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. This kind of counseling can also help you identify weaknesses that could become 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). Counseling might be offered through religious institutions as well. In fact, some spiritual leaders require premarital counseling before conducting a marriage ceremony.
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Why it's done
Premarital counseling can help couples improve their relationships before marriage. You'll be encouraged to discuss topics related to marriage, such as:
- Value, attitudes and beliefs
- Roles in marriage
- Affection and sex
- Desire to have children
- Family relationships
- Dealing with anger
- How well you know each other
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 down the road.
Keep in mind that you bring your own values, opinions and history into a relationship, and they might not always match your partner's. For example, family systems and religious beliefs vary greatly. Many couples have experienced different upbringings with different role models for relationship and marriage. 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.
How you prepare
The only preparation needed for premarital counseling is to find a licensed marriage and family therapist. Loved ones and friends might have recommendations. 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 such as these:
- Education. What is your educational and training background? Are you licensed by the state? Are you credentialed by the AAMFT?
- Experience. What is your experience with premarital counseling?
- Treatment plan. How long is each session? How many sessions should I expect to have?
- Fees and insurance. How much do you charge for each session? Do you accept my insurance?
What you can expect
Usually, each of you will be asked to separately answer a written questionnaire to determine how you feel about yourselves, each other and your relationship. These forms can also help identify any strengths, weaknesses and potential problem areas — such as the need to improve listening skills. Together, you and your counselor will interpret your results and discuss areas of common unhappiness or disagreement. You'll set goals with your partner to help overcome challenges.
In addition, your counselor might ask you and your partner questions to find out your unique visions for your marriage and clarify your expectations and desires for your marriage.
Remember, preparing for marriage involves more than throwing a party to celebrate an engagement. Take the time to build a solid foundation for your relationship.