Before saying “I do,” many couples choose to go to counselling. Premarital counselling is a special kind of therapy that helps prepare you and your partner for marriage. This type of counselling will also help you and your soon-to-be spouse spot relationship patterns that may become problematic down the road. Not every therapist works for every couple, however. Find the right premarital counsellor for you and your partner by seeking referrals, thinking about counseling dynamics, and testing them out for fit.
More and more of today’s engaged couples are seeing the benefits of saying, “I do,” to premarital counselling and education. Research shows that couples that seek out premarital education enjoy a 30% lower chance of divorce than the couples who do not. But before heading out the door to your first appointment, you need to consider the importance of whom you choose to counsel you.
Many people think premarital counseling is only for certain couples. That includes engaged couples who have relationship issues or who are required by their congregation to attend
However, any couple can benefit from premarital counselling. It can help couples who are about to get married, have been married for five years or fewer, are living together or will have a domestic partnership, said Victoria Brodersen, LMFTA, a psychotherapist who specializes in premarital counselling.
Suggested thinking of your relationship “as a piece of machinery” — “[E]ven those that run well require regular maintenance.”
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The Benefits of Premarital Counseling
The goal of premarital counselling is to help couples navigate important questions about their lives together. The premarital program consists of five sessions. Couples talk about the importance of marriage in their lives and what they’d like their marriage to look like.
Often asks couples to describe in detail what they want their life to look like one year and five years after they’re married.
They also learn how to communicate and resolve conflict. They discuss hot button topics, such as money, sex, in-laws, parenting and religion.
“By the end of the program, couples should have a more in-depth understanding of their partner and feel like they are starting their life and marriage on the same page.”
Premarital counselling helps couples better understand their motivations for getting married, which might include building their own family, increasing their commitment to each other and creating a future together.
It also helps them recognize what they want from a partnership and identify their own needs, she said. For instance, a couple might realize that their needs are “to feel loved, valued, validated, heard, to have someone who is always there for them, to work together in life.”
Places a special emphasis on showing couples how unspoken expectations can get them into trouble. Helps them create an environment of understanding and safety. They define what sex means to them, along with what they view as infidelity.
Also asks couples to consider their roles and division of labour in their household. She discusses getting enough sleep and rest. “One-third of their life will be spent in sleep, so it is worth working on to help give the other two-thirds a firm foundation to start from.”
Reasons Couples Skip Counseling
Money is a big reason couples pass on premarital counselling (especially because of wedding costs). However, Encourages couples to think of the long-term benefits. “The wedding is one day, but their marriage should be forever.”
Suggested couples call around, and ask about the costs before making any assumptions. She also suggested finding out if you can use your insurance benefits, or if therapists offer sliding fee scales or reduced rates.
The most affordable option is to get counselling from student therapists at a university clinic, which has a Marriage and Family Therapy program. “It also allows you to glean the knowledge of multiple therapists as those students are supervised by therapist professors that have years of experience and stay up-to-date on the most recent research.”
Another barrier is time. However, the key is to find a program or option that will work for you. Today, there are many options to choose from, including weekend retreats, programs with five 50-minute sessions and even home study programs that guide you through specific questions.
Probably the biggest obstacle is fear, Hansen said. This is twofold. Couples worry that going to counselling means there’s something wrong with their relationship. Suggested reframing this perspective. “[R]remember that working on your relationship in the early phases will help keep it strong and healthy as you grow together.”
Reminds couples about the benefits of focusing on what is and isn’t working in your relationship and learning helpful tools. Plus, going to counselling shows your commitment to your relationship.
Couples also fear that talking about tough topics and exploring their relationship will create or trigger serious conflict. It is better to delve into these issues in counselling so that you have a professional who can help you make sense of any issues and learn how to work through them.”
The conversations or conflicts you avoid will only creep up later and might cause bigger problems.
Catching an illness in its early stages and getting it treated right away, while it’s still mild. If you ignore the illness, you’ll likely need more intensive or invasive treatment later on.
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Here are steps to help you choose the right counsellor for you:
Clarify your expectations
Think about and clarify your expectations. Talk with your fiancé about what each of you would like to accomplish through your premarital education and what you hope the experience will be like.
Choose a counsellor that shares your faith
This will greatly impact the advice and guidance they provide. You want someone who not only respects your faith but also really “gets it” when it comes to applying it to real-life situations.
Look for a counsellor with professional training
Your next-door neighbours may be happily married for 15 years, but that does not make them a strong resource for premarital counselling. Check out the educational backgrounds of premarital counsellors you are considering. Look for someone that has professional training as an MFT (Marriage and Family Therapist) or certification as a premarital counsellor. Many therapists and counsellors specialize in premarital counseling. They will be knowledgeable in the latest marital research, in important topics to cover, inappropriate assessments to administer and the questions to ask during your counselling time together.
