Is Pre-Marital Counseling Right For Us?
For many couples who are contemplating marriage, the concept of pre-marital counseling seems like a bad omen. Couples think: If it’s only 12 weeks into the engagement and our “Relationship Issues” already require professional intervention… What’s going to happen when we’re 12 years into a bad marriage? Better to fix our relationship issues on our own! Or hope—that like a bad cold—they resolve themselves.
Other couples think: *High five* That’s not us! Our sex has never been mediocre; we make for compatible living companions; and we rarely fight! So, how could pre-marital counseling possibly benefit us? When our relationship is as close to perfect as there is?
But, the thing is: even the healthiest of couples will argue sometimes! And, as much as we believe that we’ve shared EVERYTHING—all of our hopes, our dreams, our pet-peeves, and the cringe-worthy moments—with our partners, it’s normal to get swept away by the excitement of your special day and unintentionally allow certain issues to slip through the cracks.
Pre-marital counseling can be used as a tool to anticipate the unpleasant surprises and to relieve the tension of existing issues—that like fault lines lurking beneath the surface—are primed for a natural disaster. However, the overarching goal of pre-marital counseling isn’t simply about forestalling disagreements: It’s also about enhancing the quality of your relationship and ensuring lasting, marital satisfaction.
Although you and your counselor will explore a wide range of marital topics, 8 of the “relationship biggies” include:
8 Essential Topics for Pre-Marital Counseling
- Cohabitation: Living together outside of marriage was once considered to be taboo; although now, it’s regarded as the new societal norm. But not every couple cohabitates prior to saying their “I do’s”—whether because of circumstance, spiritual conviction, or personal preference. If you already live together, you know how hard the adaption period is—if that stage ever ends. You argue about household chores and slobbish habits, differing bedtimes, and matters of taste (like that hideous couch from Craigslist), and pretty much any other topic known to boil the blood. Pre-martial counseling can help you to articulate your expectations for cohabitation, so that shacking up with partner whom you love… doesn’t become the roommate experience from hell!
- Career Ambitions: How many jobs have you held in your lifetime? According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, if you were born in the 1980s, you’ll have approximately 7 jobs by the time that you’re 28-years-old and a projected 10-15 jobs by your 48th (Who Cares?!?!) The problem is that new careers often require significant commitments: specialized schooling, student loans, cross country relocations, and mutual sacrifice. Many a marital disagreement can be sidestepped by asking yourselves: What are our long-term career goals? How do we plan to achieve them? And, what are we willing to sacrifice for one another to ensure that career and family still take top priority?
- Finances: How comfortable are you with spending? And, what’s your stance on joint banking accounts, or your plan of attack to minimize your debts? Unfortunately, the essential act of living is expensive—from student loans and costly mortgages to car payments, credit card debt, and college funds or retirement savings. Agreeing on how the bills will be divided; reaching a consensus on spending allowances for leisure activities; and planning for your financial future—all before walking down the aisle!—can protect couples from avoidable financial hardships and prevent explosive, intimacy-obliterating disagreements.
- Sex & Fidelity: Sex is almost always steamiest in the beginning. (If this isn’t true for you, then it’s not necessarily the time to panic. There’s a definite adjustment phase—especially when you’re nervous, you just accidentally elbowed your partner in the face, and your partner hasn’t solved the mysteries of your anatomy… quite yet). When career obligations and children are tossed into the mix, intimacy inevitably suffers. Pre-martial counseling can prepare you for reality; allow you to explore medical and psychological treatments for performance anxiety, sexual arousal disorders, orgasmic dysfunction, painful penetration, and premature or delayed ejaculation; and encourage an honest discussion of what constitutes infidelity (Are extramarital affairs off the table or is “emotional infidelity” considered cheating?)
- Kids & Parenting: One of the biggest deal-breakers for couples considering marriage is children: Are we going to have them and what’s our timeline for expanding our family? Now’s the time to be brutally honest—before you’re breathing into a bag in five years and hyperventilating. If you agree that you want ‘em, the next question becomes: How are we going to raise ‘em? Some parents are firm on discipline and others are soft. Some parents want to raise their kids near extended family and others say adios. Some parents are all about that private school life and other parents prefer the public-school experience (pinkeye, included). Accepting what you want now will save your kiddos confusion later—and possibly even save your marriage from divorce.
- Spirituality & Core Beliefs: If your spiritual beliefs differ, what will be your compromise on introducing your children to faith or on participating in weekly worship? How do politics, cultural values, financial ideals, and esteemed personal traits (e.g. honesty and integrity) factor into for standards for a relationship? Evaluating your core values as a couple doesn’t necessarily mean that you always have to agree—but it will help you weed out the deal-breakers from the negotiable topics.
- Conflict: With intimacy comes conflict—it’s as inevitable as the sound of thunder chasing a flash of lightning. But, as weird as it sounds, you can learn how to become a better fighter. Becoming “a better fighter” doesn’t entail learning how to deliver the ultimate knock-out punch; but it does involve practicing communication strategies that will avert lasting resentments and enhance your appreciation of your partner’s viewpoints.
- Extended Family: Either we’re thinking about them fondly, or our palms are currently breaking out into a sweat… If only loving your partner meant enjoying his or her family! Pre-martial counseling can help you to: Develop strategies for interacting with in-laws who hate your guts; facilitate compromise on matters of where to spend the holidays or the degree of grandma’s or grandpa’s involvement in your children’s lives; and negotiate on the tricky subject of elder care.
How Can Pre-Martial Therapy & Counseling Help Me?
That was a ton of information to process! If you’re a skimmer—and no judgements there—here are the major takeaway points. Pre-martial counseling can improve the quality of your marriage by assisting you to:
- Vocalize your expectations for the marriage (on the division of bills and household chores, cohabitation habits, financial planning and spending, sexpectations and fidelity requirements, child-rearing practices, and career/home-life balance)
- Develop strategies for anticipating and resolving conflicts effectively
- Deepen your sexual and emotional connection and eliminate performance anxiety, absent orgasm, and dampened libido
- Discover common ground on contradictory core values and spiritual views
- Resolve intimacy or abandonment issues and recuperate from childhood or pre-relationship incidences of abuse and trauma
- Encourage couples to part amicably when deal-breaking issues—such as having children—become nonnegotiable