Premarital Counseling: Everything Couples Need to Know

Here's what couples can expect from premarital counseling, including how much it costs, how to find a therapist, and how to find a counseling style that works for your relationship.

By Elizabeth Blasi

couple embraces after premarital counseling
Photo by Unsplash

To many, the idea of premarital counseling may sound unnecessary. ‘We’re in love and our relationship is solid—we don’t need counseling’. However, we’re here to tell you that premarital counseling isn’t a sign of a struggling relationship. It’s actually quite the opposite. Instead of thinking of it as a problem solver, consider it a problem preventer—kind of. This kind of relationship counseling help couples better understand the responsibilities of marriage and develop positive ways to properly communicate. Agreeing to a few sessions doesn’t mean things are bad. If anything, it shows how committed you are to one another.

In fact, some states require premarital counseling in order to retain a marriage license. In other cases, houses of worship mandate a session or two of counseling before performing a marriage ceremony.

If you’re interested in premarital counseling or just unsure about it, read on. Here’s everything you need to know about what to expect, where to go, and how to get the most out of your sessions before your big day.

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What is premarital counseling?

Premarital counseling, or pre-marriage counseling, is a type of therapy to help engaged couples prepare for married life. It’s all about building sustainable, long-term relationships between couples. These sessions provide a comfortable and established space to discuss your partnership and how to successfully move onto the next stage of marriage. There are many foundational precedents that a couple can set during premarital counseling.

“A good counselor will be able to ask the questions you need answered, that you may not have thought of, or may be avoiding talking about,” says Tina B. Tessina, PhD, psychotherapist and author of Dr. Romance's Guide to Finding Love Today. “You'll start out on a more secure basis with some independent advice and counsel.”

Is all premarital counseling the same?

Nope! There are several different styles of and outlets for premarital counseling.

Religious Counseling

If you’re getting married in a house of worship, you can expect some kind of mandated premarital counseling before the ceremony. You can also seek out counseling via a house of worship even if you’re having a non-denominational ceremony. Typically, religious approaches to premarital counseling cover a wide range of dynamics within the couple’s relationship, as well as how those dynamics relate to the couple’s faith.

Many times you’ll work on common themes, including communication styles and setting expectations in addition to discussing the strengths and weaknesses of each partner’s faith and how they’ll implement it into the marriage.

Professional Counseling

This outlet for premarital counseling is typically led by a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT). This is also the most traditional and common method. These sessions are similarly focused on building a strong relationship foundation. Sometimes this type of premarital counseling can include in-person and digital assessments.

Many premartial counselors use the Prepare-Enrich program. “It's a marriage counseling program for both premarital and married couples,” says Adam M. King, MA, CLC & Karissa J. King, MA, LMFT. “It consists of an online assessment for the couple and then dozens of tools/resources to use in marriage counseling. We like to say that the assessment gives us about 10 sessions worth of information in one PDF.”

Online Counseling

If in-person counseling isn’t an option for you (or just isn’t your style), consider the digital route. Premarital counseling online is gaining popularity and is a great option all around. It’s especially beneficial for those with budget constraints as it tends to be cheaper than professional counseling.

However, even though it may be a fraction of the price, you still get the quality and confidentiality promised with in-person sessions. You’re also, of course, still working with certified professional therapists.

Group Counseling

Sometimes group sessions happen as part of your normal religious premarital counseling programs, and other times, you can seek them out if you prefer a group dynamic. Group premarital counseling typically involves a handful of couples together in a classroom-like or more casual setting. These sessions are performed by religious figures or your standard LMFT. You will oftentimes interact with the other couples, too. Some couples prefer this format as it can feel less intense or less direct than traditional in-person therapy.

Self Counseling

There are also couples who decide to engage in their own form of premarital counseling by talking amongst themselves. You can set aside time, as a couple, to discuss various topics like family planning or finances. Utilize tools such as books, podcasts, and audio guides, to help direct each “session.”

