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A Guide To Premarital Counseling

Updated: Sep 12, 2023

Television and social media make marriage look easy, as though it creates an unbreakable bond between two people that allows them to withstand all obstacles no matter what.

In reality, a healthy marriage requires a great deal of sacrifice and effort. You and your soon-to-be spouse may love each other, but love doesn’t magically prepare you for marriage. A healthy relationship relies on strong communication habits, realistic expectations, and conflict resolution skills. Premarital counseling is an important tool that helps couples develop the essential skills needed to navigate life’s many obstacles together in a stable, supportive way.

Although premarital counseling is a common practice for couples as they prepare to head to the altar, many people are hesitant to sign up without knowing what to expect. Chances are you’ve heard of it, but you might not be totally sure what exactly it is, or if it’s even right for you and your partner. You might be wondering:

  • Who should go to premarital counseling?

  • What does premarital counseling do?

  • Does it cost a lot of money?

  • How much do we have to share with our counselor?

  • Will we have to talk about sensitive topics like intimacy?

  • What if my counselor asks me to share something that I don’t want to talk about?

There are many questions couples have when deciding whether or not to participate in premarital counseling. Let’s take a look at some of the most common concerns I’ve heard throughout my experience as a marriage counselor.

What It Does

Premarital counseling is a special type of therapy that helps couples transition from a dating commitment to a more complex marriage commitment. Marriage requires couples to work together and problem solve in new and challenging ways. If couples aren’t prepared with a strong foundation of healthy coping skills, they may find the marriage quickly falls victim to one of these four destructive communication patterns:

  • Criticism

  • Contempt

  • Defensiveness

  • Stonewalling

Premarital counseling provides couples with the opportunity to develop effective communication skills while enhancing the existing foundation of trust to ensure the marriage remains supportive and satisfying for years to come. Like the overall approach to couples counseling, the approach to premarital counseling has evolved substantially to include research-based methods including:

Who Needs It

There is no one kind of couple that needs or benefits from premarital counseling. Couples of all backgrounds and identities who wish to celebrate their love and devotion through the act of marriage can benefit from premarital counseling, including same-sex couples, non-religious couples, and couples that are on marriage 2+. The time spent in sessions before saying “I do” can allow you to understand your partner and their needs in new, meaningful ways. It’s an extra opportunity to foster the trust, empathy, and intimacy necessary to make a lifelong marriage successful.

Two brides holding hands at their wedding.

Trust me, you don’t want to wait until life-altering challenges like the birth of a child, the death of a parent, or the loss of a job comes up to start learning about healthy communication and conflict resolution. By the time life throws these obstacles your way, you and your partner need to be fully ready to work together as a team. Premarital counseling prepares you to keep your relationship healthy and supportive through the good, the bad, and the ugly before it’s time to walk down the aisle.

What the Sessions Are Like

A typical premarital counseling session will be about fifty to sixty minutes in length. Each session will require the participation of both partners and the therapist. The first session is usually spent building a relationship with your new counselor. They will ask you about the history of your relationship and why you’ve decided to spend your life together. You will set goals for what you hope to accomplish across sessions.

At some point in the program, your therapist may want to spend some time talking to each partner individually. During these individual sessions, you will give your counselor more information about yourself. The counselor may be interested in your familial background and how you learned to interact and communicate with your original caretakers, as this will give insight into your preferred communication style.

Some counselors may ask you to take a questionnaire. A common questionnaire used in marriage counseling is the Gottman Relationship Checkup. It will give your counselor a snapshot of what is going on in different areas of the relationship like friendship, intimacy, sex, conflict, finances, and parenting. Your counselor will talk through the results with your questionnaire and provide tips and tools to help you improve in any areas of concern. Each session will build on the last and offer opportunities to practice essential skills necessary for a successful marriage.

Premarital couple under a blossoming tree

Questions To Expect

There are several types of questions your counselor will ask you and your partner. These range from questions about your sex life, relationship stability, how you approach conflict resolution, and how you bond with one another.

Questions about your upbringing and lifestyle are common in the first few sessions. Your therapist will also dig deeper into the way you and your partner relate to each other.

Other questions might include:

  • How do you and your partner communicate?

  • Do you have similar goals when it comes to children?

  • How often do you discuss finances?

  • Are you satisfied with your sex life?

  • How do you find time to connect with each other each day?

  • What rituals do you share together?

  • Do you share similar religious beliefs?

  • What does each of you do that makes the other person happy?

Your therapist will also probe into individual areas of concern, such as alcohol and drug usage. Be as open and honest as possible with your therapist and your partner in order for premarital counseling to be most effective.

When To Go

Since premarital counseling is designed to help couples transition from a dating commitment to a marriage commitment, premarital counseling should begin after the engagement.

The timing depends on the length of your engagement. Be sure to allow up to eight weeks for the program to take place. Timing your sessions to begin three to six months before the wedding is a good idea since it allows some flexibility.

If you are pressed for time, you can always squeeze more than one session into a week to complete the program more quickly.

If you and your partner are interested in going to counseling but aren’t ready to get engaged, couples counseling could be the answer. Couples that already live together, have children together, or have an established relationship may find couples counseling very helpful.

Who To Trust

Like any other kind of counseling, premarital counseling is best left to a professional that has the necessary specialized training. Look for a licensed marriage and family therapist while deciding which program is right for you.

There are books and free online resources that can provide supplementary materials to support premarital counseling, but it’s best to consult the guidance of a professional when it comes to preparing you and your future spouse for a lifetime of commitment. There has not yet been a free online course with the same proven results as a licensed marriage counselor, so while it may be tempting to save money, premarital counseling isn’t the right place to sacrifice quality.

Some couples choose to complete premarital counseling in a traditional office setting. Virtual premarital counseling is equally as effective. Many couples find virtual therapy to be effective and convenient. Engaging in sessions from a familiar setting like your home can put you and your partner at ease, allowing for increased vulnerability and effectiveness. Learn more about the benefits of virtual counseling here.

How Much It Costs

Premarital counseling ranges from $120 - $200 per sixty-minute session. Some insurance providers may have counselors in their network that provide what they call “premarital counseling.” The quality of premarital counseling will depend on whether or not your provider is a licensed marriage and family counselor. It’s important to be sure you select a provider that is specialized, as generalized counselors may not be trained appropriately.

Finding the right counselor for your premarital counseling could mean taking your search out of network. This isn’t as scary as it sounds, and there are many affordable options available. Out-of-network counselors will work with you to ensure financial concerns don’t get in the way of high-quality counseling.

An out-of-network counselor might offer a payment plan and many counselors are happy to walk you through the process. For example, Great Lakes Counseling Group provides clients with a special worksheet that helps clients with insurance-related questions, including how to find out if you have out-of-network insurance benefits that you may not know about.

Couple holding hands riding a bike
Image by Everton Vila, Upsplash

How To Choose A Counselor

There are many mental health professionals out there that offer some kind of premarital counseling, but the most important thing to look for is that the counselor you choose has a marriage and family therapy license. These are the only counselors that are truly qualified to provide professional premarital counseling.

Other questions to consider when searching for a premarital counselor include:

  • Should your counselor have a religious affiliation?

  • Should your counselor specialize in same-sex couples?

  • Do you want to participate in live or virtual sessions?

Premarital counseling may seem like a lot of effort, but most couples find it’s worth it in the end. Compared to couples that chose not to participate in premarital counseling, spouses-to-be reported a thirty percent increase in their satisfaction with the marriage, and nearly all participants reported improved couple communication.

Are you ready to take the first step towards a happy, satisfying marriage? Great Lakes Counseling Group is accepting appointments for premarital counseling.

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