Why is Pre-Marriage Counselling a Good Idea?
- Relationships are never easy, and seeing a pre-marriage counsellor or psychologist prior to getting married can be an excellent way to prepare you for marriage.
- Pre-Marriage Counselling allows couples to examine their similarities and differences, and to discuss how they might resolve any conflicts which might arise as a result of such differences. Pre-Marriage Counselling also helps couples to examine their communication skills and the way in which they resolve conflict.
- Pre-Marriage Counselling can be essential as a means to resolving a specific issue prior to committing to marriage.
For many couples, making the decision to get married is a relatively easy one and flows from feelings of love and connectedness, and the desire to one day start a family. Sometimes the decision whether or not to marry is more fraught: perhaps the partners come from very different cultural or religious backgrounds, or there are children from a previous marriage to consider.
Either way, the decision to get married is a momentous one and any couple embarking on the road to marriage can benefit from pre-marriage counselling.
PRE-MARRIAGE COUNSELLING IS AN OPPORTUNITY FOR COUPLES TO:
- explore their similarities and differences,
- strengthen their capacity to communicate and practice skills which will help avoid arguments in the future,
- address specific issues that may be worrying the couple prior to committing to marriage, and
- reach practical decisions about how their lives will be once they are married.
Pre-marriage counselling is also a chance for engaged couples to consider the basic principles of what marriage means to them. In this way, couples can enter into married life with a clearer picture of their own and each other’s expectations of marriage, and better skills to help them cope with some of the inevitable compromises that come with any relationships. Pre-marriage counselling aids couples to have these discussions because they can be undertaken in a structured and safe environment and in front of an unbiased and neutral party who can moderate the dialogue. Preventing problems within your relationship is more effective than trying to undo deeply ingrained issues and habits, which is why many relationship therapists and researchers advocate for couples attending therapy before marriage or in the early years of marriage (1).
HOW CAN PRE-MARRIAGE COUNSELLING BENEFIT PEOPLE WHO HAVE BEEN PREVIOUSLY MARRIED?
When we come into a new relationship after being divorced, we bring a great deal of our pre-marital history with us. As such, before beginning a new marriage or making a long term commitment to a new relationship, it can be hugely beneficial if we can investigate and explore the reasons why the previous marriage did not work and make efforts to avoid repeating the same mistakes again.
Very rarely is divorce the fault of only one person in the marriage. If we are willing and able to self examine our behaviours in the previous marriage, we can make conscious choices about how a new marriage might work. With the assistance of a relationship counsellor or pre-marriage counselling, we can not only explore these issues, but we can also include our potential new spouse in the conversation so that they might also be part of the process. This alone can be very helpful in starting a marriage or in making the choice of whether or not now is the right time to commit to a new marriage.
WHAT ABOUT CHILDREN?
Children are a common point of discussion in pre-marriage counselling and an issue which carries substantial weight for couples who are engaged or thinking about marriage. The issue of whether or not to have children, how many children to have, how children should be brought up or disciplined, and how to deal with blended families or step families, are all extremely important to discuss prior to marriage. This is because these issues generally go to the heart of people’s deeply held beliefs and needs and can therefore have the potential to generate substantial conflict in the future.
We may assume that everyone wants children because we ourselves always wanted them in our lives, but the reality is that not everyone wants to be a parent and not everyone feels that they need to have children in order to lead a fulfilled life. Talking about the desire to have children and making agreements about this topic before getting married can be very important to the ultimate success of a marriage. For someone who desperately wants children and believes that kids are central to family life, suddenly understanding that their potential spouse does not feel the same way can be a ‘make or break’ issue. Parenthood is not an easy task and should not be entered lightly. It is a huge responsibility and it is vital that both parents understand this responsibility and are at one in their desire to be parents.
Child discipline is also an important topic – although one which is generally faced later in married life. It is not uncommon for couples to find that they are polar opposites when it comes to setting boundaries and making and keeping rules for their kids. However, this is not necessarily a problem provided that a couple is able to maintain strong parenting agreements. In many cases, children find that they have one parent who is the greater disciplinarian whereas the other tends to be softer and more malleable when it comes to rules. Talking about this issue prior to having children can help avoid future conflict within a marriage as children get older and the issue of child rearing becomes more significant in your lives.
