Transitioning our relationship into a marriage with pre-marital counseling

May 14 2014 | Guest post by AnotherMystery
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Photo by Elizabeth Smart Photography

I'm a big believer in therapy. It's helped me a lot over my life, sometimes dealing with big issues, but most of the time just helping me process what's going on in my life — providing a sounding board and an objective ear while I talk through my issues. When my fiancée and I got engaged one of the first things we agreed on was that we wanted to go to pre-marital therapy. We're now 115 days out from the wedding, and I finally made our first counseling appointment for next week!

Somehow, this step makes the engagement feel more real than almost anything else in the planning process.

We're having about a 14-month engagement (with less than four months to go!) and making the most of this time is vitally important to me. The engagement isn't just giving us time to plan a killer party (though we are doing that); it's about taking the time to be intentional in transitioning our relationship into a marriage.

We've been working on that all year on our own, of course. We've already had all the big talks (finances, kids, family issues, career goals, etc.). We've had conversations about why marriage is important to us and what we want/need from each other.

Truth be told, I don't even know for sure what we're going to talk to our therapist about. Other than bickering about dishes and laundry, we don't fight. Of course there's the occasional disagreement or miscommunication, but we're pretty good at talking things through. Over all, we're cool, we're in love, we don't have any serious relationship issues!

CAT Wedding Card from osohappycards

But you see, that's exactly why I think pre-marital counseling is so important. Just because we don't have serious problems doesn't mean we don't have anything to work on. I want to take this moment in our lives — when we are unequivocally in love, when things between us are happy shiny rainbows and we are preparing to make marriage vows — and I want to grasp this moment for all it is worth. I want to take hold of the joy that we find in each other, right now, when we're both at our best and say "Hey, let's work on this, let's make our relationship better."

Because there's always improvements to be made. There's always ways we can learn to communicate better, ways we can be more intentional about expressing our love, more accepting and forgiving of each other's short-comings. And it's worth the effort!

By going to pre-marital counseling we are committing to put in the effort to make our relationship the best that it can be. It is an explicit acknowledgement that relationships take work. That we can never take each other for granted or stop putting in the effort to work on our marriage. We are committing to putting in that effort starting now. We are working on our relationship while things are good so that they stay good, and so that if/when we hit bumps in the road we will have a solid foundation for how to work on making thing better again.

I don't expect counseling to be fun or easy (in fact, in my experience, if it's working right it should be friggin' hard!) But I'm really looking forward to our first appointment. To me, this is what being engaged is all about, and I can't wait to take this step with my future wife.

Who else has prioritized pre-marital counseling? Have you already started? What have you learned already? Come, lay down on the offbeat couch, let's talk…

  1. I'd like to do this with my partner but I'm not sure how to approach the subject with him. He has had grief counselling before and his experience was that the counsellor just let him talk about everything rather than engaging him about it directly. I feel like this has put him off the idea of counselling.

    1 agrees
    • I have also had this experience. It took me a while to return to therapy because I had found it to be such a poor return on investment of time and money. I went looking for a way to pre-interview a therapist more to make sure I could get what I wanted out of it (i.e., not just to sit there and talk at someone). It's kind of amazing to me that we put so much thought into most decisions, but will unload our deepest secrets on someone we usually don't know much about at all. Goodtherapy.org was a good site for me to find the counselor who pretty much changed my life. I could just tell from what she had to say about her practice on there, that she was someone I could both be comfortable with yet make strides.

      I honestly DON'T believe that therapy should be hard work or painful. It's the therapist's job to draw the pain out of you and make sense of it. That's why we pay them so damn well. 😉 But I definitely think the idea of counseling when you're not in a sweaty, fighting mess of a relationship is great. It's like preventative health care.

      7 agree
  2. My fiancé and I have bad experiences with counseling, from teen years and divorce counseling. But pre-marital was a breeze it really helped us come closer with responsibilities of a marriage. We're getting married in a week and the counseling sessions have come in very handy. Pre-marital counseling should be a must for all marriages!

    4 agree
  3. Can we talk about how to find a therapist, or choose one off a three page list from your insurance company?

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    • Often, pre-marital counseling is not done by a therapist, but by the officiant (this is especially true if your officiant is from an established religion). The officiant can then refer you to a therapist if he or she thinks y'all might benefit from someone with more/different experience.

