My own daughter asked me today, “So, why do people do pre-marital counseling?”
I’m glad she’s asking. You are likely wondering the same thing if you’re reading this and so I’d like to make a case for it. Not just for my own benefit – I do offer pre-marital counseling/coaching – but for your sake especially.
You see, it does help. A lot.
Is Pre-Marital Counseling Worth It?
One meta-analytic research review we looked into showed that the mean effect size for premarital programs was 0.80. In plain English, this means that the average person participating in a program was significantly better off afterwards than 70% of the people who did not participate. Okay, that’s still not plain English…
In simpler terms, most people benefit greatly from Pre-Marital Counseling.
Marriage is a big thing. It’s not to be entered into lightly. Verlynda and I hope to build a house in the near future and part of what we will do is sit down and figure out exactly what it is going to take to complete the project. We’re doing that because we want to count the cost before we start and be sure of a positive outcome.
Pre-marital counseling is an opportunity to count the cost before you get into marriage and help secure a positive outcome.
It is a time to really take stock of what you’re going to be building for the rest of your life. You have the chance to learn about the resources you’ll need to finish what you are starting. You’ll gather essential resources and information like communication skills, shared values, shared vision for your future, shared dreams, goals and so on.
Verlynda and I actually had very, very little pre-marital counseling. But I am so thankful for what we did have as I did some major learning about how to be the husband I needed to be. It would have been very painful for me (and more so for Verlynda!) to learn that by trial and error!
What Should You Be Looking For in a Pre-Marital Coaching/Counseling Program?
There are basically three varieties of programs:
- Assessment based
One study we looked into compared these three and noted that the assessment based programs were the most effective both immediately following the program and 6 months later.
This is the approach I use. Rather than being purely something I create extemporaneously, I begin with an assessment to determine strength and growth areas for the couple and follow through with skills training leading from what is revealed from the assessment. We then go on to discuss what each couple feels is most relevant to creating a successful marriage.
What Are The Benefits of Pre-Marital Counseling?
There are plenty of good reasons. But here are four backed by research from a 2001 article in an academic journal called Family Relations.
First, pre-marital counseling slows couples down to foster deliberation. You will be compelled to stop and think seriously about your marriage. You will learn to become explicit about your expectations and beliefs. In fact, you may even discover dynamics that are unacknowledged or unnoticed that lead you to not marry at all.
On that note, we found another study that showed that 5-15% of pre-marital coaching resulted in a breakup. That might scare you off, but think about it. Would you rather have the pain of breaking up with your fiancée now? Or would it be easier to dissolve a marriage seven years in? We, therapists, believe that both the breakups and stronger marriages resulting from pre-marital counseling are success stories.
When you’re forced to deliberately clarify your expectations about marriage, you’re given the opportunity to discuss the most crucial (and possibly problematic) areas of your life together.
Second, pre-marital coaching or counseling sends a two-fold message to you as a couple:
- That your marriage, as an institution, matters
- How your marriage turns out depends on your attitudes and actions
It’s critical to understand that successful marriages are not a matter of fate. Rather, the decisions you make, actions you carry out and attitudes you choose determine the course of your marital satisfaction.
Third, it helps you learn of options if you need help later.
There’s stigma about getting marriage counseling. But often those couples that do run into struggles find it easier to return for help to the person they did pre-marital counseling with.
When you learn specific skills in pre-marital coaching or counseling, you’re also learning that there is more to learn. That marriage is always about growth and development. So when you run into challenges later on (we all do!) you know that there are more resources available.
Finally, it just helps! Couples who take premarital counseling are less likely to think about divorce and more likely to have confidence in their ability to handle future challenges.
But We Never Had Pre-Marital Counseling!
Well, this just got awkward.
No, just kidding. You know what, you can actually come back later and learn these skills. It’s never too late!
Let’s all just agree to give up pretending that we have it together, okay?
I’ve said it in past episodes of our podcast: I have a Master’s degree in marriage and family therapy, but I still screw up. I still offend Verlynda from time to time. I say dumb things. Sometimes, I even say mean things.
All that to say that I am still learning to be a better husband. I hope that I will always be learning to be a better husband (so does Verlynda!!).
And so even if you didn’t have the opportunity to do pre-marital counseling, it’s never to late to call your local therapist (or me!) and say, “Hey, we want to enrich our marriage. How can you help us?”
If you’re not yet married, pre-marital counseling is far less than the cost of your wedding. Far less than the cost of a divorce, of all the lost days, weeks and months of pain that you may experience if you don’t equip yourselves to be skillful spouses.
If you’re in a place where you could benefit from this, I’d love to work with you. Check out the options today.