Premarital Counseling

“[Premarital Counseling] was really useful to me, even though we have no major current issues. I would point out how much money most people are willing to spend on their wedding, but not on preparing for marriage, doesn’t make sense.”
Washington, D.C.

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What is Premarital Counseling?

Congratulations on your engagement! The wedding is coming up soon, and I bet you’re very excited and eager to celebrate the big day. This is a time of high excitement and high stress, and if you’ve landed on this page you’re probably interested in why you should consider premarital counseling. Premarital counseling is different from Marriage Counseling because the couple is not necessarily in counseling to fix problems in the relationship. Rather, couples who seek out premarital counseling are looking to examine and discuss important aspects of their relationship that are going to change as they get married and build a life together. It provides a chance to, “consider and discuss things that will increase the likelihood of a successful marriage,” says family-law attorney Mark Baer. Common aspects that get discussed are:
"Robin digs deep and keeps pursuing comments we make, until we are clear and specific on expressing our feelings and expressing what we hear our partner say."
Washington, D.C.

Why are more couples choosing premarital counseling to prepare for marriage? Perhaps because of the ominous “50% divorce rate” in the U.S. Or maybe, it is because the research shows that couples who participate in premarital counseling programs report, on average, a 30% stronger marriage than couples who did not participate in these programs (Stanley, Amato, Johnson & Markman, 2006). Jason S. Carroll, assistant professor of marriage, family, and human development at Brigham Young University, says “After participating in these programs, couples reported or were observed to be better at resolving problems using effective communication styles, and on average, they reported higher levels of relationship quality.” One comprehensive study of 1,235 couples found that 92 percent of couples reported premarital counseling helped during their first year of marriage. The study followed up on these couples 4 years later and found that 80 percent still reported premarital counseling has helped them in their marriage (Carroll & Doherty, 2003). Researchers say the findings suggest that premarital counseling is a good investment for couples who are serious about preparing for a lifelong commitment.

What's the Downside of Premarital Counseling?

I’ve seen couples come in for premarital counseling initially, but after exploring issues it becomes apparent that couples therapy is what’s really needed. Again, Mark Baer, family-law attorney, “Premarital counseling has the potential of creating problems, in that it causes people to think about and discuss issues they may never have considered. While this can be viewed as a con, I would propose that it is also a pro because it forces the discussion before marriage, as opposed to after marriage. Why not be preventative and not reactive?” As Becky Whetstone, Ph.D., LMFT tells it, “Marriage and Family Therapist’s know to look into each person’s beliefs and values concerning money, child-raising, spirituality, individuality, partnership, marriage in general, and more. If we see an emotionally immature or incompatible couple heading for a marital train wreck, we’ll tell them.” Dr. Tasha R. Howe, professor of psychology at Humboldt State University argues that healthy marriages usually have a ratio of 5 positive interactions for every 1 negative interaction. In her book titled, “Marriages and Families in the 21st Century: A Bioecological Approach,” she talks about how, “Premarital counseling, especially that which focuses on all of the bioecological systems that influence partners, can help solve problems before a couple marries, in order to increase the chance of success. The most common problems couples face are financial struggles, differences in sex drive, erroneous perceptions about their partners, and lack of communication.”

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