Premarital Counseling: Strengthening Your Future Marriage
For some, getting married is the fulfillment of a long-held dream. Finding the person you want to spend the rest of your life with is no mean feat. The world of dating is peppered with false starts, dead ends, unmet promises, people who aren’t what we thought they were, and much more. So, when you make it through that minefield and find that person you love and want to build a life with, that’s cause for celebration.
Having gone through the dating ordeal and confirmed your intentions for one another, talking about premarital counseling seems like putting one last obstacle in your way just before the finish line. Do you need premarital counseling, or is it something for people who aren’t sure about what they want?
The broad consensus is that doing premarital counseling is a wise decision for couples. Instead of looking at it as an obstacle to your happiness or a buzzkill for the planning around color schemes and your wedding menu, premarital counseling is one of the cornerstones in building your marriage.
It’s a vital step that will challenge you, but it will strengthen your commitment to one another while giving you the tools you need to navigate married life. It will confirm that you made the right decision to marry your beloved or provide you with insight and wisdom into your relationship so that you make an informed decision about the future.
What is the value of premarital counseling?
The value of premarital counseling is that it will help you prepare for married life with your partner. Pre-marriage counseling provides you with a space to reflect on aspects of your future lives together that will be vital for a flourishing and committed marriage. Sometimes, in the thrill of our intoxicating emotional connection with our partner, we don’t always ask the probing questions we ought to.
Or we simply assume that we’re on the same page about everything, even though we may not have gone into the specifics. Pre-marriage counseling is infinitely practical, getting you into those conversations that will make sure that as you set off on your life together you are united in purpose, clear about your expectations of one another and your relationship, and you have the skills you need to manage conflict well.
What kind of questions will come up?
Pre-marriage counseling covers a wide range of topics for discussion. Depending on your sessions and areas that need more focus than others, you may cover some or all these questions in depth.
Some of the fiercest and most common fights in marriage are about money. Money has a significant impact on your married life, from where you live, what you eat, whether you can take vacations, and what charities you can support financially.
There are many decisions to make that concern money in a relationship, and these include who works (one of you may earn enough to support you both, or both of you may need to work to support your family), who handles the finances (balancing the checkbook, managing your savings and investments), how will you use money in your spending, saving, investing, and giving.
These and other decisions need to be made within a marriage, and pre-marriage counseling addresses these so that the couple thinks through the practicalities of their married life.
Another important question for a couple is whether they want children. How many children would you want to have? If biological children aren’t an option, would you consider adoption? Some couples find out when they do marriage counseling that their partner doesn’t want to have children, and they may want a house full of them.
Being clear about your hopes and expectations can save you from heartache later. During sessions you may also think through your own parenting beliefs and styles, to discern whether you are on the same page and share the same values around raising children.
Relating to family
In many cases, the couple that plans to get married is part of an extended family. Some people are close to their families, while others aren’t. Depending on those relationships, a couple may need to figure out practical things like where they will spend the holidays, how involved they want the family to be in their lives, and who will broach the subject if there’s an issue with the in-laws. The couple will need to set boundaries that work for both partners.
Goals and goal setting
Pre-marriage counseling can help a couple to speak openly about their life goals as individuals and as a couple, along with helping them be effective in setting and meeting goals together. Perhaps one of you wants to go to school, and you’ll have to work out for how long, how you will afford it, and then pivot to focus on the other partner’s development.
The goals can be renegotiated later but agreeing on goals and setting expectations early helps with accountability for a couple. Additionally, during pre-marriage counseling, a couple can be taught how to set and meet goals together.
Roles and distribution of tasks
The families that we grew up in taught and gave us our basic ideas of who does what in the family. Those ideas may change over time, but they are often our first and most important influences in that respect.
The times have changed, and more than ever there needs to be a discussion about what roles each partner assumes. Some people passionately believe that the man takes a leading role, while others would hold to equality in all things. Who does the dishes, who takes the car for a service, who works, or who takes care of the kids?
Each of us may think the answer to those questions is obvious, but too many couples find that their assumptions are wrong. A couple may choose to divide tasks according to capability, or they may stick to traditional roles in some things while mixing it up in others. The point is, each couple must figure out what works for them, and the starting point is asking probing questions.
For people of faith, their relationship with God is important and they want to nurture it. How will you cultivate this relationship? At which church community will you make your home? This is important and relevant if you aren’t in the same community.
Will you pray, fast, and read Scripture together or separately? How will you keep one another accountable and growing? Through this process, you may discover that you may have radically different or opposing ideas about spirituality, which means that tough decisions lie ahead.
Sex is a huge part of the physical and emotional connection between a couple. Questions will have to be answered about each person’s expectations about sex. How frequently does one expect it? What are the boundaries you’re establishing about sexual intimacy? These and other questions must be asked to ensure that this aspect of their lives is also addressed.
With busy lives taken up by various commitments, how a couple uses their leisure time is another key area to reflect on. How will you use your leisure time? Will you use it to volunteer, chill at home and watch tv, start a sport or a hobby, or spend time with friends? When children come into the picture, how you use your time may need to be renegotiated as your priorities and commitments shift.
Lastly, though a couple may hate to think it, there will be some disagreements and conflict that arises within a relationship. Each person handles conflict differently. Some avoid conflict, preferring not to bring up thorny issues, while others are confrontational.
Pre-marriage counseling can help a couple to figure out their individual “conflict style,” developing their communication skills, along with how to help one another address conflict in a healthy way so that you address the issue and don’t attack each other. Being able to manage conflict will go a long way to helping a couple face life’s struggles together.
Is premarital counseling right for you?
Premarital counseling is advisable for all couples, regardless of their age, ethnicity, socio-economic background, level of education, or whether they’ve been married before. Addressing issues ahead of time and gleaning wisdom to conduct your marriage wisely are some of the benefits of pre-marriage counseling.
Premarital counseling spaces can be found within religious institutions such as churches, but the services are also offered at community centers and private practices. You can even access pre-marriage counseling services online if your work hours or other obstacles don’t permit an in-person visit.
Whether in private sessions with a counselor or as part of a group with couples walking the journey toward marriage together, taking up pre-marriage counseling may be the best thing you can do to prepare for and strengthen the foundation of your future marriage.
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