Premarital Counseling: Early and Often

I’m a big proponent for pre-marital counseling, although I don’t market myself specifically as a premarital counselor, (and there are some therapists who do specify their work as towards this) I definitely believe that taking the time to plan and discuss things, particularly goals and expectations, is absolutely necessary for long term relationships, whether it involves marriage or just cohabitating together. It’s important to know what we are getting into, who we are getting into it with, what their expectations are for the short term and the long term, whether they want children, parenting styles, who will work, who will stay home, do they want a career, and so on and so forth… And it also helps to get to know ourselves. What do we want and expect from the relationship, and what do we expect from ourselves within a relationship?

We have this idea, an idealistic ideology which suggests that “love is all you need,” well sure, yes love is good, but we also need more practical things, yes, I know, less romantic things as well, such as commitment, communication, and understanding. It also helps to know what your partner’s expectations are, as well as what your expectations are before jumping feet first into a long-term commitment of some sort. We have these romantic notions that love will help us work everything out, but that is often only the case if true commitment is there and comparable ideals and goals.

Dr. Helen Fischer, PhD did a lot of research on the subject of love. She cites three phases of love: Lust, Romantic Love and the long term Attachment Phase Love. The basic notions are that the early stages of lust and romantic love trigger synapses in our brains which release chemicals and/or hormones which mimic the state of being high, as though one is on cocaine. This could explain why in our society where we put such a heavy weight on falling in love that there is also such a thing now-a-days as “love addiction.” People, in essence are chasing the high of falling in love, i.e. the stages of Lust and/or Romantic love. As a sex therapist, in my office, I see this all too often, fear and panic sets in as the romantic love wanes and lends its way towards attachment phase love. People wonder, “What is happening to our sex life, and/ or sex drive?” When in all actuality, this is natural. Most passion, romance and excitement is apparent in the first 18 months of the relationship. After that, what is really happening is that the long term, attachment phase love is kicking in. Dr. Fischer also cites this phase as biology’s way of making us ready to procreate. After all, when we are in a state of being high, as though we are on cocaine, we are not very well cut out to be parents. This is why the final phase of love, the attachment, security, call it what you will phase is a natural part of life and love. Besides who would want to be high all the time anyway?

Here is the thing. You cannot account for everything. On a day-to-day matter in marriage there are always going to be things which you did not account for. For example, “I had no idea that my husband loves to travel,” should not be something you realize after he’s gone on trip #4 without you, or “I had no idea my wife hates swimming,” if you’re an avid beach go-er. These are just examples, and you’re probably laughing, saying you would know this stuff. But you would be surprised how little people often know about each other. There is bigger more serious stuff, like having children, staying home to raise the children, save money for a bigger house or for a better vacation. These are just some examples of things you should know about before saying, “I do.”

Another thing to account for is that people change. Premarital counseling as a concept suggests that counseling needs to happen before the commitment is made, however I would like to remind that as people we are constantly growing, changing, ebbing and flowing, that our desires change, our wants change, our ideas change, our expectations change and our minds change. Sure, your husband said may have said one thing, about one month into the relationship or during premarital counseling, but the part that he forgot to mention, or the part that you refused to hear was that his expectations for a girlfriend and a wife are quite different. It helps to sit down and talk about these in a setting where you will both be listening as well as communicating. Premarital counseling is a lot about expectations, and getting to know your partner. In the sense that people are constantly growing and changing, we should consider doing “premarital counseling” often and regularly, so that we may grow and change with our partner.

Doing premarital counseling early can save a lot of confusion, frustration and anger down the road, and doing premarital counseling often can save your relationship in the long term.

© Copyright 2011 by Mou Wilson. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

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

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  • jiah

    May 25th, 2011 at 2:42 AM

    living together with someone in a long term relationship or in a marriage is a very big and important decision in anybody’s life.and yes,I would want to know if I am compatible with that person and also about his future plans and everything.just being able to have fun together is not enough for a long term.

    and it is in this that premarital counseling is just so useful. a couple of my friends have taken it up in the past and good things is all I’ve heard about premarital counseling. it’s almost like taking a peek into the future so that you’re not surprised when your spouse tells you that he wants to take an early retirement! ;)

  • steven

    May 25th, 2011 at 4:36 AM

    In my church my fiancee and I were required to go through several premarital counseling sessions with our minister. Of course it was spiritually based but it did allow us to explore everyday situations that we all knew would come up once we were married. At the time I thought I would do it just to be able to get married, but now I see that it gave us some real ways to have some conflict resolution when those situations arise. It by no means that this is a safeguard against divorce, but it can give you starters for conversation and maybe help you keep your head on a little straighter when issues come up that need to be confronted and resolved.

  • J. L. Jones

    May 25th, 2011 at 6:00 PM

    Moushumi, thanks for an interesting article. I feel that going to premarital counseling can also save you from grief further down the road if you get a divorce. If you do this, at no point can your spouse say you did nothing to ensure a happy marriage.