If there are children from previous marriages, talking about both the emotional and practical elements of combining two families is vital for a couple. Issues of parental roles, boundaries, jealousy and dealing with ex-spouses will all have a significant impact on your married life. Practical issues such as whether your step kids will be living with you and whether they will have their own bedrooms etc are also issues that can be a source of conflict and can be more easily resolved with the help of a pre-marriage counsellor or psychologist.
WHAT AGREEMENTS CAN BE ESTABLISHED DURING PRE-MARRIAGE COUNSELLING?
One of the areas that can be addressed as part of pre-marriage counselling is agreements about the marriage and relationship. There are two kinds of agreements in almost any marriage or relationship – covert and overt.
Covert agreements are the agreements we make without discussion. Instead these agreements happen because we simply allow ourselves to fall into certain behavioural patterns and we either do not question them or we are afraid of what will happen if we do think about changing them. Covert agreements may be entirely benign and agreeable between the parties, but there are times when they are unhealthy and prevent open and clear communication from occurring between spouses. An example of a covert agreement is one that has to do with division of household chores and tasks. Often women fall into a covert agreement that even if they have a full time job, they will still automatically take care of the household. While this covert agreement may seem harmless on the surface, many women find themselves eventually resenting the assumption that they will cook the meals, clean the kitchen and wash the laundry, especially during times of stress or exhaustion.
Overt agreements, on the other hand, are agreements that have been specifically discussed. They can be about almost any topic or issue, but the largest difference is that they are out in the open and discussions have taken place – and may continue to take place – about who bears responsibilities and what will happen regarding the relationship. An example of an overt agreement is just the opposite of the example above. A couple may make an open and overt agreement about grocery shopping and cooking dinner. They may agree to make weekly menus together, he does the shopping and she makes dinner. By talking about specific issues openly, conflict may be avoided and continued communication becomes possible.
Pre-marriage counselling can be an excellent way to help couples reach overt agreements prior to getting married. Assistance from a pre-marriage counsellor or psychologist can be particularly beneficial if the issue in discussion is something which the parties have struggled with, or about which they feel strongly. Pre-marriage counsellors and psychologists can also help couples identify situations in which covert agreements might be causing conflict, or might be likely to cause conflict in the future. In this way, covert agreements can be challenged and openly renegotiated (which turns them from covert agreements into overt agreements). These agreements can be about children, finances, spirituality and religion, family and a multitude of other issues.
DO WE NEED TO BE IN CONFLICT TO BENEFIT FROM PRE-MARRIAGE COUNSELLING?
The short answer is no. Couples do not need to be experiencing conflict in order to benefit from pre-marriage counselling. Indeed, many couples attend simply to discuss their expectations of marriage in a structured way, and to look at what communication methods they use to connect with each other and to resolve arguments. This can be particularly beneficial for couples where one or both members of the couple find it difficult to communicate openly about such issues. Of course, couples with particular issues or particular conflict will benefit from the help of a pre-marriage counsellor or psychologist who can help to resolve these issues before the couple formally ties the knot. Communication skills and conflict management are among the top five factors that predict marriage satisfaction (2), so the sooner a couple builds these vital skills, the better.
WHERE CAN I FIND PROFESSIONAL PRE-MARRIAGE COUNSELLING SERVICES?
If you and your partner are considering making a long term commitment to your relationship, you may benefit from talking to a qualified professional relationship counsellor or psychologist who specialises in pre-marriage counselling services. If you would like to talk to a qualified pre-marriage counsellor or receive additional information or advice, please contact Associated Relationship & Marriage Counsellors Sydney.
Cole, C. L., & Cole, A. L. (1999). Marriage enrichment and prevention really works: Interpersonal competence training to maintain and enhance relationships. Family Relations, 48(3), 273-275.
Rosen‐Grandon, J. R., Myers, J. E., & Hattie, J. A. (2004). The relationship between marital characteristics, marital interaction processes, and marital satisfaction. Journal of Counseling & Development, 82(1), 58-68.