Premarital Counselling

Is premarital counselling necessary?

You likely test-drove several vehicles before buying your last car, read every tech blog possible to see which smartphone was best for you, and even texted a few dressing-room pics of yourself to a friend before buying that cute maxi dress. As an educated, modern woman, you know researching your options and getting a few opinions can be a good thing. So, why are we so afraid to get a little help when it comes to our relationships?!

Couples therapy, relationship coaching, premarital counselling — most people would agree these are all great ways to help your relationship grow and thrive. And yet, no one is ever excited about going to see their therapist. Is this reluctance to premarital counselling due to a fear of admitting our lives aren’t “perfect?” Or do we just think it’s a waste of time? Read on to get the pros and cons of premarital counselling from therapists, counsellors and family-law experts who ought to know!

If you’re like me, you’re probably wondering if premarital counselling is really necessary. After all, who knows your relationship better than the two of you, right? But an outsider’s point of view can be extremely helpful when trying to put your best self forward in a committed relationship. Isn’t that why we all find ourselves talking about relationship issues –big or small– to a friend over a glass of wine or two at some point in our lives? Getting that feedback from a neutral expert can be even more beneficial than you think.

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According to a survey published in the Journal of Family Psychology, couples with premarital counselling reported higher levels of marital satisfaction. They experienced a 30 per cent decline in the likelihood of divorce over five years. Some couples in Colorado thought premarital counselling was so important that they proposed legislation that would require every single, engaged couple to participate in 10 hours of premarital counselling before they could legally wed! The initiative also included a tax cut for couples who voluntarily complete continuing marriage education each year to “reduce the billions of dollars taxpayers spent annually on divorce.” While this never made it to the ballot, it did get us thinking what exactly is premarital counselling, and should couple consider it? Here’s what we found out…

What is premarital counselling?

Premarital counselling is a form of therapy that seeks to ensure that you and your partner have a strong, healthy relationship, giving you a foundation for a stable and mutually satisfying marriage. If you’re getting married in a house of worship, then you might already have faith-based marriage classes booked in your schedule, since some churches and synagogues mandate them.

What happens during counselling?

Your premarital counsellor will help you hash out some details with regards to important and emotional topics such as kids, intimacy and money. You’ll be asked questions about your individual career goals, your values, your financial situation, your sex life, your expectations with regards to having children, your religious beliefs, your family involvement, and your social lives. While you’ll find that you’ve probably already discussed a lot of these topics, you might be surprised by some of the questions, including If for some reason, we can’t have children, will we pursue adoption? Will, one of us, stop working after we have children, and how will that affect our lifestyle and finances? What do we want our children to learn from our relationship? How will we deal with each other’s friends we don’t like very much? What are our zero-tolerance hot buttons (i.e. financial dishonesty, infidelity, drinking too much, gambling)? What are the repercussions of those missteps?

As you work through the questions, keep an open mind and be prepared to find out some hard truths that were either unknown or ignored before your session. For example, you may find out that your fiance wants more alone time, is unhappy with one of your habits or is holding on to some toxic resentments from the past. Your counsellor will observe your behaviours and help you see where you can improve your conflict resolution skills, have realistic expectations of one another, dismantle fears about marriage, and identify potential areas of future stress in your relationship. Don’t worry though–your counsellor will also highlight and help you nourish the strong parts of your relationship, which is beneficial in its way for reinforcing what you agree on and love about each other.

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Why Premarital counselling?

Premarital counselling helps couples to better prepare for the demands of marriage. Within the context of a supportive environment, they learn to communicate more effectively and get the chance to explore topics they might otherwise find difficult to discuss.

Premarital counselling also draws people’s attention to weaknesses in their relationship so these can be addressed constructively. It goes a step further by helping couples to anticipate future problems that could undermine their relationship, so they are prepared if and when these arise.

The experience of premarital counselling helps to foster a more favourable attitude toward therapy in general. Couples who engage in premarital counselling are usually more willing to seek marriage counselling should it become necessary later in their relationship. Preliminary studies also suggest that premarital counselling may lower the risk of divorce.

