According to research, premarital counselling can greatly improve a couple’s chance of a successful marriage.
Couples often seek counselling – either before committing to marriage – or once they are engaged and have made a public declaration of their intent.
A journal article cited in APA  states:
“participation in premarital education was associated with higher levels of satisfaction and commitment in marriage and lower levels of conflict-and also reduced odds of divorce. These estimated effects were robust across race, income (including among the poor), and education levels, which suggests that participation in premarital education is generally beneficial for a wide range of couples.”
It would seem wise to consider seeking guidance to explore important and complex issues that are inherent in marriage, such as compatibility, shared or differing values/ beliefs, communication styles, conflict resolution skills, taboos, family background, expectations, goals and deal breakers.
Some religious denominations do not support the marriage of a couple, with subsequent acceptance into church community, without some form of premarital counselling. Christian counselling carries a spiritual dimension, to explore what God says about marriage and how to build a relationship and family on Christian principles.
Essentially, in premarital counselling, a counsellor will guide the couple in answering a series of pertinent questions that at the very least opens their awareness to each others’ strengths, shortcomings, expectations and ways of thinking or behaving that may yet be unexplored.
If enough time has been put aside prior to the marriage, more in-depth counselling will not only highlight issues – but also provide direction on navigating toward the changes that the couple have identified.
The process also includes discovering and appreciating each other’s differences as well as the similarities, and explore what they need from each other, what needs to change, and what stays the same.
According to Caroll and Doherty :
“The average participant in a premarital program tends to experience about a 30% increase in measures of outcome success. Premarital prevention programs are generally effective in producing immediate and short-term gains in interpersonal skills and overall relationship quality and that these improvements are significantly better than non-intervention couples.”
What to expect from Premarital Counselling
If you can set apart a few months prior to setting a date for your marriage, you can book a counselor to guide you through a simple program of reflective practice. You will have homework tasks that stimulate questions and answers about who you are as individuals, and what you each bring to the marriage.
You will discover you and your partner’s strengths, weaknesses and expectations. You will both get together with the counselor to discuss what you are discovering, and work out together what steps need to happen to help you move from “separate individuals” to a “couple”.
Gaining insight into each other and being prepared for growth and change is a good foundation for a lasting marriage. For example, if you learn that you are generally a withdrawer in conflict and your partner is a pursuer – and that in most circumstances this not only wastes a lot of time and energy but creates power struggles and resentment – you may be more willing see things from each other’s point of view. With the counsellor’s help you can learn how this pattern evolved, if it is useful, and if there is a better way to resolve conflict.
Having an appreciation of different love languages  will help each of you to communicate at least some of the time in your partner’s language – in order for them to feel loved and appreciated.
At the end of the day it won’t matter how many cups of tea you make her (service) if she actually wants you to sit and drink tea with her (quality time).
Gaining insight into hidden aspects of your partner’s character and values that reinforce your compatibility, offers a lot of encouragement to a fledgling couple.
Similarly having an awareness of communication styles and conflict resolution skills and problem solving is an integral part of married life, that you can explore in premarital counseling and develop along your journey in marriage.
However, there are several standard areas in which conflict and difference of opinion result in major marital distress and even break down. Sheri Stritof  lists a number of marriage deal breakers. The following is a smaller interpretation/adaptation of this list that explores the issues underlying the deal breakers and what premarital counseling can identify as areas of difference and potential conflict.
- Violence/Abuse: It is important to be aware of each other’s history around violence and abuse, including any family history. This involves asking questions about how each partner deals with anger, or have they ever hurt or injured someone. If so, what was the outcome and what measures were taken to affect change? Violence is not something to be tolerated. 1800 RESPECT is a national helpline available 24/7.
