Is Premarital Counseling or
Education for You?
The short answer is a resounding YES. Getting married without pre-marriage
prep is like starting a business or any important venture without preparing.
Half of all marriages end in divorce and only half of those that endure
are truly happy in the long run. Many happy engaged couples assume that
they won't be contributing to these statistics. But, if you just wing
it and count on your luck to make your marriage a success, your odds
are only one in four. There is another way.
Most couples just don't realize that good, skill-based pre-marriage
counseling or classes can reduce the risk of divorce by up to thirty
percent and lead to a significantly happier marriage, according to marriage
research. It can also reduce the stress of the pre-wedding period. Just
a little effort now can make your odds a whole lot better over the long
run. You want to do everything you can to ensure that your dreams of
a great marriage and a great life are realized.
Pre-marriage preparation is based on the reality that it's important
to strengthen your relationship and prepare constructively for future
challenges and conflicts that everyone will inevitably face at some
point in their marriage, now while you have so much fresh positive energy
in your relationship. Don't stick your head in the sand. The research
shows that there is a window of opportunity during the year before the
wedding and the six months or so after when couples get the optimum
benefit from marriage preparation. Later, under stress, negative habits
and relationship patterns may become established and be much harder
Couples now face more demands and have fewer supports than ever before.
The typical complex marriage - managing two careers while rearing children
- really requires that couples have very strong, well-established abilities
to communicate, resolve issues, maintain mutuality and set goals. Without
this foundation, it's easy to feel overwhelmed by stress and time pressures.
Problems can intrude much more easily than most couples realize. As
much as it's important to come to terms with unrealistically positive
expectations, those who grew up with divorced or unhappily married parents
may find that they have unacknowledged and unexplored expectations that
their marriage, too, may become unhappy. Marriage preparation functions
as an immunization that boosts your capacity to handle potential difficulties.
Couples need every advantage to succeed in today's marriages.
What Is Pre-Marriage Preparation and Counseling?
Most commonly, those couples who do receive some premarital counseling
get it from their religious adviser. This can range from one or two
meetings to an extended series of sessions. Sometimes an assessment
inventory and skills training are included, often they are not. Non-religious
professional counselors also provide premarital counseling services.
Again, the content and amount of service depends on the orientation
of the counselor and what you ask for. Often it doesn't cover all the
preparation that couples need.
Marriage preparation classes or workshops are an alternative or supplementary
approach to educating engaged couples and newlyweds in the skills, habits,
attitudes, and enrichment techniques that research shows lead to happy,
enduring marriages. Such marriage preparation programs, are education,
not therapy. Like premarital counseling, some of these classes have
religious sponsors while others are secular. You might consider them
in many ways analogous to career counseling. They address the normal
issues and challenges that all couples face in the course of their marriage.
Some people think that marriage preparation is well on the way to becoming
as commonplace as driver's training or test preparation.
Not all marriage preparation is the same. While the benefits of premarital
education are beginning to become more widely known, most couples dont
yet understand the need to attend a program that focuses on specific
factors that research has shown will boost a couples ability to
succeed in today's demanding marriages. Research shows that couples
who have skill-based marriage preparation are much happier and more
successful in the long run.
Don't make the mistake of thinking of counseling and marriage prep
as alternatives to each other. They can be very complimentary in getting
a new marriage on the right track. Counseling, while helpful in its
own way, usually doesn't provide the same kind of intensive skill-building
and education. (Just as marriage prep doesn't provide the more extensive
exploration of individual problems and underlying issues that longer-term
counseling can.) The skill-building and education are the key factors
in long-term divorce prevention and marriage success. Today's marriages
need all the help they can get.
Susan Piver's, The Hard Questions: 100 Essential Questions to Ask Before
You Say I Do is on the bestseller list. A marriage prep program can
give couples the benefit of a supportive environment and framework in
which to ask these questions and some skills to deal with the answers.
Whatever marriage prep couples choose - religion-based or religion-neutral,
counseling or class -- should include activities to give them real skills,
real expectations and real knowledge of self and partner to face the
inevitable challenges of a committed relationship.
What to Look For in Pre-Marriage Programs and Counselors
Here's a concise list of seven relationship skill and knowledge areas
that research has shown to contribute to the success and endurance of
Personalities and families-of-origin
Intimacy and sexuality
Make sure that the pre-marriage counseling or prep you choose covers
all of these. Here are some questions to help you select the pre-marriage
prep that's right for you:
- Does it include an assessment inventory to help you understand your
areas of compatibility and strength, as well as areas you may need to
- How many couples will attend the class or workshop? A small group
setting is higher quality, more engaging and individualized than large
classes. On the other hand, it can also be more comprehensive, systematic
and skill-based than most pastoral or couples counseling. A group experience
can also be more involving and stimulating than individual counseling.
- Does the program focus specifically on the needs of engaged couples
and newlyweds? Some marriage skills programs mix troubled couples from
later stages of marriage in the same class. This can detract from the
experience for engaged couples and newlyweds.
- Is the class or counseling approach flexible enough to allow for
your relationship and learning style or is it a one-size-fits-all program?
It's best to practice specific communication, conflict resolution and
goal-setting skills and strategies, and then select those skills and
strategies that are most congruent with your relationship style and
best meet your needs.
- Is the content based on marriage research?
- Will the counseling or class help you and your partner agree on goals
and strategies for managing and continuing to work on your most important
The answers to these questions will help you approach selecting your
premarital classes and counseling as an educated consumer.
If a couple's premarital counseling with a religious advisor or lay
professional does not address some important areas, the couple should
think about supplementing with a program that does. Many couples use
marriage prep and counseling in combination, covering the foundation
issues and skills in a class or workshop, then focusing on religious
or other special issues in their counseling.
How to Find Pre-Marriage Programs and Counselors
Many religious organizations, colleges, and other community organizations
now recommend or offer skill-based marriage preparation classes. If
you can't find a good program through these sources, one of the best
places to find marriage prep programs is the web site for Smart Marriages
This organization provides a wealth of relationship information to couples
and a directory that includes providers of marriage prep services.
Marriage Success Training - Religion-neutral,
skill-based premarital education seminars for the general public - stayhitched.com
Some of the professionals who can provide pre-marital counseling can
be found through the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy
on their website therapistlocator.net.
More Marriage Prep Resources
Premarital and Marriage