The Questions

Many marital problems can be avoided if couples put as much effort into planning for their marriage as they do for their wedding. One way couples can do this is by actively thinking about issues they need to discuss before marriage and then spending time to work through them together. While it is not possible to anticipate every possible scenario that could develop, the following questions can alert couples to aspects of their relationship, they may have overlooked but need to address before marriage.

How do We Handle Family Stress?

Stress is a natural part of life, and marriage brings its own fair share of it. Although each individual has his or her own unique way of managing stress, couples need to consider how well these methods complement each other. What if both partners tend to lash out or to fall apart when under pressure? What if one person has the habit of completely shutting the other out whenever difficulties arise? What if one partner prefers to talk through matters together, but the other would rather deal with stress privately? By openly discussing these issues before getting married, couples achieve a deeper understanding of each other and are better prepared to handle family stress as a cohesive unit.

How do We Handle Family Finances?

Few things create as much conflict between married couples as the subject of money. Differences in income, spending habits and attitudes toward debt can place a huge strain on a marriage. Couples must address sensitive issues such as whether or not to keep their finances separate, who should cover various expenses, how much to spend on their first home, or whether to purchase a home in the first place. Conflicts often arise when individuals fail to disclose important details of their financial situation early in a relationship. Finding out after marriage that one’s partner has an enormous debt or a huge backlog in unpaid child support hardly bodes well for the relationship. By being honest and open with each other about matters such as these, couples can spare themselves major headaches and heartaches later on.

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How do We Handle Family Decisions?

Couples are faced with numerous decisions in marriage—where to live, how much money to spend, if and when to start a family, just to name a few. Before walking down the aisle, it is a good idea for couples to agree on what types of decisions need to be made together and how they will go about making such decisions. If one person always insists on having the last say, that is a major red flag which should be addressed before marriage. It is also wise for couples to discuss how they will handle situations where they strongly disagree about a particular matter.

Should We Have Kids?

In most Western cultures, few individuals enter marriage without broaching the topic of kids—should they have any and if so, how many? The problem is that even when couples agree on these matters before marriage, their preferences could change afterwards. How do they handle such a situation? What if they find out that they cannot conceive naturally? How do they feel about issues such as adoption, surrogacy, and in-vitro fertilization? Once children are in the picture, how will they be cared for? Will one partner become a stay-at-home parent? All of these are matters that should be thoroughly discussed before exchanging vows.

How do We Handle Jobs and Careers?

Since an individual’s job or career has many implications for family life, couples must be clear on each other’s attitudes and expectations regarding work. Will both partners work after marriage or after having children? Is it expected that one or both partners will change jobs in the future, perhaps switching to a less demanding job or seeking a higher-paying one? What if these expectations are not met? How committed are both individuals to their jobs or career? How will work affect the amount of time they spend with each other? What if one partner unexpectedly loses his or her job or suddenly decides to quit? And if one partner starts earning significantly more or less than before, how would that affect the relationship?

How do We Handle Personal Space?

Marriage is intended to be a close partnership between two people. But even the most devoted couples need a little space to themselves every once in a while. Whether it’s a few hours alone with the TV remote, a night out on the town with the girls, or a whole week away with the guys, couples must learn to acknowledge and respect this need in their partner. In many cases, problems arise because partners differ greatly in their individual need for personal space. Without communication and mutual understanding in this regard, one partner could be left feeling smothered, lonely, rejected or resentful toward his or her mate.

What Role do Family and Friends Play in Our Marriage?

It’s important to maintain a support system after marriage, but if couples fail to agree on appropriate boundaries, their friends and relatives may drive a serious wedge between them. Among the questions, couples need to consider are: How comfortable am I around my partner’s extended family and close friends? Is it okay for my partner to discuss marital plans or problems with them? How involved will the in-laws be in our lives, and how involved will we need to be in theirs? What if they become ill and need ongoing care and support? What if family members or friends ask for money? Am I comfortable with my partner communicating with his or her ex? What if my mate has a child with a previous partner, how will that affect our relationship? These are matters best discussed before, not after, marriage.