- Finances: What are your spending habits, how are you at saving, what will your finances look like now as a couple, will you share a bank account and if so, who will manage it? What are the rules around small or large purchases, and disclosure of spending? Will you seek each other’s permission? Who will continue earning when you start a family? What are your strengths and weaknesses, and patterns of spending and giving. Can you and your partner talk about money, problem solve, agree on plans, be trustworthy and accountable? In Christian premarital counseling components will explore what God says about money, giving and responsibility.
- Starting a family: Do you both want children, and if so, when? How will children impact your lives? Are you open to negotiating changes to harness additional support? Who will stay home? What beliefs and patterns will you both bring into parenting? Are these useful or unhelpful – and are you willing to learn together so your marriage grows during this time? What if you can’t have children, how will this impact the relationship? Christian premarital counseling would include what God thinks of children, and exploring his template for raising a family in a Christian home.
- Extended family: Do your parents agree to your marriage, and if not – what are their objections? Will their disapproval continue to impact your relationship after the wedding? Part of the journey of growing up, moving out of home and becoming a couple is about separating from the extended family to some degree. Families can be a wonderful resource, parents helpful and supportive, but sometimes they can be tyrants. What influence will your families have on you both and your future family? What expectations will they have on your resources or time – and how involved they will be in your lives? Can you set boundaries with parents or siblings, can you carry family traditions without surrendering our values. What good things have they taught us – and what do we need to ignore? As a couple and potential emerging “new” family, what are your unique values and traditions? Will your families be a resource or a source of conflict?
- Intimacy: What is your previous experience? What are your expectations around intimacy and sex? Are there painful experiences that may cause inhibition or difficulties? Have you discussed sex – how often, preferences for frequency or environment, what is “off limits”? Do either of you have any concerns or fears around sexual intimacy? Are you open to fantasy, playing, fun, experimentation? Understanding male and female differences in desire, awareness of different sexual types/love languages etc can grow respect instead of resentment. Realising how safety and trust can enhance a woman’s receptivity, boundary setting, and giving time to enjoy/ explore each other intimately, are all ways to build a healthy sex life. Christian counselling explores God’s intent when he created two very different creatures to partner together, and the adventures of a Christian marriage. Stasi Eldridge  writes on unveiling the mystery of a woman’s soul and very eloquently describes the cry of women’s hearts to be romanced and truly loved.
- Housekeeping and work: What are your expectations of each other around career/work and division of labour around the home? Who will take charge of cooking, cleaning, garbage, driving, shopping, paying bills? How will you negotiate and delegate chores? Remember, MIND READING IS NOT AN OPTION!
- Addictions: We all have them to some degree or another! With the advent of personal computers we can now game online, bet online, view porn online – all in secret. Some addictions like smoking or drinking may be overt. But some like the gaming or gambling may be covert. Premarital counselling is a time to be honest and look at what addictions you both have, and what risk they pose to your health, marriage and finances. There are online quit support networks available .
- Recreation: How will you spend your free time? Do you have commitments such as sports, hobbies or community projects that will draw on your family time? Will you put each other and your children first over these commitments? What activities are negotiable, which are not, and how does that impact your expectations? Are there activities and sport you can do together that bring you closer and uses your recreational time productively? Can you release each other to have quality “alone time” to recreate and rest – and if so, how often? In Christian counselling the relationships take priority, including your personal relationship with God, seeking to spend time with Him individually, as a couple and possibly corporate church. What does God say about recreation – after all, he is the grand designer and even he rested!
My name is Julie, and I am a counselor trained in relationship and sex therapy, a midwife, registered nurse and Christian pastor. I have coached young couples starting out their lives together to navigate the bumps and turns as they embark on marriage and starting their family. I offer both Christian-focused and non-Christian premarital and (post) marriage counselling.
Author: Julie Fickel, RN, PG Cert Health Science, PG Dip Midwifery, Cert 4 T & A, Cert 4 Pastoral Care.
Julie is a midwife who has completed additional training in counselling for a range of issues affecting couples and families, including premarital counselling, as well as in Christian counselling.
Please note: Julie Fickel is currently not practising
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