Look for a counsellor with experience
A counsellor that has worked with numerous couples will have a stronger background of history and experience from which to draw than someone that has only worked with one or two couples.
Ask for recommendations
Look online for local resources. Ask your friends, relatives, or your pastor whom they would recommend.
Check office hours and locations
Select a premarital counsellor with convenient office hours and locations. This will be important as you, and your fiancé tries to fit regular counselling sessions into your schedules.
Ask about the counselling process
The premarital counsellor should explain his or her typical plan. Ask for an explanation of how the counselling works. You will want to know how often you will see the counsellor, how long the sessions will last, and what to expect when you are there. Some counsellors will do an initial assessment and then work towards goals. Others will have a certain set of topics they feel must be covered and then will ask about additional topics you as a couple would like to address. Others dive right into current weaknesses and issues you are having as a couple. Make sure you are both comfortable with the expectations and direction of the counselling.
Ask for the counselor’s fee
Ask the counsellor how much they charge for each session if insurance is accepted, and how they expect to be paid. Be realistic about your budget and address any limitations. Usually, new counsellors, counsellors working towards their graduate or post-graduate degrees, or certified counsellors will charge less than those who have been practising for a long time. Some counsellors associated with a church oftentimes provide their services for free or a reduced rate.
Check out our post on Tips for Newly Engaged Couples.
How to Find a Premarital Counselor:
Do your Research
With our current online resources, you have access to finding the best therapist for you. Do your research by learning about each therapist. Pay attention to how comfortable you feel with each therapist. Pay attention to how they work as a therapist, along with the comfort level you have with their photo and website. I believe a website represents who we are as therapists.
Contact 3 to 4 Relationship Counselors
Contact 2 to 3 therapists that you are interested in an interview about how they work as therapists. Take notes on each therapist, keep track of your comfort level. Marriage and Family Therapists (MFTs) are specialized in relationships and communicating. I highly recommend using a therapist specifically trained in relationships. Remember, therapists are often in sessions, so it may take a few days to contact each one via telephone.
Interview the Therapist
The premarital and relationship expert market is full and can be overwhelming. Ask the psychotherapist what their specialty is and the experience they have working with premarital counseling. This is your time to interview and weed out the therapists that you like and do not like.
Comfort with the Therapist
As I mentioned earlier, the comfort level is important. While interviewing the therapist, the most important thing to keep in mind is your comfort level. Do you feel comfortable speaking with the therapist? Do you feel like the therapist understands you and can provide what you want? Remember, you will be in the office with the therapist, talking about personal issues.
Be honest with yourself and determine what you are willing to invest in the relationship. Your relationship is the foundation, and everything else is positively or negatively impacted by it. If you can’t afford a therapist’s fee, ask if they have a sliding scale (a lower fee slot) or if they have any recommendations. I believe that “one size does not fit all” for therapists, so don’t pick one based off of “cheapest price.” Your relationship matters, so make the therapy worth your time, energy, and money.
Ask the person who’s marrying you
If you are already planning your wedding, you might connect with a premarital counsellor by checking with the person who’s marrying you. Although many premarital counsellors are licensed marriage and family therapists, you might also receive counselling from a religious or spiritual leader who facilitates the marriage ceremony.
- Even if your priest, minister, or officiant does not conduct premarital counselling, it might be helpful to ask. They have probably worked with countless couples who’ve gone through counselling, so they may be able to suggest a therapist for you.
- You might say, “Do you offer premarital counselling services or know someone who does?”
Get recommendations from your social circle
Do you know anyone who’s recently gotten married? You might ask newlyweds for a referral to a premarital counsellor in your area. You might also reach out to family, friends, and coworkers to see if you might locate a counsellor who suits your needs.
Check with your insurance provider
Since most premarital counsellors are licensed therapists, you can usually find some candidates by checking with your insurance company. This might be a better route anyway, since your insurer may reimburse you the cost of the counselling sessions.
- Call the phone number on the back of your insurance card or visit your insurer’s website to locate premarital counsellors in your area.
- You might also reach out to Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) at the job that can refer you to a counsellor. There are also insurance plans that cover counselling, so check with your insurer about mental and behavioural health benefits, and ask for a list of covered counsellors.
Think about finances
If money is an issue (which it often is for couples planning a wedding), you might reach out to community resources that offer financial assistance or low-cost services to couples. Such services are often available at local churches, mental health clinics, and teaching hospitals.
- You might also research therapists through the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy to find professionals who meet your budget constraints.
Choosing the Right Dynamic
Think about your goals
There are a number of reasons why couples may choose to go to premarital counselling. You and your partner should clarify your specific, unified goals so that you can find a therapist who is most capable of meeting your needs as a couple.
- For example, some couples may require premarital counselling as a criterion before marrying within a specific religion or at a certain religious location.
