I have a lot of clients contact me eager (or perhaps anxious) to prepare themselves for marriage. These days, marriage feels risky, especially with divorce being so common.
Many of the couples I see have friends in their twenties who are already experiencing their first (and sometimes second) divorces. We typically receive little to no education or skills about how successful marriages function, how to keep the love alive in marriage, or what we can do to bring our best self to the biggest decision we may ever make.
People want to marry for the right reasons, so it has become no surprise to me that the couples who do choose marriage want to walk into it with their eyes wide open. They want to feel prepared for the world ahead of them. I was no different; you would think as a marriage and family therapist I “had it down”, but my husband and I embraced the opportunity to talk about things together in a more structured way, and boy are we glad we did.
So, as a one time client of premarital counseling, as well as an administrator of it, I want to give you, the reader, a look into how premarital counseling can help you find and keep a love that can last a lifetime.
1. Premarital counseling helps you explore your non-negotiables.
Is monogamy a non-negotiable for marriage? Are you okay with your partner sharing details about your relationship with family members? If your spouse cheated, would you stay or go?
One of the most pivotal moments my husband and I had in our premarital counseling experience was when we were asked what we would do if our partner was unfaithful. Let’s just say, we both gave very different answers to that question! At the time, each of our reasons made a lot of sense. Eventually, we were able to wade through an uncomfortable conversation to a place of deeper understanding. We were able to establish a framework for how we wanted to see ourselves show up for one another, even through some of life’s most vulnerable and messy situations.
2. Premarital counseling helps you uncover your expectations.
Finances! Sex! Parenting! We all hold expectations about how we think different aspects of our relationship should be when we are married. The scary part is that these expectations often go unspoken. As the saying goes, “expectations are predetermined resentments”, and this could not be more true when walking into marriage.
It is incredibly important to identify what you expect of your partner, and even more important to be willing to let rigid expectations go so that you can create boundaries and values in your relationship that both of you can agree to honor. Our expectations usually stem from family of origin experiences and past relationships, so it’s often helpful to dig into where these come from and to question whether or not they really fit into the vision you and your partner have for your marriage.
3. You learn the importance of communication and assertiveness in a successful partnership.
In premarital counseling, you get the opportunity to talk about communication and conflict resolution with a professional who can help you understand the winning strategies it takes to succeed in these areas. One of the highlights here is learning the importance of assertiveness and being able to identify and express your thoughts, feelings, and needs. One of the top reasons couples come to therapy later on is because of “communication issues”. Learning to effectively assert yourself, and to respect a partner who does the same, will improve your connection and ability to understand one another.
4. You learn to identify relationship values and build a foundation of shared meaning.
Being in a relationship requires two people to cultivate a new set of values: relational values. Many young people today fear the idea of marriage because (and I’ve heard people say this) it feels like a threat to their independence. The truth is, a healthy marriage is comprised of two healthy individuals who can come together and navigate their differences while also creating a shared meaning through life. Premarital counseling can help you establish what some of those values are for you as a couple.
5. You discover how your family dynamics impact your relationship.
Family of origin experiences have an influence on how we show up in our adult relationships. When we can look within and address some of our patterns when it comes to communication, relationship roles, and our unspoken expectations, we can make changes. When we have a greater understanding of our own patterns and generational history, we can be more accountable in our relationship and don’t need to blame our partner for it! Premarital counseling helps couples explore these aspects of themselves and have open discussion with their partner about the different experiences they had with their families.
There’s no time that’s too soon to begin exploring this stuff! Many couples do pre-engagement counseling before they are even engaged, but here are some other fun and creative ways to get these conversations started:
Consider Couple Table Topics, The Couple Ungame, or check out. Another great resource is The Gottman Institute, a couples therapy organization with which I am affiliated. Try out 52 Questions Before Marriage or Moving In card deck and their Couples Retreat Board Game.
The truth is, you can’t prepare yourself for marriage 100%. But you can empower yourself and your relationship by starting to have those important conversations with each other now.
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- Psych Corner: Why Marriage Doesn’t Threaten Your Independence - July 14, 2017
- Psych Corner: 5 Ways Premarital Counseling Can Help Make Love Last - June 22, 2017
- Psych Corner: How Your Relationship Can Grow Stronger Through Conflict - June 15, 2017