Does Premarital Counseling Belong on Your Wedding Checklist?

Couple in therapyPlanning the wedding felt overwhelming for Megan. With her family living far away and her fiancé uninterested in the details, she was essentially left alone to plan the most important day of her life.

When her best friend Steph became engaged, Megan was ecstatic. They could plan together. She was no longer out there by herself. They shared wedding lists, checked out venues, and shopped for bridal gowns.

One day, Steph looked uneasy. The conversation went like this:

Steph (to Megan): “I need to tell you something. There’s one thing on my list I haven’t shared with you.”

Megan: “Really? What is it?”

Steph: “Brian and I are going for premarital counseling.”

Megan: “Wow, what for? Is something wrong?”

Steph: “That’s exactly why I didn’t want to share it with anyone. People think if you are going to premarital counseling, something must be wrong. But that’s not the case.”

Megan: “I thought premarital counseling was only for couples with serious problems or couples who were questioning getting married.”

Steph: “That’s what most people think, but that’s not true. There are studies showing that couples who have premarital counseling or education improve their odds of being happy and staying together by 30%.”

Megan: “Really? I didn’t know that.”

Steph: “Brian and I want to be as prepared as possible for marriage, since we both come from families of divorce. I did some research on how to succeed in marriage and found a lot of great information. We’re determined to make our relationship work.”

Megan: “Sounds like a great idea. What are you learning?”

Steph: “Wow, there is so much. We’re learning how to communicate effectively, especially how to manage conflict. We discussed our family histories and how our emotional baggage could get in the way if we’re not careful. And we are talking about our expectations up front regarding money, careers, parenting, in-laws, religion, and anything else we can anticipate. Next session, we’ll focus on our styles of love and how to create more sexual intimacy. Can’t wait for that!”

Megan: “It sounds amazing. Maybe we should go.”

Steph: “I’d recommend it to everyone. We’re already feeling more confident about our future and building a strong foundation.”

An Investment in Your Future Together

“I wish I had known … that being in love is not an adequate foundation for building a successful marriage.” —Dr. Gary Chapman

After 25 years in practice specializing in relationships and marriage, I am still exhilarated when couples come to see me before the wedding. The average couple waits six years after problems have begun to walk through my door. By that point, typically there have been years of damage to the marriage or a major crisis, such as an affair. So when I see a couple with the desire to start “right” from the beginning, it’s a breath of fresh air.

Our culture romanticizes love and marriage. Many people approach their marriages as if “happily ever after” happens without consciously working on the relationship. No one tells us that the feelings of love and passion that come naturally in the beginning must be consciously and consistently nurtured, lest they die a slow death.

I often see partners who wake up one day and realize they don’t feel they’re “in love.” They haven’t had sex in months; they’ve become roommates, doing the business of their family, all the while neglecting the couple connection.

Thanks to 42 years of research on marriage by Dr. John Gottman, we know what makes marriages last:

  • Effectively communicating during conflict
  • Repairing the connection after an upset
  • Making room to be influenced by our partners
  • Honoring each other’s feelings
  • Keeping a ratio of at least five positive interactions to every one negative interaction

Learning the skills to communicate, manage conflict, negotiate, collaborate, and problem-solve, and being mindful of feeding emotional and sexual intimacy over time, is vital for a marriage to be happy and successful. We have the data and the knowledge to increase the success of marital unions. We just need to get the word out to couples before they wed, allowing them to use the skills they learn to grow and thrive together.

Many hours, days, and months are spent planning for the wedding. By adding premarital counseling to your wedding list, you’re planning for your marriage.

References:

  1. Carroll, J. S., and Doherty, W. J. (2003). Evaluating the Effectiveness of Premarital Prevention Programs: A Meta-Analytic Review of Outcome Research. Family Relations, 52(2), 105-118.
  2. Gottman, J. M., and Gottman, J. S. (1999). The marriage survival kit: a research-based marital therapy. In Berger, R., and Hannah, M. T. (Eds.), Preventive approaches in couples therapy. (pp. 304-330). Philadelphia: Brunner/Mazel.
  3. Gottman, J. M., and Silver, N. (2015). The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. New York: Harmony Books.

