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By Robin Smith
?Updated 10:04 AM ET, Wed Apr 27, 2016

What is premarital counseling?

So the wedding is coming up soon, and I bet you’re very excited and eager to celebrate the big day. This is a time of high excitement and high stress for many couples, and I’m guessing that if you’re reading this article, you’re interested in why you should consider premarital counseling. 

Premarital counseling differs from Marriage Counseling because premarital couples are usually not in counseling to fix problems in their relationship. Instead, these couples seek out premarital counseling so that they can discuss important aspects of their relationship that they know are going to change after they get married and begin building a life together. This type of counseling provides a chance for the couple to, “consider and discuss things that will increase the likelihood of a successful marriage,” says family-law attorney Mark Baer.

How come more couples are choosing premarital counseling before marriage?

Is it because of the ominous “50% divorce rate” in the U.S? It may be because the research shows that couples who participate in premarital counseling programs report, on average, a 30% stronger marriage than couples who did not participate in these programs (Stanley, Amato, Johnson & Markman, 2006). Jason S. Carroll, assistant professor of marriage, family, and human development at Brigham Young University, says “After participating in these programs, couples reported or were observed to be better at resolving problems using effective communication styles, and on average, they reported higher levels of relationship quality.”
One comprehensive study of 1,235 couples found that 92 percent of couples reported premarital counseling helped during their first year of marriage. The study followed up on these couples 4 years later and found that 80 percent still reported premarital counseling has helped them in their marriage (Carroll & Doherty, 2003). Researchers say the findings suggest that premarital counseling is a good investment for couples who are serious about preparing for a lifelong commitment.

?What’s the downside of premarital counseling?

One potential downside is that premarital counseling can reveal areas in your relationship that you and your partner may not have talked about. These very same areas could end up being highly touchy and cause increased conflict in your relationship. I’ve seen couples come to me for premarital counseling, but after a couple of sessions exploring issues it became apparent that couples therapy was what was really needed.

?Again, Mark Baer, family-law attorney, “Premarital counseling has the potential of creating problems, in that it causes people to think about and discuss issues they may never have considered. While this can be viewed as a con, I would propose that it is also a pro because it forces the discussion before marriage, as opposed to after marriage. Why not be preventative and not reactive?” ?As Becky Whetstone, Ph.D., LMFT tells it, “Marriage and Family Therapist’s know to look into each person’s beliefs and values concerning money, child-raising, spirituality, individuality, partnership, marriage in general, and more. If we see an emotionally immature or incompatible couple heading for a marital train wreck, we’ll tell them.”

What does it take to make a healthy marriage last?

Dr. Tasha R. Howe, professor of psychology at Humboldt State University argues that healthy marriages usually have a ratio of 5 positive interactions for every 1 negative interaction. In her book titled, “Marriages and Families in the 21st Century: A Bioecological Approach,” she talks about how, “Premarital counseling, especially that which focuses on all of the bioecological systems that influence partners, can help solve problems before a couple marries, in order to increase the chance of success. The most common problems couples face are financial struggles, differences in sex drive, erroneous perceptions about their partners, and lack of communication.”

John Gottman, professor of psychology at the University of Washington and cofounder and co-director of The Gottman Institute would argue that the key to a long lasting and healthy marriage is finding the ingredients that make for a strong friendship. If you haven’t already heard about John Gottman’s book “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work,” I highly recommend it. I use this book with many couples to help them deepen their friendship, increase intimacy, and strengthen their emotional connection. There are some real gems in this book. One of my favorite exercises is called “Who Am I?” which invites each partner to write about his or her own triumphs and strivings, injuries and healings, emotional world, mission and legacy, and who he or she wants to become. It is an incredibly profound exercise when the couple is able to share these insights with one another.

As one partner in a premarital couple I worked with put it, “I would point out how much money most people are willing to spend on their wedding, but not on preparing for marriage, doesn’t make sense.” – D.B. (Washington, D.C.) I can’t say I disagree with you D.B. After all, my wife and I did the PREPARE/ENRICH premarital program, and we’re still happy after all these (2) years ;P

Robin S. Smith, MS, LCMFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in clinical practice in Bethesda MD, and specializes in relationship issues for couples, families, and individuals, for improved quality of life. His clinical specialties include: transition to parenthood for new and expecting parents, infidelity, sex and intimacy issues, premarital counseling, and trauma. Robin has given talks to various groups including hospital administrators, graduate students, therapists, and child birth educators. He is the primary contributor to Your Couples Therapist Blog.

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