Is premarital counseling worthwhile? Absolutely!
Many couples elect to have premarital counseling before they “tie the knot”. Mostly, the pupose is to have each partner do some thinking about what they want, and how they they think and feel regarding a number of issues that couples will almost inevitably confront. Partners are then helped to exchange that information, sometimes with the help of the counselor, and discuss the differences.
When I do premarital counseling I meet with the couple, get some basic background information, and have a discussion about why they have decided to spend the time and money to see me. Often, they have parents or other family members, or friends, who have divorced, and they want to avoid that fate. Sometimes, one or both of them have previously been through divorce. They wonder, what did I not see, the first time around? Sometimes premarital counseling is required by the person marrying them.
After the initial meeting I give each partner a pretty detailed questionnaire to take home and complete on their own, and return to me before we meet again. A few of the many areas covered are communication styles, spending vs saving, conflict resolution strategies, thoughts and goals about having and raising children, dealing with each other’s families, attitudes about work and home life balance, sex, and division of responsibilities for chores.
Sometimes I meet once individually with each partner if it seems that would be helpful; other times we just have more couples’ sessions to go over the responses, which some couples choose to share between themselves before we meet and others do not. Useful information is uncovered, and the partners turn to each other and ask questions about why something is important, or what might happen under certain circumstances. Compromises are negotiated, and sometime negotiation skills are learned.
A typical example of a conversation would result from questions I raise about dealing with each others’ families regarding how time will be spent on important holidays, particularly if and when children are involved.
Another common topic would be about financial goals; for example, one person may see a certain amount of credit card debt as acceptable to carry on a ongoing basis in order to be able to have nice yearly vacations involving travel, while their soon-to-be spouse might feel that vacations are something to be saved for and taken very, very infrequently, and credit cards are only to be used for emergencies.
A third example would be about chores. Usually a new couple in the “honeymoon” stage of their relationship thinks “we’ll share everything and help each other out”. When we discuss a typical evening after work, they are both invited to think about things like “Do you eat together?” “Who prepares the food?” “Who bought that food so it’s available to prepare?” “Who cleans up after?” Etc. Not to mention the interesting question, “Do you eat at the table, or in front of the TV?”
As a counselor with much experience working with couples, I have devised a questionnaire that addresses the issues most partners struggle with later on in marriage. They will tell me that either these subjects were not talked about at all early in their relationship, or, because they were in the honeymoon stage, everything was just wonderful and differences didn’t seem apparent or didn’t seem to matter. All people have differences and it is normal and predictable that these differences will surface down the road of life, and will require discussion and possibly negotiation to resolve in healthy ways.
I encourage anyone considering marriage to investigate the possibility of structured premarital counseling – my couples tell me they are glad they did!