You might want pre-marital counseling (even if you think you don’t)

Guest post by Vegancupcake
Engagement Photos

I might seem biased when it comes to the value of therapy. Both my parents AND my older sister are clinical psychologists. In college, graduate school, and grownup life, I had three different counselors who I saw for only a few months each but who I can say, without exaggeration, were the exact support I needed to arrive at some necessary revelations and make significant changes in my life, in terms of relationships, sexuality, disenchantment with politics, and family baggage.

So I did not need to be sold on the value of therapy. I was practically born with an appreciation for it.

BUT… something I did not realize until this fall was the power of couples counseling, not just in a moment of crisis but at a time of change.

Almost as soon as we were engaged, I began wistfully thinking about the tradition of turning to a pastor or rabbi for support, guidance, and difficult question-posing in the months leading up to a wedding. I don't have an obvious spiritual mentor, so my thoughts turned to therapy. My fiancé was open to the idea, but the guy we found was a little more pricey than we could afford long term. So we committed to seeing him only four times, and planned that in to our wedding budget.

I don't want there to be darkness in our house that we're oblivious of…

The first and second visits were pleasant and peaceful. Maybe too much so. When we left the second session, we realized that using counseling as a way to pat ourselves on the back for being such reasonable and articulate and loving people was kind of a wasted opportunity. So as homework for our third session, we had to come up with something difficult that we felt we needed help talking through. Essentially, our homework was to pick a fight.

It feels a little too personal to share the gory details of the fight I picked and the fight he picked, but I can say that our session on Tuesday was very different from the first two: uncomfortable and challenging, kind of like wading through thigh-high thick, sticky mud. But our counselor pointed out a few things about the way we were talking, and the things at the root of what we were saying, that never would have occurred to me. It will take me probably a few weeks to fully process and integrate all those things that came up and that I learned. (Luckily, our fourth and last session is after the holidays, so I can take those few weeks to really think and digest.)

I remember, when I got engaged, wondering how I would balance the excitement and thrill of planning the magical party with the importance and gravity of beginning a lifelong commitment. Going into couples counseling, even for just our brief four-session stint, has been a very grounding way to hold this intention. As my future husband said in our session on Tuesday night, “I don't want there to be darkness in our house that we're oblivious of.” Premarital counseling is a way to pull the darkness out from its hiding places so that you can turn it over in the light and see it for what it actually is.

Comments on You might want pre-marital counseling (even if you think you don’t)

  1. There are some states (Oklahoma, specifically) that will cut the cost of your licence from $50 down to $5. Website here:
    They’re pretty much tired of the divorce rate making the state look bad.

    • Also, you may be able to find a non-profit or religious group that offers free or low-cost pre-marital counseling (google low-cost counseling in [your city]), or if you’re currently in school, you might contact your university’s student health services to see if they offer something like this.

    • Yep! As an LCSW from Oklahoma, getting married there (live in Atlanta now)…I’m considering it, even though we can afford the $50 vs. $5.

      There’s also a little book called “1000 questions every couple should know the answer to” that I bought years ago and use today with my clients.

  2. I think some people balk at the idea of “counseling”–as if that implies pre-existing problems within the relationship. It’s better to think of it as having a discussion with someone who studies relationship dynamics for a living. No matter how functional you and your partner are, an expert could possibly give advice to make things even better.

    • I agree with you. Unfortunately there’s a lot of stigma associated with going to therapy because it implies that something is wrong.

      Interestingly, there’s a relatively new branch of psychology called “positive psychology” which is about bettering yourself under normal circumstances. In other words, it helps people without difficulties to live even more fullfilling lives.

      I feel like premarital counselling has a similar objective: it’s not about fixing what’s broken, it’s about helping you to have the best relationship you can have.

      That said, this post could not have been more timely. My partner and I are planning to start premarital counselling soon, so it was good to read what other offbeat brides think.

  3. Oh, I so 100% agree! We went through our pre-marital counselling, and it gave us the tools to use in future complications – and ways to sort through difficulties, and ideas on how to handle situations – the power to make it through thick and thin, good and bad.
    Truly, honestly – I am baffled by anyone who thinks it’s “stupid”.