There are tons of resources available online and on the market for couples to try out. This is a helpful option for those couples who can’t afford traditional therapy types or simply prefer to host their own style of premarital counseling.

What are the benefits of premarital counseling?

The list of premarital counseling benefits could go on for awhile. Some of the main benefits include:

  • Resolving any pre-existing tension or issues in your relationship before your wedding day
  • Learning how to communicate with your partner more effectively
  • Avoiding potential fights or arguments by working through differences early on
  • Distinguishing between love languages and communication styles to better understand your partner
  • Learning how to discuss hard subjects with one another (finances, intimacy, family matters)
  • Setting expectations for the marriage and sharing what you (as an individual) are willing and wanting to bring to your relationship
  • Establishing precedents for your relationship

Above all else, premarital counseling is a way of opening up the dialogue in your relationship. Couples can create a relationship that encourages discourse and togetherness from the start.

What’s premarital counseling really like?

There are a lot of misconceptions and misunderstandings around premarital counseling. Many individuals have different ideas of what a session will involve. To set the record straight, Dr. Tessina explains 10 myths associated with premarital counseling.

  • It's not about airing your dirty laundry in public.
  • It's not about changing your partner. It’s important to understand your partner as opposed to changing them.
  • It really can vastly improve your marriage, and make you happier. It’s not simply for struggling couples or those with conflict.
  • You can learn the skills you didn't know you needed.
  • It's not scary, it's enlightening. You won't be harmed or belittled. Instead, you'll be delighted at what you find out.
  • It doesn't cost a lot. The earlier you participate in premarital counseling, the more you learn from each other (and solve disputes and problems). This practice will cost a lot less than fixing a problem before it’s too late.
  • No topic is off limits. Whatever you haven't been able to talk about, the therapist will create a safe place for you to hear and be heard.
  • Fighting is not a necessary part of marriage. However, communication is! Premarital counseling will help you change your fighting into effective methods of communication.
  • It’s not a last resort. It’s about learning to work together, and create a healthy and happy relationship.
  • It's about partnership. Every marriage needs to be a partnership, emotionally, financially, socially and domestically. Therapy can teach you how to do this, even if you already get along.

Is premarital counseling hard?

It can be, sure. Seeking out premarital counseling may cause some logistical and emotional roadblocks. Challenges can arise whenever professional help is involved, whether those be financial or emotional or other.

Some partners are resistant to counseling.

This is super common and super understandable. It can feel like there’s a problem to solve and many associate it with negative misconceptions about couples therapy. If the idea of asking your partner for premarital counseling sounds like a difficult question, don’t worry. Try to ask by first creating a safe space and encouraging an open dialogue. Preface your love for your partner and how you want your marriage to be the one that makes it. Explain the evidence that suggests the benefits of premarital counseling.

Be prepared for pushback and don’t be reactive to that. If you find a LMFT that you prefer, ask them for advice on how to talk to your partner about getting involved.

You don’t know where to find a therapist.

“When looking for a therapist, it helps to look for a licensed mental health professional,” says Dr. Annie Hsueh, Ph.D. and licensed clinical psychologist. “From there, think about what style of therapist you want. Do you want someone who is more or less directive, or more or less structured? You can get a sense of the therapist’s style during a consultation.”

Dr. Hsueh also suggests asking your counselor direct questions during the consultation about their credentials and experience to help guide your decision.

It’s too expensive.

When you’re planning a wedding, any additional cost outside the ceremony and reception can feel enormous. Therapy can be expensive, but premarital counseling doesn’t have to break the bank. Like we said, online therapy is a fraction of the cost of in-person counseling. You can also seek out counseling from houses of worship.

It’s also possible that your health insurance or your partner’s covers a few sessions. Call your provider and find out what options are available to you under your policy.

Premarital counseling is a great way to learn better communication and conflict resolution tactics for engaged couples. It won't fix or prevent everything but it's a way to start a successful marriage off strong. Once you find the type of therapy that works for you, the rest falls into place.

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