Our culture emphasizes the value of education to learn business and professional skills that lead to successful careers, financial security and personal independence, yet most individuals go through years of schooling without ever attending a class on managing a successful marriage and family.
Having a happy, well functioning marriage and family, however, is intrinsically linked to all the other areas of a person’s life. If relationships are falling apart, then there’s a high probability that an individual’s job performance will also be affected – not to mention the negative impact on the mental and physical health of individuals facing marital problems – and the impact on their children.
Most people learn the mechanics of marriage from their own families. Yet unaddressed relationship issues often lead to a vicious cycle of dysfunctional and impaired marriages influencing one generation after another, and leading to a string of unhealthy relationships that, for at least half of all marriages, end in divorce.
Seeking out premarital counseling is one of the best divorce prevention strategies for those entering into one of the most life-changing events in a person’s life.
What is Premarital Counseling?
Most couples don’t anticipate the changes that marriages impart. Individuals are accustomed to managing their own checkbooks, making their own car payments, eating what, where and when they want, living with clutter, or living in clean, organized environments. But once married, many of these decisions along with countless others must be made together.
However, decisions aren’t the only issues affecting newly married couples. Suddenly, there are now two “families of origin” that enter the relationship, with cultural, religious, and familial values and customs coming together, often causing pressure as the couple, in its earliest stages, tries to form its own set of shared values and beliefs.
Premarital counseling emphasizes preparing and educating couples about marital issues that most individuals haven’t even considered let alone learned how to handle. It’s a form of mentoring that gives couples the tools they need to function cohesively, and to manage inevitable challenges with interventions that a counselor has introduced to them.
Premarital counseling addresses the following:
- Communication skills
- How to compromise
- Spiritual and religious values
- Cultural differences
- Financial values, goals, and planning
- Marital roles
- Socialization needs (extrovert and introvert differences)
- Anger management
- Family planning
How does Premarital Counseling Work?
In most premarital counseling cases, the couple begins by filling out questionnaires that ask a number of questions concerning key marital issues.
Each partner answers the questions independently of the other, and the counselor tabulates, records, and summarizes the results for the couple. Couples are often surprised at the answers of their future spouses. But these “surprises” are opportunities for discussion, giving the counselor an opportunity to suggest possible interventions the couple can employ if and when specific problems surface.
One area that couples frequently disagree on is sex – an area that even today is difficult for some to talk about. Sharing honestly with a partner about sexual techniques and preferences is often too embarrassing for some, yet if not discussed can lead to significant differences and eventually discord.
Premarital counseling’s process of “early problem detection” provides many benefits. It gets couples talking in a way that they probably wouldn’t have considered before entering counseling. And it helps couples set goals and state priorities, a process that also develops positive communication skills – especially concerning highly emotional topics.
An average length for premarital counseling is about five to seven sessions. However, if significant problems surface during the sessions, marital counselors are prepared to handle these issues, continuing with more extensive therapy if warranted.
Solution Focused Therapy for Premarital Counseling
One therapeutic approach used in premarital counseling is solution-focused, also known as solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT). This type of therapy focuses on solutions rather than dwelling on the problem, or how it started. Unless it’s essential to developing a solution, past childhood experiences or relationships are not emphasized.
This type of therapy works well in premarital counseling. Through a questionnaire or in discussion, the couple uncover a possible future issue or problem. SFBT gets the couple involved in devising solutions themselves, validating the idea that couples can solve problems – using their own resources - that occur at any point in time. The counselor focuses the couple’s attention on what needs to “change” in order to solve the problem. Change means taking action, or thinking differently, or approaching an issue from a different angle, and change, a key concept in this type of counseling, means adapting to the circumstances that present themselves.
SFBT also gets the couple to prioritize their future, explaining what’s important to them and what needs to change, or what steps need to be taken to achieve their vision. In many cases, the counselor must help individuals in the relationship understand how their individual visions might differ, and how to bring two visions together into one.
Working with the whole Family
Marriage counselors specializing in premarital counseling also work with families and all the issues relating to children and adolescents. Many such couples are entering a second marriage and have children and teens from previous relationships.
Combining two sets of children, or putting a childless partner into an “immediate” family situation presents many unique challenges and pressures - for both the couple and the children.
Premarital counseling involves working with couples, individuals from relationships, and whole families. For these reasons, most counselors who work with couples in a pre-marriage context also work as marriage and family counselors, building their practices around the emotional and behavioral aspects of all areas of family life.
Who are Premarital Counselors?
Premarital counselors and therapists are psychology professionals with graduate or postgraduate degrees, specializing in marital issues. These professionals approach counseling from a range of theoretical perspectives, such as cognitive-behavior therapy, family systems theory, Adlerian theory, and solution-focused therapies. Many of these counselors and therapists are marriage and family therapists (MFTs), credentialed by the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT). Religious and spiritual leaders and counselors also provide premarital counseling.
How can you Become a Premarital Counselor?
If you want to help couples succeed in their marriages, and enjoy working with families, consider a career as a marriage and family therapist. A master’s degree or higher in counseling is required to work as an MFT and each state has licensing requirements as well. Request information from the schools offering degrees in marriage and family therapy or related counseling degree programs.