What is premarital counseling and what to expect
Premarital counseling is exactly what it sounds like, participating in counseling before entering into a marital commitment. Specifically, there are two goals of premarital counseling. The first is to help couples develop a framework for discussing issues that all couples must grapple with. Specific topics that will be covered are the following: money, sex, parenting, work, in-laws, daily household needs, and friends. The second goal of premarital counseling at the Center for Growth / Therapy in Philadelphia is ensuring that couples have the skill set needed to resolve their differences.
Many people don’t think of attending counseling unless they have a specific problem or concern. Some people are apprehensive about the idea of seeing a therapist, particularly when everything is going well. Many people believe only couples in trouble go to counseling. Premarital counseling is geared towards healthy couples. The reason couples seek out premarital counseling is because it helps them prepare for the adjustments to married life. Whether you have been married before or never been married and whether you already live together or have never lived together, getting married is an adjustment. Even couples who have been together for many years may find it to be a big adjustment. Some couples who live together before marriage are surprised how their relationship feels different after the ceremony. WHILE YOU MAY NOT HAVE CHANGED, THE OUTSIDE WORLD TREATS YOU DIFFERENTLY. Anticipating this transition as well as being aware of how you tend to cope with change can be very helpful.
The first task is to help couples identify potential concerns in their relationship. The second task is to help couples develop the skills needed to resolve their disagreements. It is our belief that the key to a successful marriage is not about how a couple fights, but rather how a couple resolves a fight.
The benefits of premarital counseling is that there is an outside person who is challenging each of you to explore different issues that on your own, you might not have even considered important to discuss. For example:
- What is your expectation of marriage?
- What role do you see yourself playing?
- What role do you see your partner playing?
- How much time do you spend with your parents, siblings and friends?
- What type of relationship is each of you expecting to have with ones’ in-laws? Should they be allowed keys to the house?
- How are you going to handle your finances? Are you going to have one checking account or more? Who is going to be in charge of paying the bills? How will you negotiate recreational spending?
- How will you make time for each other regularly, especially if you work a lot or have children? How will you make time for intimacy and sex?
- How will you divide the household needs such as cleaning, cooking, grocery shopping, and laundry?
Each person coming into a marriage brings along a set of expectations for what married life is like and how it is supposed to be. These expectations often come from our parent’s relationship, other families that we have spent time with, or cultural and religious beliefs about what a committed relationship is supposed to look like. You may not be aware of these expectations and just assume that everyone feels and thinks about marriage the same way that you do. More importantly, you may assume that your partner has the same ideas and expectations that you do. Premarital counseling helps each of you acknowledge the contract that you are making to the other out loud. For example, I am marrying Joe because he wants a large family and will allow me to be a stay at home mom. I am marrying Sue because she will save me from being lonely. Or I am marrying my partner because she/he makes good money, and I never want to worry about money again. Pre-marital counseling helps you identify your hidden contract — what typically does not get said.
To test your awareness of the marital contract, try the following exercise: On a piece of paper, write down your ideas of the ideal marriage. Include how much time you would spend with your partner doing things together, how you would share daily responsibilities, how you would handle children (if you desire to have them), how often you would have sex, etc. Also think about others’ relationships that you know of that you admire and what it is about them that you like and write those things down. Then write down what you don’t want your marriage to look like. Again, think about some relationships that you know of and think about what characteristics that have that you don’t like. Ask your partner to complete the same exercise. When you are both finished begin the exercise again, but this time write down the answers to the way that you think you partner will answer them. Then share your ideas with each other. Discuss the ways in which you accurately predicted your partner’s answers. In what way were your partners’ answers similar to yours, and how were they different? By voicing and discussing your expectations and beliefs, couples can prevent many unnecessary problems and misunderstandings. Counseling can also be very effective in helping couples communicate about these expectations and beliefs in a safe non-threatening environment. Even couples who are more aware of their own and their partners’ expectations can benefit from counseling to negotiate any potential difficulties.