Couples mainly come to counseling after they marry when problems have arisen and their dreams have been injured. Doesn’t it make much more sense to discover important areas of compatibility and identify areas of difference before we marry? In the excitement of planning a new life together, couples get caught up in wedding plans, the honeymoon, where they will live, and they forget (or avoid) looking at the opportunities and challenges they are likely to encounter after they marry.
Premarital counseling has proven to increase the happiness and reduce the incidence of divorce in marriages. This is a good idea for cohabitating, pre-cohabitating, pre-marital, or early marriage couples. What makes pre-marital counseling different than marriage counseling is that I not only focus on particular issues and concerns a couple is faces, but also use a structured approach to cover specific topics important to couples who are planning to spend their lives together. This approach gives couples tools and healthy ways of relating before problems arise.
Expectations in Marriage
Sex and Sexuality
Children and Parenting
Roles in Marriage
Developing shared interest and meaning
Outside friendship and community
In John M. Gottman, Ph.D. and Nan Silver’s book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, they write “What can make a marriage work is surprisingly simple. Happily married couples aren’t smarter, richer, or more psychologically astute than others. But in their day to day lives, they have hit upon a dynamic that keeps their negative thoughts and feelings about each other (which all couples have) from overwhelming their positive ones. They have what I call an emotionally intelligent marriage.” (pg. 3) This basic truth about marriage underpins premarital counseling.
A word of caution: it is possible that one’s worst fears will be realized. This is a major reason why couples avoid premarital counseling. You may learn that the marriage will need to be postponed for further individual or couple counseling. The purpose is to assist with difficulties and help you determine if you should remain together. Although realizing there are serious problems in the relationship is very painful, it is far better to learn this early before your lives are intertwined, children are involved, and many hurts and insecurities have developed. Although this only occurs in a minority of cases, I would be remiss to omit this possibility.