How do We Handle Conflict?

For couples caught up in a whirlwind romance, a discussion about conflict might be the last thing on their minds. But no marriage is perfect, and once the honeymoon phase wears off, couples will have to put their conflict management skills to good use if they want their marriage to survive. Knowing how the other person handles disagreements is important when planning for the future. What if one person insists on resolving conflicts as soon as they arise, but the other prefers to wait until he or she is calm? What if one person tends to give the silent treatment or to withhold sex when there is an argument? Do partners tend to say or do things in the heat of the moment that they later regret? How easy is it for them to apologize to each other? And at what point in a conflict would it be okay to ask a neutral party to intervene?

How do We Approach Our Sex Life?

There’s no denying that sex is a big part of marriage. Yet, despite its significance, few couples spend enough time openly discussing their needs, desires, and expectations regarding sex. This is sometimes true even of couples who become intimate before marriage. But by avoiding a frank, honest discussion on the subject, couples risk becoming sexually frustrated and dissatisfied with their partners. How big a role is a sex expected to play in their relationship? What if they differ greatly in terms of sexual desire? What if one partner’s interest in sex changes significantly due to illness, stress, or other factors? What are their thoughts regarding things like pornography and open marriages? What are sexual acts definitely off the table? True, it might be uncomfortable, if not difficult, to have these conversations, but the benefits of doing so will be apparent long into a marriage.

Get Familiar with Marriage counselling 

Another great reason to attend premarital counselling is it’ll help your counsellor know the dynamics of your relationship just in case difficult situations arise in the future.

If you and your partner run into problems during your marriage, you’ll already be acquainted with the idea of counselling. Together, the two of you can attend marriage counselling to overcome any crisis that may come up in the future.

The sooner you address problems that arise during your marriage, the less likely issues can fester and the greater your relationship can grow into a more satisfying and fulfilling marriage.

Marriage Role Expectations

Your ideas about the role of spouses are shaped in large part by your family of origin. Your future spouse had different experiences. It’s helpful to convey your perception of a good marriage and what the expectations should be. You will each have to separate from the ideals of your family of origin to form your own expectations of what your marriage is going to be like.

However, premarital counselling provides more than just topics to discuss. While discussing these topics, you and your partner will also learn how to respectfully talk about them without the conversation leading to fighting and hurt feelings-plus how to resolve conflicts when they inevitably happen successfully. It will act as a safe space to reveal thoughts and feelings you may otherwise have been keeping to yourself for fear of “rocking the boat” or causing unnecessary stress on your relationship.

If you and your partner decide to partake in premarital counselling you can expect the following benefits:

  • A better understanding of your and your partner’s hopes for your marriage and life together
  • Improved communication and conflict management skills to help keep issues from escalating into serious marital problems
  • Awareness of differences that may require compromise and a chance to lay the groundwork for those compromises before you’re married
  • Outside Examples of successful marriages and what it takes to maintain one
  • Stronger bond and increased trust with your partner
  • Reduced risk of divorce (according to a 2006 study, couples who had premarital counselling were 31% less likely to divorce)
  • A greater awareness of the areas of your relationship that are already very strong and others that may need some more work

Couples who decide to forego premarital counselling can still go on to have a fulfilled married life, and couples who participate in it can still end up divorced. However, there’s no denying that it offers many benefits to couples in terms of ensuring they’re fully prepared to make a lifelong commitment to each other.

If seeing a therapist brings up major issues for you and your partner, it could turn into an argument that ends with you calling off your engagement. While this is not ideal, it can also save you from marrying someone who is not right for you, and it can also save you from the heartbreak of divorce.

While there are a few potential cons to premarital counselling, the positives far outweigh the negatives. Couples therapy is a great way for engaged couples to discuss major issues in their relationship before saying “I do” for a lifetime. Nothing can guarantee a successful marriage, but premarital counselling can help you figure out what it takes to ensure your marriage will thrive!

Premarital Counselling
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