Many people target a lot of their energy into creating the perfect wedding while giving little thought to their life together after the honeymoon. As important as the wedding day is, it is one day out of a lifetime that you will spend together. I cannot tell you how many people come see me in their first year of marriage wishing they had premarital counseling.
This is true in first marriages, but it is even more important when one of you has been married before or has been in a previous long-term relationship. Children from previous relationships add a level of complexity to even the most secure upcoming marriage. The more thought you put into navigating concerns a head of time the better.
Difficulties in communication, values, and simply how you do things (finances, sex, parents/in-laws) are quite an adjustment even with the person you now believe is your soulmate. It is worth identifying and working on potential problem areas and building a good foundation before starting your life together.
Though many believe in the value of premarital counseling there are a variety of approaches in how to get a couple off on the right foot. Let’s discuss the strategies:
- Pastoral counseling. If you are having a Christian wedding in a church or another venue members of the clergy may offer or insist that you have some form of premarital counseling before they perform the wedding. Training, interest and time devoted to counseling concerns varies greatly among clergy. Typically, an online assessment tool like Prepare/Enrich may be offered by a pastor. (Prepare is designed for engaged couples and Enrich is for couples currently married.) Prepare is organized topically and is very helpful for identifying potential areas where you may differ. Couples typically may argue about how they spend money or enjoy affection and their sexual relationship. In addition, Prepare sheds light on the difficulties that may arise with in-laws, issues of faith, divisions of labor around the house, etc…
- Professional counseling. This can be particularly helpful for couples who are having current difficulties. If you are having disagreements or have a more complicated history based on your family, experiences, or health history professional counseling may be helpful. Like clergy, professional counselors vary in their approaches. Some professionals focus on topics of concern or communication techniques. Typically, teaching a couple how to use “I statements” and stressing improving behaviors may not be sustaining in the longterm. I believe your thoughts, emotions and behaviors need to work together to create a lifetime of love.
- My approach. Because I am active in my church and am seminary trained in counseling, I am on the preferred provider list of several area pastors. I have worked closely with clergy and value their work. I am very familiar with Prepare/Enrich and can walk a couple through understanding this and other assessment tools. I also realize that though we often know how to behave, humans do not do what we know we should all the time. In the moments when we feel our spouse is not listening to us or we are flooded with emotion we tend to react without making the best choices in the moment. Therefore, I have sought much training in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy to create safety and a secure base for couples. When your know that your partner is going to be there for you and will respond to your needs the content of disagreements can be worked out more easily.
The Structure of EFT
In the first session, my focus is on getting to know you two as a couple. I’ll ask about any difficulties you are experiencing in the relationship and when you feel most connected. I’ll explore the history of your relationship and ask about how you met and what attracted you to each other. Your role models for a good relationship and your views about marriage will begin to surface.
At the end of our time together in this session we will talk a little about the value and structure of EFT. I will give you an assessment and a relationship experience inventory for you to take home, fill out, and bring back to your next session.
The second and third sessions are done individually, one session with each partner. In addition to finding out how you relate to each other, it is important that I understand what you personally will bring into the marriage from your family of origin and past relationships.
Session #4 is a debriefing from what I have learned in the couples and individual sessions. You’ll begin to get a picture of your values and what you and your partner contribute to the strengths and challenges of a sustaining marriage.
These four sessions complete the assessment phase. Couples who are engaged and have set a wedding date are eligible for a special discount for these initial four sessions to help with your wedding budget. Be sure and ask for that special rate. If you choose to work with me, you’ll have a clear map of where we are headed and the confidence that this approach will be helpful in understanding both yourself and your partner. Then, you’ll be able to build a great foundation for your life together.
The Pre-Premarried Couple
For couples who are not officially engaged, counseling can be very helpful in assessing whether next steps may be right for you, as well.