How Does Premarital Counseling Work?

When should I start premarital counseling?
on March 15, 2024
Read time: 10 mins

Embarking on the journey of marriage is a significant milestone, filled with anticipation and dreams of a shared future.

Premarital counseling is designed to help couples as they approach this next stage of their lives, providing them with the skills they need to thrive in marital life. This specialized form of therapy is not merely a task to tick off the wedding checklist but a profound opportunity to forge a deeper understanding and stronger foundation for the journey ahead.

With the support of a premarital counselor, couples embark on a journey of discovery, learning to communicate effectively, resolve conflicts gracefully, and build a shared vision for their future. 

To discover more about this vital step toward marital bliss, we’ve turned to the experts to discover what premarital counseling is all about.

Key Takeaways
  • Premarital counseling is crucial for couples preparing to embark on the journey of marriage, offering a unique opportunity to build a solid foundation for a shared future. It’s designed not as a mere formality but as a critical step in forging a deeper understanding and stronger relationship.
  • The counseling sessions focus on developing vital skills such as effective communication, conflict resolution, and joint decision-making. These skills are essential for navigating the complexities of married life and addressing potential issues proactively.
  • Through guided discussions with a premarital counselor, couples can clarify their expectations about marriage, align their life goals, and constructively address their differences. This process helps prevent misunderstandings and disappointments that could arise later.
  • Premarital counseling encompasses various approaches, including the Gottman Method, Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), Psychodynamic Couples Therapy, and Prepare-Enrich, each designed to cater to the unique needs of couples and foster a healthy marital relationship.
  • The cost of premarital counseling varies widely, depending on the number of sessions, the method chosen, and whether it’s part of a religious institution’s requirements or sought independently.
  • There’s no fixed timeline for starting premarital counseling; it can begin at any stage of the relationship. Early engagement can provide insights and tools for a strong relationship foundation even before setting a wedding date.
  • The success of premarital counseling largely depends on the couple’s engagement and commitment to the process. Premarital counseling is not just about addressing potential problems, it’s a journey of personal and relationship growth. Couples can expect to gain a deeper understanding of themselves and each other, developing new skills for a life together.

What is premarital counseling? 

Premarital counseling is a specialized type of therapy designed to help prospective married couples navigate the challenges of their upcoming marital life. These pre-marital counseling sessions are given to prepare couples for this long-term commitment and to help them address any potential issues before they walk down the aisle! 

With the help of a premarital counselor, couples can better understand their expectations around marriage and address their differences constructively. By working together on their coping strategies and communication skills, couples can build a strong foundation for their future married life. 

“Premarital counseling is focused on the joining of your lives and being intentional about how you want to merge them,” says Moraya Seeger DeGeare, a licensed marriage and family therapist and In-House Expert at Paired.

“When discussing major life decisions from everyday choices to big family planning, often couples can get stuck in who's right and who's wrong and it can be hard to know how to blend your life without losing your sense of self. Premarital counseling will give you a great understanding of the overlapping commonalities with which you can build your relationship.” 

For modern couples, premarital education might seem like an outdated concept and is usually the last thing on their lists when planning their big day. However, premarital counseling is often faith-based and is carried out by your religious leader or authority before conducting the marriage ceremony.

For example, depending on your church or faith, a premarital counseling program is an important part of your wedding planning and cannot be skipped. 

“Sometimes, based on your religion, this is conducted via your church and is a requirement before getting married,” says Seeger DeGeare. 

“This is very specific to the religious belief and can vary church by church. It’s a great question to ask when planning your wedding so you are not surprised by this later.” 

While some couples begin premarital counseling sessions as part of their faith, other couples can seek the help of a couples counselor before walking down the aisle to help facilitate those all-important yet difficult conversations. These sessions can give couples a clear map for their future, helping them set realistic expectations and build a solid foundation from which they can continue to grow. 

What are the different types of premarital counseling? 

Similar to couples therapy, there are many different types of premarital counseling and providers to consider. 

  • Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) 

  • Psychodynamic Couples Therapy

  • Prepare-Enrich 

These differing methods are all designed to help couples foster a healthy marriage from the offset, with the necessary conflict resolution skills and decision-making abilities they need to thrive. 

Whatever method you choose, your chosen counselor will provide the safe space that couples need to test their long-term compatibility, ensuring they feel comfortable and confident heading into this commitment. 

“No matter what type of premarital counseling services you choose, they will give you a great place to start to build insight into what beliefs, family history, relationship history, and future goals overlap or might clash,” says Seeger DeGeare. 

“Now you have a third party supporting you in understanding how you might navigate differing views.” 

How much is pre-marital counseling? 

A key question for most couples around couples counseling is related to cost, especially when they have the impending costs of the wedding coming their way. 

This is why it’s important to research couples workshops and family therapy options before you proceed — as there are many different costs involved. 

“Pre-marital counseling typically works by clarifying with the facilitator the goals for the counseling, the number of sessions, and any price for the work you will do together, says Seeger DeGeare.

Depending on your goals and the number of sessions that you sign up for, there will naturally be a wide variation in price points. 

“There is a big range in prices, as it can be included through your church, a class with individual sessions, or an add-on charge with your officiant,” says Seeger DeGeare. 

“You can also do marital counseling unaffiliated with your wedding with a licensed couples therapist trained in pre-marital counseling. The cost can be between 300-1500 dollars depending on the number of sessions with most therapists and efficient offering a set number of sessions at a packaged price.” 