- Others may desire better communication skills or conflict resolution techniques. Still, others may simply want to strengthen their relationship on all counts to reduce their chances of divorce.
- For premarital counseling to be beneficial, both partners should be interested in and committed to going.
Choose a counsellor based on your religion
Are you getting counselling because of your unique religious or spiritual beliefs? If so, you may reach out to your religious or spiritual organization to see if they can connect you with an experienced premarital counsellor.
- Similarly, you may also interview potential counsellors to determine their religious or spiritual beliefs. This may help you find a therapist who aligns with your values and can help you work on your marriage with those factors in mind.
- Furthermore, if you and your partner have different beliefs, you might locate a counsellor who has experience working with interfaith couples.
Decide between individual or group counselling
The two most common formats for premarital counseling are individual and group. Individual therapy involves just you, your partner, and the therapist. This is a very unique and personalized format. Group therapy may include you and your partner, along with a few other couples.
- Group therapy enables you to learn vicariously through the problems of other couples. Plus, you can find support from others who are preparing for marriage.
Assessing the Fit
Review each counsellor’s background and experience
The purpose of premarital counseling is to increase your odds of having a healthy and satisfying marriage. Therefore, you’ll want to better your odds by working with a counsellor who has experience. Ask each counsellor how many couples they’ve worked with and also narrow your list down by reading reviews of each counsellor online.
- While anyone with a background in relationship dynamics may be able to help you, you will get the most help from a professional who has been trained as a marriage and family therapist or who has a certification in premarital counselling.
Do a trial session
Once you’ve narrowed down a few candidates (maybe one or two), arrange to have an initial session with them. Come prepared with a list of questions, such as the therapist’s theoretical orientation, their belief system, and their approach to working with couples.
- Questions to ask might include:
- “What’s your experience with premarital counseling?”
- “What’s your approach?”
- “Will we have homework?”
- “What will determine when we are finished with counselling?”
Find out which program or framework the counsellor uses
During your trial session, ask your counsellor which marriage education and training program influences their work. Most premarital counselling services will be based on the principles of research-based marriage education programs like the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program (PREP).
- Once you learn which program your counsellor is using, research it to make sure it aligns with your values and goals.
- Many programs also use books or videos to supplement exercises. Ask your counsellor if you need to go out and purchase any of these materials or if they will be provided.
Make sure they can help you achieve your goals
One of the most important aspects of premarital counselling sessions is helping a couple prepare for marriage. However, that’s a very broad objective, so you’ll want to size your therapist up to ensure they can cover what’s most important to you.
- For instance, you might ask, “Will we cover money management in our sessions? That’s an issue for us.” or “Do you have any experience working with blended families? We both have kids from previous relationships.”
Make sure you both feel comfortable
After you’ve scheduled one session, sit down with your partner and discuss your comfort level with the professional. It’s very important that you both feel safe and capable of sharing sensitive or intimate information with this person. Only move forward with the sessions if you both feel comfortable with this person.
- Feeling like therapy is a safe place is quite significant. Many couples may see a therapist for premarital counseling and then continue to see them throughout the life of the marriage as new issues arise.
- Ideally, you should feel as comfortable with this professional as you do with your family physician.
- If you can’t find a counsellor that you’re comfortable with or you realize that private therapy isn’t for you, consider attending premarital groups or taking premarital classes as an alternative.
Be prepared to work
Premarital counselling isn’t necessarily a walk in the park. For most couples, these sessions will bring up difficult issues that must be resolved for the benefit of the marriage. Both partners should begin therapy with the understanding that it will be challenging and uncomfortable at times. Both must be willing to work during and after the sessions to enjoy lasting results.
Timing is Everything
Pre Wedding counselling has one distinct advantage: Learning how to communicate and work through problems is a lot easier before the wedding rather than many years after. Once you’re married, you’ll both have unspoken expectations for each other, never mind sometimes unrealistic ideas from your childhood about what married life should be like. Before marriage, you’re still in a building stage—the expectations are there, but it’s easier to be open up about the issues that threaten difficulty. And by learning how to talk through differences, you will form good habits that will carry you through the years.
Face the Facts
So how do you know if premarital counseling is for you? In our opinion, it’s for everyone. Every relationship can and should benefit from some type of counselling. But it’s especially for those couples who want to continue to work on things like the ability to communicate with each other successfully. Every marriage presents difficulties and obstacles, and communication will be what helps you overcome them. If you have trouble talking through the issues in your lives—and we mean talking—it’s smart to learn how to do it now, when you’re engaged.
Where to Go
As previously mentioned, a house of worship or local premarital counsellors are always great options, as are local community centres that may offer marital workshops. However, if you’re uncomfortable about professional therapy, unable to afford it or simply a tech-savvy couple looking for something a bit more convenient (while just as impactful), Lasting may be just the thing.