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Lori Hollander, LCSW-C, BCD, therapist in Owings Mills, Maryland

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 14 comments
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  • Cash

    Cash

    June 16th, 2015 at 10:34 AM

    Absolutely! And I think that there are a lot of churches that actually require you to go through this counseling before the minister there will even marry you.

  • Jessie

    Jessie

    June 16th, 2015 at 3:34 PM

    Don’t you think that the couple and not a counselor will have a truly better feel for whether or not they belong together? And the reality is that even if you don’t do well in the counseling sessions, you can always change and hold things together even against the odds.

  • Aiden

    Aiden

    June 16th, 2015 at 5:26 PM

    If this is someone that you plan to be married to forever then I would definitely recommend a little pre marital counseling ahead of the big day.
    Why not?
    You are only going to be brought closer together by the experience and will be able to find out before you make the real deal whether there are some issues that you need to work on together.
    Personally for me it will be a no brainer. we will go.

  • Margie

    Margie

    June 17th, 2015 at 7:47 AM

    Pre-marital counseling can be wonderful, but it in no way is a guarantee that the marriage will last and stay together. There are plenty of couples, of whom I am sure have gone through counseling together prior to marriage, and have still felt invincible, and at the end of the day, have still wound up being in divorce court.

    It can be great and help you and your partner recognize if the two of you are on the same page about the big issues, but it in no way assures you that you will not wind up with the same old marital problems that every other couple can face as well.

  • Lori Hollander

    Lori Hollander

    June 17th, 2015 at 6:41 PM

    Cash, Yes, often ministers require some pre-marital counseling for couples they are going to marry. Thanks for your comment. Lori

  • Lori Hollander

    Lori Hollander

    June 17th, 2015 at 6:50 PM

    Jessie, You’re right, a couple should determine whether they belong together, not a counselor. As a counselor who does premarital work, I would never tell a couple they should not be together. My job is to offer them the opportunity to learn and/or improve the skills that couples need to succeed in marriage. Lori

  • Lori Hollander

    Lori Hollander

    June 17th, 2015 at 6:51 PM

    Aiden, That’s a great way to look at it. Thanks so much! Lori

  • Lori Hollander

    Lori Hollander

    June 17th, 2015 at 7:02 PM

    Margie, Yes, though the studies referenced above have shown that the chances of succeeding are 30% higher, premarital counseling is no guarantee that couples will stay together forever.

    Even if couples have education or counseling in the beginning, they must continue to work on their marriage for a lifetime. My husband and I have done couples work for 25 years, and we tell all our clients we work on our marriage everyday. A relationship needs to be continually fed and nurtured or it will not survive long-term. Thanks for your comment. Lori

  • jay

    jay

    June 18th, 2015 at 10:32 AM

    It’s always good to at least have a little conversation about the big things that most marriages will eventually encounter. It’s a good way to not be blindsided a little later on.

  • Louella

    Louella

    June 19th, 2015 at 2:40 PM

    When I got married 30 years ago this wasn’t something that anyone would ever do. I happen to think that had I actually known what was beneath the surface of my husband on certain points of view I may have never initially agreed to even marry him! But we are still going strong so I guess in some ways it was better for me to find out along the way instead of all at one time!

  • Len

    Len

    June 20th, 2015 at 2:03 PM

    Why not ? I don’t think that anyone who has been through it would ever say that something bad has come from it. As a matter of fact I think that most couples would probably agree that even if uncomfortable things come up they are glad that it came up here and gave them a safe forum in which they could discuss it versus five years down the road and finding out something about this person that they really did not like but figured they would just have to live with.

  • Lori Hollander

    Lori Hollander

    June 22nd, 2015 at 9:27 AM

    Jay, Thanks for your comment! Lori

  • Lori Hollander

    Lori Hollander

    June 22nd, 2015 at 9:29 AM

    Louella, You’re right, times have changed. Glad you and your husband are working at it! Lori

  • Lori Hollander

    Lori Hollander

    June 22nd, 2015 at 9:30 AM

    Len, I appreciate you sharing your perspective! Lori

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