In an ideal world, every couple who plans to get married would go to premarital counseling. In that world, seeing a counselor before marriage would be so expected that people would actually frown on couples who don’t do it. Largely because of the stigma that still exists around counseling and psychotherapy, many couples don’t go. Many men and women fear that if they were to tell friends and family that they were getting counseling, everyone would assume that there were major problems in the relationship. In fact, it’s often only religious couples who seek out premarital counseling because the church or other places of worship encourage or require it.
If you’re getting married and you’re smart about how to prevent problems, you will seek out premarital counseling. One of the greatest barriers, besides the stigma of getting counseling, is the fear many men and women have that therapy will open up a can of worms and ultimately cause the relationship to fall apart. This type of thinking reflects denial, the belief that ignoring it will make it go away.
How many sessions of premarital counseling do we need?
Another barrier to couples seeking premarital counseling is the mistaken notion that counseling has to last forever or, at least, a very long time. This isn’t true, so fear not! You and your partner can decide in advance on the number of sessions you want, and if you want to increase or decrease that number later, you can do so. I believe that a couple needs a bare minimum of five sessions, and a few months of counseling is even better. Keep in mind that it takes at least a couple of sessions to share with the counselor the background information about your lives and relationship.
What kinds of things should we talk about in premarital counseling?
Here’s the great part of counseling: the counselor will guide you so that you don’t have to walk in knowing exactly what to say or do. Some common issues to discuss in premarital counseling include: finances; talking about having kids and the roles each parent will play; sexual expectations; expectations about fidelity; and issues related to in-laws as these issues can cause problems in a new marriage.
Some couples, based on their histories, must seek out therapy or the relationship probably won’t last.
If one or both members of a couple has any major issues they are dealing with presently or have dealt with in the past, premarital counseling should be viewed as a requirement. If there is a history of addiction, any type of abuse, or a major mood disorder among either of you, you must seek out premarital counseling to get some guidance. Simply put, you need help to make sure that these issues don’t jeopardize your marriage. If you aren’t disciplined about dealing with these kinds of issues, they will haunt your relationship like an angry ghost.
What if premarital counseling starts problems between the two of you?
Every marriage will have problems but the key is to deal with them while they’re small instead of waiting until the issues become even bigger. In other words, the best time to go to counseling is the time that is most counterintuitive: it’s the time when things are going well. I know that couples always want to savor the blissful period when things are fresh and going well, but premarital counseling is like taking out an insurance policy on the relationship so that you don’t get into bigger and unexpected trouble down the road. If counseling opens up some awkward discussions or causes arguments, don’t worry; it’s completely natural and normal to have some hiccups when you’re talking about making a lifelong commitment.
Remind yourself that healthy couples always have some conflicts, and that’s what sets apart healthy from unhealthy partners — how they deal with the problems. To emerge stronger and happier from counseling, don’t overreact when things get difficult. Tell yourself that a balanced, flexible mindset is the best way to approach relationship problems.
About the Author:
Dr. Seth is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, Psychology Today blogger, and TV guest expert. He practices in Los Angeles and treats a wide range of issues and disorders and specializes in relationships, parenting, and addiction. He has had extensive training in conducting couples therapy and is the author of Dr. Seth’s Love Prescription: Overcome Relationship Repetition Syndrome and Find the Love You Deserve