      As for choosing therapists (as both a therapist myself and a client), I try to find their website and see if I get a good "vibe" from them.
      I'd ask clergy, if that's an option for you (lots of therapists reach out to clergy).
      I'd look at what their license and degrees are and where they got them. (Try to figure out what licenses involve in your state and pick a therapist who might have more work in what you need. For example, if you have some very complex issues, you might want someone with a PhD. For just marital issues or for lighter stuff, a marriage and family therapist might do. There are a variety of other options as well, but they vary from state to state.)
      Also see if they list themselves other places. (Like, if you're looking for an LGBT-friendly therapist and they list themselves on a "conversion therapy" website, run like the wind!
      When you pick one or two, interview them and make sure to cover things like what their experience is, what they expect therapy to look like, what kind of contact they do in between sessions (if you think you might need it), what their therapeutic orientation is (and then know what they mean by looking here: http://psychcentral.com/therapy.htm), and when/how/what they expect to be paid. Plus anything else you want to know about them.

      6 agree
  4. As a therapist and a relatively recent bride, I am so all about this! Although a heads-up to those who have been in therapy before, it is often quite different. At least, it was for me. Pre-marital counseling assumes you're relatively healthy or that your marriage is, at any rate (for better or for worse), and focuses on making your married life even more awesome. Regular counseling usually assumes you're coming in with issues (again, for better or for worse) and focuses on recovery.

    That having been said, I've found both very helpful and thoroughly recommend it~

    7 agree
  5. I can add to this… you both just might change, and that's not a bad thing. If there are career changes, school graduations, and things like deaths or children, you both will shift in different ways to adjust to them. This goes deeper than just 'do you want to have kids/how many/etc.' questions. Therapy – even if it's not couples therapy – can help you individually keep your balance which translates positively into the relationship.

  6. My husband and I did this since it is a requirement to get married in the Catholic church. But it was awesome. I"m really glad we did it and honestly, if the church didn't require it I still would have wanted to do it. Our relationship was good before too – no fighting, minor miscommunications etc – but it was nice to really focus on questions that maybe we hadn't asked one another. We got a chance to have focused time on ironing out any lingering doubts, issues or confessions. You end up walking away from it feeling more connected and more confident.

    5 agree
  7. I would have liked to do per-marital counseling for all the reason the OP wrote. Unfortunately, Husband isn't a big fan of therapy.

    1 agrees
  8. My soon to be hubs just brought this up and its sounds good to me….The only thing is the therapy he recommended is given by a pastor who might not be too keen on my non-traditional belief system.

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    • Ok, first of all, share that doubt with your fiance. (Just thought of it, but wanted to put it first)
      That could be difficult. First of all, it doesn't sound like it, but if it's part of the church he goes to and community he belongs to, then I'd consider doing it to share in this part of him, but also making clear that while you love doing things for him, this WILL be primarily for HIM and maybe also do some other counseling that'll be more for you? And ask him to ask that pastor that he wants him to respect your beliefs. (And if the situation gets bad then walk out.)
      If he wants to go to a pastor because that's his religion and he want's counceling in that area amongst all others, then I'd try to think about whether you can work with that under the condition that the pastor is respectful of your beliefs or whether you want something different (or maybe again, both?). And then I'd ask this pastor what he thinks of your belief system and whether he'd consider himself a good coucellor for your situation (and other questions like that). If he gives you a bad feeling, ask somebody else! (This goes generally, if the councelor isn't the right fit, go somewhere else!)

      The pastor might be great! They might have experience with all kinds of religions or atheists. Or they might not be….

  9. I would love to see a follow-up article. My fiancé and I are very similar to you it seems and I have been considering pre-marital therapy for a lot of the similar reason. It would be great to hear how your first meeting went and what new thoughts / perspective you may have. Thanks for this article.

    2 agree
  10. When we decided to get married, we opted out if doing premarital counselling of any sort. It's optional to be married in my church or by one of the pastors, and we chose not to. For us, our lives and careers were already established both indivually and a a couple prior to getting married. The only things that would be changing for us would be a few legal things and any kids we would have (which didn't take long. It turns out I was four weeks pregnant at the wedding! Talk about getting it right the first try.) I definitely understand how it would be the way to go for people who are thrill working on schooling or who haven't spent a significant amount of time living together, but it didn't make sense for us.

