5 Reasons to Pursue Premarital Counseling
by Jaclyn Chung, AMFT -- Jaclyn is passionate about working with couples and especially couples taking the next step to marriage. Here she shares what she's learned about the benefits of premarital counseling.
Preparing for a lifetime of love through the commitment of marriage is a beautiful life step that many people choose to take in their lifetimes. In the bliss of being in love and planning for a wedding, preparation for the reality of lifetime partnership with another person often gets pushed down on the priority list in the midst of all there is to do. While we’re not legally required to take prep courses on marriage or get licensed to wed, investing energy in building a secure foundation with the one you love through premarital counseling is one of the most important things you can do for your relationship.
Here are some reasons why making premarital counseling part of the plan is worth it.
1. Reduce your risk of divorce by up to 30%.
Research shows that investing in counseling prior to marriage can reduce a couple’s risk of divorce. A 2003 metanalysis concluded that premarital counseling programs help reduce the risk by 30% (Carroll & Doherty, 2004). Furthermore, the Relationship Development Study conducted in 2007-2008 from the National Marriage Project found that couples that make intentional decisions when moving through major relationship transitions had better relationship quality overall. Putting effort into big relationship milestones suggests partners care about the relationship enough to plan (nationalmarriageproject.org).
2. Gain insight into your relationship.
The first thing counseling does is give couples dedicated space to talk about their relationship. While most couples have some clarity about the state of their relationship if they are marriage bound, couples may also become aware of new things that are revealed in the counseling space. For instance, partners bring all sorts of expectations into their relationships and marriage is no exception. Sometimes partners don’t realize what they were expecting from one another or the marriage until conflict arises later on. In the midst of strong feelings of love and connection, especially in the excitement of wedding planning, having a realistic and objective view of the relationship may not be easy.
A couples’ therapist can help partners take a pragmatic look at their relationship. Having a nonbiased, third party facilitator reflect the essence of the relationship can allow a couple to see the whole of the relationship, which includes the most wonderful parts and also tougher parts. Strengths and growth areas exist within every intimate relationship. With the help of a compassionate and skilled therapist, couples can acknowledge all areas with integrity.
3. Work through important relationship dynamics like finances, roles and responsibilities, and conflict resolution.
Each of us carries ideas about how couples and families should work. Our views typically come from what was modeled to us in our own families of origin. Whether we are aware of it or not, we’ve developed specific ways of managing important domains of our lives. Sometimes, we don’t realize how attached we are to our ways of doing things like managing money or chores we’re willing to take on until our partners’ ways come into conflict with our own. Perhaps you’ve rejected the way your parents handled disciplining or you want a nontraditional partnership despite your parents very traditional marriage. Oftentimes, bringing up expectations about family life and relationship dynamics, especially if we find ours differs from our partner’s, can bring up tough and uncomfortable emotions.
Making space to have conversations about major areas of life that will be tended to in partnership is pivotal to marriage. The beauty of creating a new marriage and family is that couples get to decide what they take from their families of origins and what they leave. First, couples have to become aware of what they inherently believe about major relationship dynamics. Then, the couple’s therapist can facilitate conversations around what works for a couple, helping to navigate difficult emotions along the way.
4. Learn how to communicate effectively.
One of the main reasons married couples seek therapy is because they recognize that they do not know how to communicate. Communication is one of the three C’s, along with closeness and commitment, as a predictor of potential intimacy in relationships. Being able to communicate well means being willing to express emotions and needs and being able to understand the emotions and needs of a partner. To have healthy and efficient communication, couples have to be willing to have difficult conversations. Oftentimes, couples in counseling find that they’ve created patterns of communication that involve blaming, uncontrolled anger and yelling, dismissing, and checking out of the conversation that eventually lead to avoiding hard conversations altogether.
Learning how to effectively communicate prior to committing to marriage is imperative to the long-term success of a marriage. Premarital counseling can provide skills to couples that come from evidence-based practices and expert marriage researchers that have been proven to work. Couples can then practice those skills like active listening, attuning, reflecting, and asking open-ended questions in the context of the safe therapeutic setting.
5. Notice and celebrate your strengths and get motivated to work on your growth areas.
Part of an initial couple’s assessment usually includes a sort of “snapshot” of the relationship. What partners find is that they already have many strengths individually and within the union. After all, most couples are contemplating commitment to marriage because lots of things are already working well. Acknowledging those strengths can foster gratitude for the relationship, allow partners to appreciate one another, and inspire the couple to build on those strengths. Premarital counseling can provide exercises in order to do that.
Likewise, couples will have the opportunity to confront their relational growth areas. Sometimes potential growth areas are already known to couples, and sometimes they come as a surprise. Having a therapist to guide conversations around growth areas can be more easeful than if the couple tries to tackle them on their own without vital support. Therapists can also help couples cope with differences, build up crucial resources to support them in their marriage, and establish plans around potential conflict.
Premarital counseling is a proven and powerful tool that has helped many couples feel more prepared when making a lifetime commitment. Building a strong foundation is fundamental to not only a lasting marriage but a meaningful and thriving relationship.
Coherence Associates is launching a premarital course proven to create a solid base for couples. It is for newly engaged couples, those thinking of getting engaged, or anyone wanting to create stronger, more meaningful partnerships. Get in touch with us to find out more! Info@coherenceassociates.com or 760-942-8663.
Carroll, J.S. & Doherty, W. J. (2004). Evaluating the effectiveness of premarital prevention programs: A meta‐analytic review of outcome research. Family Relations, 52(2). https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1741-3729.2003.00105.x