While the price might feel like a deterrent, remember to choose a licensed mental health professional (or LMFT) so you can feel certain that you’re putting your relationship in safe hands. 

When to start premarital counseling? 

There is no exact date to start pre-marriage counseling. While some couples prefer to factor it in well before their wedding day before they even have a date set or a venue picked!

“Premarital counseling can start at any time, you don’t have to wait until the ring is on your finger to have that first session,” says Seeger DeGeare. 

“So if you and your partner are craving to explore a deeper understanding of your relationship, want an outside perspective to guide you in conversations, and give you insight into how your history and behaviors could impact your relationship, this is something worth looking into.” 

How long is pre-marital counseling? 

The length of pre-marital counseling can vary from couple to couple, depending on their relationship needs, the type of counseling they choose, and the couple’s goals. 

Generally, though, couples will attend between 5 to 12 sessions — so it’s important to give yourself enough time before your big day! 

What to expect from premarital counseling? 

Before you begin your premarital counseling journey, it can be helpful to understand what you’re walking into — so you can prepare with your partner. 

Depending on your chosen professional, the counseling session structure will likely differ. However, you will usually begin with a questionnaire, designed to locate the areas of conflict or issues that you will need to work through. 

“To begin your journey towards a better relationship as a couple, you will start with an assessment that will give a base for what you need,” says Seeger DeGeare. 

“This will be followed by a conversation with a counselor, during which a clear plan for your work together will be laid out. You will have 5-12 sessions with the counselor unless you are attending a group class.” 

Since these sessions require a level of dedication and vulnerability from both partners, it can feel a bit overwhelming or intimidating. However, it’s important to approach this process with enthusiasm, as it will guarantee the best results. 

“The overall goal of these sessions is to help you gain deeper insight into yourselves as individuals and as a couple,” says Seeger DeGeare. 

“By the end of the sessions, you will have gained new skills to help you navigate your life together and align your goals for your relationship. You will have clarity on how you want to build a life together, which will help you strengthen your relationship.” 

Benefits of premarital counseling 

  1. Enhanced communication skills: Counseling helps couples improve their communication skills, teaching them how to listen actively and express themselves clearly and constructively. This skill is vital for resolving conflicts and discussing sensitive topics throughout the marriage.

  2. Conflict resolution strategies: Couples learn how to manage disagreements healthily, preventing destructive patterns such as avoidance, aggression, or capitulation from taking root in their relationship.

  3. Setting realistic expectations: Counseling provides a platform to discuss and align expectations about marriage, including roles, responsibilities, and lifestyle choices, which can prevent misunderstandings and disappointments in the future.

  4. Financial management: Finances are a common source of marital strife. Premarital counseling can encourage couples to openly discuss their financial situations, and beliefs about spending and saving, and establish joint financial goals.

  5. Strengthening emotional intimacy: By sharing thoughts, fears, desires, and expectations, couples can deepen their emotional connection and intimacy, which is a cornerstone of a strong marital relationship.

  6. Exploring family dynamics: Understanding each partner's family background and dynamics can provide valuable insights into their behaviors and expectations, helping them to navigate potential challenges.

  7. Managing personal differences: Counseling helps couples recognize and appreciate their differences, teaching them how to leverage these for a stronger relationship rather than allowing them to become sources of conflict.

  8. Future life changes: Discussing potential future challenges, such as parenting styles, career changes, and relocation, can prepare couples to face these together with resilience and unity.

  9. Enhancing sexual relationship: Open discussions about sexual expectations, preferences, and concerns can lead to a more satisfying sexual relationship and strengthen the overall bond between partners.

  10. Shared vision for the future: Couples can work on creating a unified vision for their life together, including short-term and long-term goals, which fosters a sense of teamwork and shared purpose.

How effective is premarital counseling? 

Similar to couples therapy, there are always questions about the effectiveness of these counseling sessions, especially when so much money and dedication is involved. 

With all of these things, the general consensus is that you get out of it how much you both put into it. 

Studies have found a reduction in divorce rates with those who have completed premarital counseling as they start their marriage with stronger relationship skills to reduce conflict and overall have less resentment building. 

With a higher relationship satisfaction rating for those who intentionally put time and effort into understanding and building the healthy relationship they want, showing that pre-marital counseling opens the door to a couple being on the same page. 

“Whether you have two sessions or ten, you will gain helpful knowledge of yourself and your partner during that time,” says Seeger DeGeare. 

“You can use this information to build an even stronger foundation for your future together.” 

However, with all of these things, the general consensus is that you get out of it how much you both put into it. 

“When people question or have experienced pre-marital counseling not working or not helpful, they often run into two major blocks,” says Seeger DeGeare. 

“One or all parties may have hoped it would cause a significant shift in mindset that would create an entirely new relationship. The other block is that someone must fully engage and see value in the experience. All counseling outcomes depend on the level of engagement of all involved and the fit and attunement between all parties.” 

Therefore, if you’re both committed to the premarital counseling process, it can help you build a very strong foundation for the next stage of your relationship. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the difference between premarital counseling and marriage counseling?

    Pre-marital counseling sparks from a motivation of bringing your lives together and wanting to set your relationship up to be successful and satisfying. Compared to couples counseling, which is often motivated by some distress or conflict in the relationship with a strong desire to move out of a distressed state. In both experiences, the couple is open to adding communication and conflict management skills. The distress level of the couple at the start of therapy impacts the immediate goals for therapy.
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