    Of course you wanted one if you went to that even before you wed! That’s proof you wanted it to succeed.

  • Gino R.

    May 25th, 2011 at 7:50 PM

    I wish we had had premarital counseling. Our relationship was a whirlwind romance–followed by a whirlwind divorce in less than a year. She was nothing like I thought she was when we met.

    @J.L. Jones. I agree that’s an important thing. If your wife divorces you, you lose half of everything. If you can prove they were the bad guy and you did everything possible to prevent that happening, you can shove them out the door and laugh about it.

  • Eric B. Lyons

    May 25th, 2011 at 9:22 PM

    There’s way more to relationships than just love. There’s also management of it.

    I broke up with my girlfriend on good terms because we simply didn’t have time for each other, and we knew that it wouldn’t change any time soon.

    If we were able to get the same working hours, it wouldn’t have been a problem at all. As it stood, attempting to align our schedules was stressing us both out.

  • Pauline Collier

    May 26th, 2011 at 11:01 PM

    @Eric — I have a similar story. My boyfriend and I broke up because I was his superior at work. We agreed that we should break up to prevent problems until the situation changed. It wouldn’t look good on my resume if I was accused of letting my boyfriend get away with things, whether it was true or not. (I didn’t.)

    I wish we’d had some kind of counseling about managing a workplace relationship better because I’m sad the breakup happened.

  • Lana J.

    May 27th, 2011 at 11:34 PM

    Why do boyfriends assume they know me inside out after a few weeks together? That’s when problems start.

    They don’t. Especially on likes and dislikes, including my stances on religion and politics.

    I’d jump at premarital counseling if I was getting married. I don’t want to be a divorce statistic and you can’t assume your partner’s views are the same as yours. No couple has discussed every possible topic.

  • maureen brent

    May 29th, 2011 at 9:50 PM

    Who on earth gets married without discussing very important issues like whether or not they want kids?? That signals a lack of serious commitment long term to the marriage in my opinion.

    I would run a mile before marrying a guy who wasn’t interested in discussing the big questions before proposing or marrying. Premarital counseling perfect sense.

    Heck, I’ve spent more time researching what car to buy!

  • annie barlow

    June 4th, 2011 at 1:49 PM

    I feel premarital counseling should be mandatory and tied in with obtaining a marriage license. If you’ve not done it, you don’t get the license.

    I guarantee you the divorce rate would plummet because those that never should have wed in the first place can’t do it!

  • H.L.A.

    June 5th, 2011 at 1:24 PM

    @maureen: What can happen is it doesn’t come to light until well into the relationship.

    My ex absolutely hates dogs. She never told me that. She knew I had a dog. We were together for nine months before she moved in. She told me two days after she arrived, “Get rid of the dog. I hate dogs. It’s him or me.”

    I’m not the kind that responds well to ultimatums. I told her politely but very firmly to leave. I wasn’t going to get rid of my buddy that I’d had since he was a puppy anyway for nobody.

  • Russ Melville

    June 11th, 2011 at 9:26 PM

    @HLA– She was a really selfish woman to do that. Aren’t couples expected to change for each other however and compromise? Whose opinion takes priority when you’re at an impasse on likes and dislikes?

    You can’t mediate on that too easily so who gets the upper hand when it’s a straight “I like this/ I don’t” debate.

  • Walt J. Addison

    June 13th, 2011 at 1:24 AM

    @Russ Melville: The one you’re moving in with is my vote for priority. You wouldn’t tell your host to change things for you, would you? Same way I would quickly tell a guest he has overstayed his welcome when he starts making demands of me.

    Until you get married, you are a guest in their house and their life.

  • Hope B.

    June 13th, 2011 at 2:01 AM

    @Walt– Why does anyone need to be a priority, pray tell? If you communicate well, you’ll find a solution. It’s not a case of “my house, my rules” rubbish. That’s what parents say to teens, not grown adults that are supposed to be in love and in an equal relationship.

    Every argument, discussion or debate has to be taken on its own merits. To say “my house, my rules” is very controlling. If that came out of my fiance’s mouth during premarital counseling, he wouldn’t be my fiance much longer and I’d consider myself lucky to have had a narrow escape!

  • Yvette Prose

    June 18th, 2011 at 8:55 PM

    Post-marital counseling shouldn’t be ignored either. If you feel there’s an issue, you both should talk to a professional if you can’t find any way to come up with a solution together.

    Therapists know way better than you ever will the best approaches to take. Their extensive experience with marriage counseling covers much more than what your mind can conjure up based on what you grew up learning about marriage from your parents. You’re not trained for that and they are, so let them do their job!

  • Moushumi Ghose

    June 18th, 2011 at 10:59 PM

    Thanks for all of your comments. I totally agree, ultimatums are a sign of a power struggle, and are best to be avoided. If you give in to one ultimatum, there will be many more along the way. Also, I cannot imagine, if she really accepted you for who you were, she’d find a compromise not an ultimatum.

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