    • 100% agree with you on that last point. It irks me when people think and assume that pre-marital counselling=problems/stupid/not for me.

      The purpose is to heighten communication and strengthen an already strong relationship.

  4. Pre-marital counseling was a requirement to get married at our Church. We were slightly apprehensive about taking it but we are really glad we did. We know everything about each other but it was really nice to hear a third party’s perspective on our relationship. He also offered insight on marriage from his own experience working with couples and being married himself. That is what made it so invaluable to us. I think some people got a little too defensive on this article. I wish people would consider it with an open mind rather than being dismissive.

  5. I think a great benefit of pre-marital counseling is (as most have said) the involvement of a third party. Maybe there’s an issue that the two of you keep coming back to, and nothing ever gets solved, the issue just gets pushed off or a quick apology makes it “okay-for-now”. A third party can show you a different perspective and give you the tools to take care of the problem, if not for good, than to start working through it better when it comes up again.

  6. We went for Premarital counselling through my Employee Assistance Program (EAP) at work. Mostly because it was free and easy to organize, and we left it kinda late before the wedding. (ADHD girl left something kinda late and went for the easy to organize option? Quelle surprise! )
    The intake worker on the phone had a really hard time understanding what we wanted, but set us up with a counsellor and offered to send us a free kit of books on the topic of marriage.
    The free books turned out to be all for people who were having marital problems, so really weren’t that much use. I suppose it’s good to know that we have books on the topic if things start to get a bit rocky later. For the meantime, they’re hiding out on a low part of the bookshelf.
    The counsellor was also surprised when we came in. She had done pre marital counselling in a church setting before but had never done it in the context of the EAP. All in all, she was helpful, and got us talking about a few things we never considered before. For example, I nearly fell off my chair when my Lapsed Catholic man stated that he wanted any kids we had to go to (publicly funded in our province) Catholic school because of the good morals the Catholic system teaches. As a teacher in the secular school board, (who incidentally attended both types of publicly funded school, in addition to two different private schools) I was all “Um, what now?”

  7. They should call it “pre-marital skill building workshops” or something. Just so it doesn’t sound all “you’re already in trouble” like counseling sort of does. kwim?

  8. Great post, cupcake, and I totally agree. I’ve been with my FH for almost 6 years through thick and thin, but insisted on some couples counseling because like I told the counselor – we have the strongest relationship of anyone I know, but we also have more crap to deal with than anyone I know!
    My FH was reluctant, but willing to attend because I felt so strongly about it, and now he’s a believer, too. Just having an outside perspective has been reassuring in trying times, and enlightening, too. There have been no major surprises, but it’s really helped us to deal with issues in the moment, instead of putting on a brave face and ignoring them.

  9. This is definitely one of those “needs” that I initially balked at, but that I’ve slowly come around to. My FH suggested it soon after we got engaged and my first response was “What’s wrong? Let’s just talk about it.” His parents divorced when he was in elementary school (mine are still married) and I figured he was a little nervous, but I was so confident in our connection to each other that I thought he was overreacting by suggesting PMC.

    Eventually, it occurred to me that I was being a little overconfident when I assumed that we could deal with every problem that ever arose on our own, and that the key to his need for PMC was that he wanted to stop problems before they began. His parents never satisfactorily explained what happened between them, and he didn’t want something to sneak up on us like it seemed to on them (and neither did I, for that matter). So it’s definitely part of the plan now, and I’m no longer grumbling about it!

    HOWEVER: I’m lucky to live in the San Francisco Bay Area where it’s not too difficult to find liberal, non-religious PMC, and I definitely understand where people are coming from when they say that the options in their areas aren’t right for them. It’s certainly deserving of people’s consideration though, so thank you for the post!

  10. My issues isn’t with premarital counseling as a whole, I just know it’s not for us. If we lived in another town or state, or there were more resources here, maybe I’d do it. But Boise, ID is not the place to find a counselor who’s okay with the things that we do. Believe me, I’ve tried. I don’t want to spend anymore phone calls being lectured for my choices, let alone paying for counseling sessions to get a lecture. What does one do if they WANT premarital counseling, but can’t find someone who’ll be an impartial 3rd party?

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