    2 agree
    • I don't know, I guess I would push back on the idea that counseling is best for people who are still in school or who haven't lived together for a significant period of time. My partner and I are respectively 2 and 6 years out of law school (and I took time off between college and law school, so we're both about 10 years out of college), and have lived together for almost three years (does that count as significant?). We have a pretty great relationship, and we're working on the bits that are difficult, but I think that there's always room for a new perspective, and that's exactly what we got with counseling. As mentioned above, we've ended up feeling more connected and confident in our relationship, and with some fresh ideas on how to keep moving forward with the areas that need work.

      If you're really convinced that it's not for you, absolutely don't do it, but I would never discourage anyone from counseling just because they're older or more set in their careers or have lived together for ages or have kids or any of that. I don't think that it's so much that it's _necessary_ before marriage, because sure, getting married won't (necessarily) change anything about your living situations or relationship. It's more that it's something that a lot of couples can benefit from and, in a lot of instances, is built in with the officiant, so it's convenient.

      4 agree
  11. Love this because I'm a big backer of premarital counseling! We provide it for free at our church where I work. And it is full of all sorts of couples from all kind of backgrounds. Churched and unchurched and people with kids already and folks getting remarried and folks getting married for the first time.
    I love it because at some point, the pink cloud is going to clear and you will have to get down to the everyday stuff. Even if you've lived together and think you have it all figured out. You just can't go wrong with it! Nice!
    And I stumbled upon this site because I'm looking for cool wedding shoes! =)

  12. My FH and I are planning on doing pre-martial counseling for similar reasons. I especially wanted to do it because I have never been to counseling before. I'm hoping that creating a relationship with a counselor when things are great before marriage will make it easier to see a counselor if we start having issues after marriage. Knowing myself, sometimes simple things like trying something new and unfamiliar when I'm stressed out is enough of a barrier to make me feel even more overwhelmed and less likely to follow through. Fortunately, FH is on board and thinks it is a great idea. We are also planning on taking a personal finance class together!

  13. I am a strong believe in pre-marital counseling, too! I don't know when a good time would be. We are 11 months out and I don't know if we should jump on it now or wait a little closer to the date. Any advice?!

    • I don't know that the timing really matters – just do it when it works for you. We started maybe six months out and are scheduled to have our last appointment about two months out, but I think we could have done it any time after we decided marriage was in the cards for us and gotten the same benefit.

    • I'm not sure if you can be too early – at least that's what my FH and I are thinking. I've never been to counseling ever, let alone pre-martial counseling, but I've read online (can't remember where now – but if I read it online, it must be true!) that 6 mo or more is best. That way if you do have anything major come up in the course of counseling you can work through them before the wedding. We're 14 months out of before our wedding and we're going to call insurance today to see what the coverage looks like and will likely schedule an appointment sometime this summer. It's one of the things we can check off the "to-do" list, which will be nice since it's still early to plan many of the other things we need to do for the wedding.

  14. My fiance and I will be going into pre-marital counseling soon. We came to this agreement for several reasons; first and foremost, we did not want to be part of the divorce statistic (my parents are now divorced and it scares me that I'll end up like they did). Second, we both wanted to be on the same page when it came to our roles, expectations and plans in our relationship, career, finances, values & beliefs etc. We both hate being out of the loop with communication. Third, we wanted ourselves to know exactly what we are bringing into the relationship and what we want out of it. I would highly recommend counseling just to have a firm foundation for the marriage to be established and even if it doesn't work out it at least gives insight to what both people do want from a marriage even if it's not with each other. I also will advocate financial counseling, since many first marriages end in the first year because of money or financial issues.

  15. My fiance and I are looking for a good non-religious book/program/what have you to use in our premarital counseling. We are working with our officiant who also does religious pre-marital counseling and he has told us he will help us work through whatever program we find. Any recommendations?

    1 agrees
  16. When I first got engaged my boss at the time recommended going to pre-martial counseling. My Hubby and I never managed to follow up and I really wish we had. After two and a half great years of marriage and 9 years of a relationship we are still going strong. We have discussed seeing a marriage counselor even now where we are in our journey and I totally agree with your view. Waiting until there is an issue to seek counseling is not always the best option. Keeping a strong foundation and working towards a healthier relationship should always be a priority.

    1 agrees

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