Getting married is a huge decision—one that some people make very easily, but others really need some to come to terms with. If you’re someone who likes to be absolutely, completely sure about what you’re doing, then premarital counseling is a great option. It not only is an opportunity to talk to your partner about everything (and I really mean everything), it also provides a third party who is completely impartial, which is an amazing resource for a couple. Having someone guide, mediate, and inform the difficult conversations helps give you a whole new perspective and work through any issues.
For some couples, this might feel like a total stranger going through your underwear drawer—and not everybody needs premarital counseling. But for someone who really wants to feel safe and secure going into their marriage, premarital counseling can be a total game-changer. If you’re thinking about signing up, it's totally normal to be nervous about the process and what kind of questions you might encounter. Here’s what to expect from premarital counseling, because you’re going to get really close to your counselor before you even know it.
It Might Be Religious or Secular
A lot of people associate premarital counseling with a religious slant—which makes sense because some religions and places of worship require a counseling process before you can marry into them. But you can also have totally secular-religious counseling, run by a therapist or a psychiatrist. Obviously, if you’re going to religious counseling, you should expect a lot of questions about the faith and some observations about what the faith expects of you and your marriage. If it’s secular counseling, it will be a more objective look at what being in a partnership for the rest of your life really means, informed by what kind of therapist or counselor you choose.
No Topic Is Off-Limits
A man of the faith won’t ask you about sex, right? Oh, yes, he will. Or, well, he might. When you go into premarital counseling, whether it’s religious or secular, it’s important to know that nothing is off-limits. You might be talking about your sex life, you might be talking about your bank accounts, you might be talking about your biggest fears or the things that your partner does that really get under your skin. There are no boundaries. But in a way, that’s a really good thing. If you want the process to be beneficial to both of you, you need to be willing to be candid, every step of the way.
You May Have Homework
Yup—counseling isn’t just about talking it through, you also will probably be asked to engage in private study and thought. You’ll probably be told to work through your expectations for the future and what marriage means to you. You may be asked to do more specific homework based on your finances or your sex life. It’s a great chance for you to think about your relationship and what matters to you, without the pressure of having your partner and counselor right there. Then, you can come back together and talk it through.
It’s Not Just About the Future
Although premarital counseling obviously has a heavy emphasis on your upcoming marriage, you won't just be talking about the future. There’s a good chance you’ll be working through past issues—both from your current relationship and previous ones. Part of getting you ready for the future is mending the wounds from the past, so you may find that you spend a lot of time getting to grips with how you’ve gotten to where you are.
A Good Therapist Will Tailor It to You
Maybe you’re divorced, maybe your partner has a child from a previous marriage—maybe neither of you have dated before. No couple looks identical. A good premarital counselor (and this is something that you should look for) won’t just be giving you a 10-part lesson cut and paste from a manual, they’ll be tailoring the sessions to your needs. If conflict resolution is a particular issue for you, you may focus more on that. If your partner struggles to get along with your family because of issues from their childhood, that should be taken into account. It should feel like it’s meeting your specific needs, rather than just being a lecture about relationships.
Ultimately, It’s About Communication
Although premarital counseling is great, it needs to set you up for a lifetime of marriage without a counselor there to guide you through—that means strong communication. As you go through the counseling, listen to how the counselor leads you through discussions, how they help you tackle disagreements, and how they suggest you explain your point of view. Coming to grips with these major life issues—whether it’s sex, money, partnership, or something else—is in large part coming to grips with talking about sex, money, and partnerships. So use the sessions to develop your communication skills, because that is such a gift to be able to bring with you into a marriage.
Premarital counseling can provide a lot of different things to a lot of different couples—so make sure you take some time picking the right counselor for you. Whether it’s religious or secular, in-depth or brief, you should feel like the counselor is speaking to your unique needs. And, by the end, you should feel solid about taking the next step in your relationship, with communication skills that are stronger than ever.