marriage counseling could help you to resolve issues related to your families of origin before you get married

Premarital Counseling: What Research Shows

In a study of 1,235 couples, relationship researchers, Jason Caroll and William Doherty, found that 92 percent of couples reported premarital counseling was helpful during their first year of marriage. Even more, a follow up study four years later, showed that 80 percent of these couples maintained that premarital counseling has helped them in their marriage (Carroll & Doherty, 2003).

Assesses Compatibility With Your Partner

Various inventories or assessment tools may be used to provide you with information that could indicate the potential success of a your marriage. These assessments can give you and your partner an idea of areas of compatibility and strengths but they could also indicate areas where you may need to work on.

Assessments could also help you and your partner to evaluate your own level of self-esteem. According to Focus on the Family writer, Shana Schutte, poor self-image could affect your marriage in many ways including preventing you from being open and vulnerable and being open to criticisms. You can begin to tackle low self-image issues during premarital counseling.

A key ingredient in relationships is communication. During marital preparation, you get a chance to explore and practice more effective patterns of communication. For example, you might need to improve your listening skills to enhance your relationship. As your communication skills improve, this leads to greater awareness of each others' thoughts, feelings, and needs resulting in a more nurturing relationship.

Like many couples, you and partner could find marriage preparation helpful in assisting you to develop plans to deal with conflicts and strengthen your marriage. Relationship researcher, John Gottman, PhD, explains that there are three types of problem-solving approaches in healthy marriages: volatile, validating, and conflict-avoiding. However, hostile, the fourth approach, is likely to end in divorce. He points out that there are essential qualities of each approach that predict whether your marriage could in a divorce.

In the video, relationship counselor, Gary Chapman, explains that, "most of us discover that marriage is more than we anticipated." His book, Things I Wish I'd Known Before We Got Married, can help singles get ready for marriage. He explains out that the time to prepare for marriage is not after couples are engaged to be married. The time to start preparing for marriage is now, long before you even get engaged. If you ever hope to get married, there are some things you need to learn.

Important Issues in Premarital Counseling

Research indicates that there are seven relationship skills and knowledge that contribute success in marriage:

- compatibility

- expectations

- family of origin

- communication

- conflict resolution

- intimacy and sexuality, and

- long-term goals.

Keep the love sparks in your relationship by gaining insights on each others' love language.
Keep the love sparks in your relationship by gaining insights on each others' love language. | Source

You Can Address Possible Areas of Difficulty

Pastors Jim Burns and Doug Fields, explain that it is important that couples have honest dialogue about important issues. They each bring different values and perspectives into their marriage, but they also had different experiences. Premarital counseling could be a channel for problem solving even before you face the issues in your marriage as you get opportunities to address differences before marriage.

Couples are also able raise areas of difficulty and concerns and get the support they need to work through these issues in a safe, affirming environment. According to relationship expert, John M. Gottman, PhD, in his book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, happily married couples are not smarter than others but "rather than creating a climate of disagreements and resistance they embrace each others' needs" (p. 4).

What Should Be in Premarital Marriage Counseling?

According to Marriage Success Trainers, an effective premarital preparation program should include:

  1. An assessment inventory that helps couples to understand areas of compatibility and strengths;
  2. Comprehensive, systematic, and skill-based strategies to help couples;
  3. Content that is based on marriage relationship research;
  4. Facilitation by trained, qualified professionals who are married couples and serve as role models;
  5. Flexibility to facilitate each couple's relationship and learning styles, to practice such important skills as communication and conflict resolution; and
  6. Encourage couples to pursue goals to manage and continue to work on important unresolved issues.

Premarital Counseling: Laying a Foundation for Successful Marriage

Sample Premarital Counseling Questions

Areas Explored
Sample Questions
Why Are They Important?
Personal Values
What does commitment mean to you? What would give meaning to your life? Do you think that spirituality is important in mariage?
Shared interests do not necessarily translate into shared values. Start with each of you identifying your personal values and their importance to you. Then take time to discuss both sets of values for they are the core of marriage.
Expectations
Why do you want to get married? What do you expect from your partner?
If expectations are too high, it could be difficult to satsfy them. When you know each others expectations you might need to do some adjusting.
Finances
Who will manage the family finances? How will you manage the family finances? Are you comfortable with sharing an account with your spouse?
One of the main factors for strain in marriage has to go with finances. When the issue is properly explored before marriage you can make specific plans to navigate the changes in your financial situation. For example, you might consider creating a family budget and explore whether individual and joint accounts are your best fit.
Commitment
What do you appreciate most about your partner? What does the word "love" mean to you?
Exploring commitment gets to the heart of your willingness do whatever it takes to make your marriage work.
Conflict Resolution
How will you mange conflicts in your marriage?
Conflict resolution is directly related to comunication in marriage. This means learning to listen to your partner without defensiveness and asking questions that encourage him or her to express him/herself and with a sense of being heard.
Sex/Intimacy
How do you want your spouse to express love and affection for you?
Sexual intimacy is a very important part of any marriage and so there is the need for you to be able to talk honestly and openly with your spouse about your sex life.
Marital Roles
What roles will you play in your marriage? What is your partner's role?
It is important to communicate the roles and responsiblities that you and your partner will take on. To determine the responsibilities, you could consider the areas of strengths of both of you.
Family of Origin
What was your experience like growing up?
It is important discuss family of origin issues as childhood experiences with parents and other family members could influence could influence your attitudes, expectations, and behavior in your marriage.
Children
Do you want to have children? What are your ideas on parenting?
Discussing such issues as whether you want children, you positions on adoption and child rearing should begin before marriage.

