Many couples consider premarital counseling as something for those who really don’t know what they want out of a marriage.
Yet, that is far from the truth. In reality, premarital counseling should be a prerequisite for any couple looking to get married.
How can it benefit and strengthen your relationship?
#1: Refining Communication Skills
Knowing how to communicate effectively is a never-ending challenge in most aspects of life. Even for people who are already experienced communicators, marriage poses its unique communication challenges. Some potential problem areas include:
- Listening Skills: While your partner can repeat what you just said, you still don’t feel that they heard you.
- Can you openly discuss your ideas, thoughts and feelings without being criticized?
- Do you have effective conflict resolution skills?
- Do you keep fighting about the same thing?
- Do you fight fair?
- What topics do you agree on and what do you fight about?
- Do you expect your partner to know what you’re thinking or feeling? (aka ‘mind-reading’)
#2: Aligning Your Outlooks on Life
Premarital counseling helps partners determine if their overall goals and outlooks on marriage are, in general, compatible and if not, is change feasible? Things to consider include:
- Lifestyle differences: Talk together about this example:
- One partner is energetic, socially active and fantasizes about running for public office. The other partner is more introverted and prefers a much quieter lifestyle. Could this couple be happy together?
- Are you both willing to accommodate the other’s points of view?
- What will happen if she or he cannot change?
- Who has more influence now and does this need to change after marriage?
- How are decisions made?
- Do you enjoy some of the same activities? If not, are you willing to try to participate in what your partner enjoys?
- Are both of you content with the amount of time you have to relax?
- Are you free to spend some time apart and enjoy your own friends and hobbies?
- Is your partner responsible for your happiness, and if so, how will he or she do that?
The dating process helps with sorting out some of these issues. However, there may be one or more underlying issue that neither of you realize, only to have it surface after you’re married. It is important that both of you be on the same page (or at least be reading the same book), otherwise differences in outlook can mean a troubled marriage. When you can’t resolve these together, consider premarital counseling.
#3: Discussing Money
One of the predominant issues that married couples fight about is household finances. Surprisingly, many couples get married without even having a discussion on their perspectives around money. Things to think about:
- Will you both work or will one of you stay at home or work part-time?
- Have you discussed the specifics of each of your financial situations?
- Are you financial priorities and goals the same?
- Does one or both of you plan to work beyond retirement age?
- How do financial decisions get made and does this work for both of you?
- How much money does your household need?
- What happens when she makes more money than he does?
- What are your financial priorities?
- Are your philosophies about money different? For example, one of you views money as a ‘tool’ to build a new business or for taking risks, while the other is more frugal and prefers conservative investments.
- Do either of you want a prenuptial agreement? Why and why not?
- Does your partner have significant financial debt?
Making sure that your financial views align is a vital part of premarital counseling.
#4: Agreeing on Children and Parenting Styles
Couples need to spend enough time talking through the specifics of what they each want or expect as parents. Things to consider include:
- Are you both sure you can have children?
- When do you want children and how many?
- For many of us, we raise our kids the same way we were raised.
- What kind of parenting styles do you envision?
- Will this work if you’ve both had different childhood experiences?
- Are there parts of your parents’ styles that you don’t want to use?
- How would child care responsibilities be divided?
- If it happens, how will you manage unwanted pressure from your parents to “give them” grand children?
#5: Discussing Sex and Intimacy
This is often a difficult but necessary topic to discuss before marriage, even if your sex life together has been rewarding. The reality is that perspectives on sex and intimacy usually change after marriage. Some things to consider:
- Are you both comfortable talking about sex? If not, why?
- Does each of you feel that your partner meets your needs for affection and sexual intimacy?
- Are you sex drives different?
- Is one of you more adventurous in bed and the other is more conservative?
- Is sex used to manipulate?
# 6: Discussing Religion
Spirituality can be a sensitive topic of discussion, but it’s important that both of you feel free to talk about it. Some things to consider:
- Do you share the same spiritual beliefs?
- If not, what beliefs will you teach your children?
- How are such differences resolved?
#7: Defining Goals and Aspirations
What are your goals and aspirations as individuals? As a couple? As parents? Some things to think about:
- Do you both have similar career goals (being promoted to ‘Partner’ in a company, owning your own business, etc.) or does one of you take life day-by-day?
- Is there a trip or life experience that one or you both want to experience?
- Do you both have the desire to buy and own your own home and have a family or do you both prefer to travel?
- Where do you both see yourselves as individuals, as a couple and as parents in 10, 20, or even 30 years?
It may seem impractical to talk about long-term future goals and aspirations, but it’s important to know that, in general, you both have similar goals for the marriage and your future together.
But What If I Discover That My Partner Isn’t Right for Me?
Well, wouldn’t you want to learn that before you make both the emotional and financial investment of getting married?
Yes, counseling can reveal aspects about one another that you weren’t aware. It’s easy to be swept up in the romance and the joy of getting married. However, counseling can help keep both of you grounded in reality while you identify and resolve areas of high risk and incompatibility. Then you can decide whether or not both of you want to do the hard work in counseling to settle your differences, or if it’s time for you to move on.
Marriage is an exciting and wonderful time. Yet, it doesn’t hurt to take a step back and reflect on what this life changing event means for the both of you.
By working with a professional counselor, you can gain deeper insight into your partner and your relationship, and have the opportunity to learn skills that will be useful for many years after your wedding day.
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