Premarital counseling is a type of therapy that helps couples prepare for marriage. Premarital counseling can help ensure that you and your partner have a strong, healthy relationship — giving you a better chance for a stable and satisfying marriage. Premarital counseling can also help you identify weaknesses that could become bigger problems during marriage.

Premarital counseling is often provided by licensed therapists known as marriage and family therapists. These therapists have graduate or postgraduate degrees — and many choose to become credentialed by the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT). Premarital counseling might be offered through religious institutions as well. In fact, some spiritual leaders require premarital counseling before conducting a marriage ceremony.

Premarital counseling helps couples improve their relationships before marriage. Through premarital counseling, couples are encouraged to discuss a wide range of important and intimate topics related to marriage, such as:

  • Finances
  • Communication
  • Beliefs and values
  • Roles in marriage
  • Affection and sex
  • Children and parenting
  • Family relationships
  • Decision making
  • Dealing with anger
  • Time spent together

Premarital counseling helps partners improve their ability to communicate, set realistic expectations for marriage and develop conflict-resolution skills. In addition, premarital counseling can help couples establish a positive attitude about seeking help with their marriages down the road.

Keep in mind that you bring your own values, opinions and personal history into a relationship, and they might not always match your partner's. In addition, many people go into marriage believing it will fulfill their social, financial, sexual and emotional needs — and that's not always the case. By discussing differences and expectations before marriage, you and your partner can better understand and support each other during marriage. Early intervention is important because the risk of divorce is highest early in marriage.

The only preparation needed for premarital counseling is to find a therapist. Loved ones and friends might give recommendations based on their experiences. Your health insurer, employee assistance program, clergy, or state or local mental health agencies also might offer recommendations.

Before scheduling sessions with a specific therapist, consider whether the therapist would be a good fit for you and your partner. You might ask questions like these:

  • Education and experience. What is your educational and training background? Are you licensed by the state? Are you credentialed by the AAMFT? What is your experience with premarital counseling?
  • Logistics. Where is your office? What are your office hours?
  • Treatment plan. How long is each session? How often are sessions scheduled? How many sessions should I expect to have? What is your policy on canceled sessions?
  • Fees and insurance. How much do you charge for each session? Do you accept my insurance? Will I need to pay the full fee upfront?

Premarital counseling typically includes five to seven meetings with a counselor. Often in premarital counseling, each partner is asked to separately answer a written questionnaire, known as a premarital assessment questionnaire. These questionnaires encourage partners to assess their perspectives of one another and their relationship. They can also help identify a couple's strengths, weaknesses and potential problem areas. The aim is to foster awareness and discussion and encourage couples to address concerns proactively. Your counselor can help you interpret your results together, encourage you and your partner to discuss areas of common unhappiness or disagreement, and set goals to help you overcome challenges.

Your counselor might also have you and your partner use a tool called a Couples Resource Map — a picture and scale of your perceived support from individual resources, relationship resources, and cultural and community resources. You and your partner will create separate maps at first. Following a discussion with your counselor about differences between the two maps, you'll create one map as a couple. The purpose is to help you and your partner remember to use these resources to help manage your problems.

In addition, your counselor might ask you and your partner questions to find out your unique visions for your marriage and clarify what you can do to make small, positive changes in your relationship.

Remember, preparing for marriage involves more than choosing a wedding dress and throwing a party. Take the time to build a solid foundation for your relationship.

Nov. 19, 2011