Premarital Counseling? Now?

Posted by Michael Dale Kimmel in Columns 14 Aug 2020

Premarital Counseling? Now?

With COVID-19 hanging around so long, it’s tempting to believe that all-too-many aspects of daily life have changed. However, one thing hasn’t changed: a lot of folks are still proposing to their partners, getting engaged and – eventually – married.

I am pleasantly surprised how much premarital counseling (via tele-health) I am doing these days. I thought that, during a pandemic, people would be putting off their weddings.

Wrong! People are modifying their weddings, but proposals, engagements and marriages continue: love won’t let a little pandemic get in the way!

“What is premarital counseling?” you may wonder. It’s a specific form of couples counseling that helps engaged men and women improve their relationships before and during marriage by anticipating challenges, identifying strengths and coming up with ideas and plans on how to deal with the good stuff and the hard stuff that – inevitably – comes with marriage.  

As a psychotherapist offering premarital counseling for LGBTQ and straight couples alike, I’ll help you and your fiancé discuss marriage-related topics, such as:

Finances

Communication

Beliefs and values

Roles in marriage

Affection and sex

Desire to have children

Family relationships

Decision-making

Dealing with anger and other difficult emotions

When it’s done well, premarital counseling can help you and your fiancé improve your abilities to communicate, set realistic expectations for your upcoming marriage and develop conflict-resolution skills.

Each of us brings our own values, opinions and history into a relationship, and they don’t always mesh well with our partner’s. Many couples have experienced very different upbringings with vastly different role models for committed relationships and marriage. Many of us enter into marriage somewhat naïve and idealistic, hoping it will fulfill all our social, financial, sexual and emotional needs — that’s a lot to expect! By discussing differences and expectations before marriage, you and your fiance can better understand and support each other during marriage.

Successful premarital counseling gives the two of you a tool chest of proactive – not reactive – tools to handle future problems. It’s a great place to talk about your expectations and to discover (and address) potential areas of conflict, rather than waiting for something bad to happen.

I’ve found that, in the couples I work with, money is usually an important topic: finances are often hard to talk about without a neutral third party – like a therapist – to help the process along. Typical issues pertaining to money include: “How will we decide how to spend our money?” and “Should we combine all our money or keep some things separate?” Prenups – another thorny topic – are best discussed at this time. Disagreements about finances is one of the leading reasons people divorce. Talk about it now!

As a premarital counselor, I’m seeing more than a few couples where one person is eager to start a family, but other isn’t. Making the decision to start a family is one of the most important decisions that the two of you will ever make: not all marriages last forever, but your relationship with your child/children will. Building a family is about extending your relationship, with all of its strengths and weaknesses. How would you like your (future) family to be?

If you and your fiancé share the care of your pets, notice who makes the decisions about your pets: Who is more responsible? Do you share the obligations equally? Pets are good “practice” for children. If you are the primary pet caretaker and your fiancé does little to help, could this carryover into your parenting? Children – obviously – are much more demanding than pets.

Also consider: how were you and your fiancé parented? Do you have similar or different ideas of how to be a good mother or father? It’s very helpful to talk about this stuff before you get married.

Good premarital counseling minimizes the likelihood for “bad” surprises in your marriage. It’s a great opportunity – in a safe and supportive environment – to sit down with your fiancé and examine your unspoken assumptions and beliefs about marriage, so you can make adjustments and improvements now.

The time and energy you invest in premarital counseling will leave you well-prepared to begin a happy, loving marriage, and if there are any bumps along the way, you can always come back for a “tune up”.