Premarital Counseling: The Decision is Yours

In the video above, the hosts of The Real, Adriennne, Temera, Jeannie, and Loni share their thoughts and experiences regarding premarital counseling. Their conversation reflects some of the issues discussed in this guide which focused on how premarital counseling can help you and your spouse prepare for marriage.

If you are considering marriage, take the important first step to begin your premarital preparation. The process can help you to identify the strengths you can build on and enable you to start to work on areas that that could cause difficulty in your marriage.

Premarital counseling is offered in many churches and religious institutions. Professional counselors also offer their services to help you chart the course into your marriage. In addition, there are workshops, seminars, and resources on Marriage Builders that could help you improve your relationship before marriage.

References and Further Resources

Chapman, G. (2010). Things I Wish I'd Known Before I Got Married. Chicago, IL: Northfield Publishing.

Burns, J. & Fields, D. (2014). Getting Ready for Marriage; A Practical Road Map for Your Journey Together. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook.

Davidson, B. (1997). Before They Say, "I Do." A Handbook for Counsellors. Kingston, JA: Family Life Ministries.

GoodTherapy.org (n.d.). Premarital Counseling. Retrieved from https://www.goodtherapy.org/, January 26, 2018.

Naylor, S. (2017). Everything You Need to Know About Premarital Counseling. Retrieved from HuffingtonPost, January 26, 2018.

Stritof, S. (2017), Important Premarital Questions. Retrieved from The Spruce, Retrieved January 26, 2018.

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    • Purpose Embraced profile image
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      Yvette Stupart PhD 3 months ago from Jamaica

      Thanks Ms Dora. Many times couples place more focus on their wedding preparations than the important issues that need to be addressed before they get married.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 3 months ago from The Caribbean

      This is a very important issue for future partners. They will find that many of the important topics they neglect to think of will surface during counseling. Thanks for underscoring the necessity of this exercise.

    • Purpose Embraced profile image
      Author

      Yvette Stupart PhD 3 months ago from Jamaica

      Thanks for your comments, dashingscorpio. I agree that marriage has to be given careful consideration before it is entered into. I do feel that premarital counseling can help in this regard.

    • dashingscorpio profile image

      dashingscorpio 3 months ago

      Why Do You Need Premarital Counseling?

      1. Improve your knowledge of each other.

      2. Identify and explore important issues.

      3. Assess your compatibility.

      4. Address possible areas of difficulty,

      These are all valid reasons why many couples need it!

      In the U.S. we've been brainwashed into believing the "follow your heart" mindset when it comes to love. Essentially the message is to overlook the obvious "red flags" and "believe" somehow or someway things will work out! Even the statement "Marriage is (hard work)" causes many people to believe that "drama" and fighting are normal. Many of us pursue relationships without having taken the time to figure out who (we) are let alone know what it is we want and need in a mate for life. We allow impulsive connections and happenstance to dictate our relationship choices.

      It's the equivalent of going shopping without a list!

      I believe there are 3 basic reasons why couples divorce.

      1. They chose the wrong mate. (They're too incompatible.)

      2. Someone committed a "deal breaker" in the eyes of another.

      3. They fell out of love/stopped wanting the same things.

      The goal is to find someone who shares your same values, wants the same things you do, naturally agrees with you on how to obtain those things, and last but not least have a mutual depth of love and desire for one another.

      Compatibility trumps compromise.

      Like attracts like and opposites attract divorce attorneys!

      A premarital counselor is a neutral party who is not swept up by "infatuation" or sees marriage as an item on a "to do" list. They can point out potential issues and give a couple some food for thought. Having said that I wonder just how many couples back out or change their minds.

      Once the engagement has been publically announced and the "save the date" notices have been mailed out every "red flag" that pops up is considered as having a "cold feet" moment.

      Once deposits have been put down on venues, for a DJ, photographer, videographer, wedding cake, invitations, and flowers....it becomes a real big snowball rolling down hill.

      Truthfully it might be best to see a premarital counselor before officially becoming engaged!

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