Should Premarital Counseling Be A Marriage Requirement?

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Should Premarital Counseling Be A Marriage Requirement?
Premarital counseling reduces the risk of divorce by 30 percent. Totally worth it, right?

Taffy Wagner, a certified personal finance educator, who offers both pre- and post-marital counseling with a focus on money, tries to get couples to understand that they need to talk about income, spending and debt. The couples who come to her have decided they want to do this marriage-and-money thing right. "They value the marriage enough," says Wagner. "They want to make sure they've gotten all the 'i's dotted and the 't's crossed. They've considered a more general form of premarital counseling, but don't feel they'll get enough of a financial education there."

During her sessions, she asks couples, "What is your mindset when it comes to money? What were you taught about money? What did you do when you were on your own? What do you want to do moving forward? How will you communicate about this?" Through her sessions, she helps couples establish mutual financial goals. 

Ryan Dalgliesh, a 35-year-old pastor and the author of Love Notes: A Biblical Look At Love, provides one-on-one counsel through the Church, and himself received premarital counseling from his pastor. In detailing his own experiences, he stresses the importance of learning about marriage from someone you know and respect—someone who has a marriage you can aspire to. "I grew up in a very dysfunctional home. I wanted to know what a good marriage is supposed to look like." Because of this, he tries to provide a good example to those who come to him for counseling, and also urges them to seek out advice from other happily married couples.

He also goes over the practical stuff with them, in particular sex and finances, the two biggest causes of divorce. "If people are miles apart on expectations," he says, "the marriage is over before it begins."

On the topic of his faith—and on what the church has to offer that a mental health professional doesn't—he says, "my goal is to show them that their spouse isn't the priority. It's about God. If I love God, I should be a good husband. I'm good to my wife because I'm supposed to be good to my wife, regardless of how I feel today." Speaking of faith-based counseling...

What ground might the royal couple cover in their own marriage preparation sessions?

Miriam Bellamy, a licensed marriage and family therapist who does not counsel William and Kate, says that it could be smart for the couple to delve into relations with the in-laws. "How will Kate negotiate being herself with fulfilling her responsibilities as a royal family member?" asks Bellamy. "How will Prince William deal with being in the middle—between Kate and family expectations? How can he deal with the anxiety of wanting to please his family (he is the first born, after all) and being a supportive friend, partner and companion to his wife?"

In addition, she throws out a few more questions they'd do well to consider before saying "I do." "In what ways can they maintain their connection with each other when the public pressure is high?" asks Bellamy. "What say does Kate have with their finances, or with decisions that require finances? How can they create space where Prince William is just William and Princess Catherine is just Kate?"

Finally, and most importantly, "Can they talk about sex with this counselor, or is it a royal taboo to get this personal? I think they must talk about it to keep their humanity in clear focus. Nothing helps with humility like getting naked with one's spouse."

Should all couples seek out some form of premarital counseling? 

Saint-Paul, the writer and life coach, and her husband found premarital counseling incredibly valuable, and especially enjoyed "hearing from these couples who had been married a long time, how they dealt with things that came up in their marriage." Counseling, she says, helped them reflect more seriously on the vows they were going to be taking.

"Those vows were about more than just my own personal feelings of happiness. They were a commitment I made to my husband and to God. When I have those 'get me out of here' moments, I come back to those vows and they ground me. Eight years later, we're still glad we did it, and we always recommend to couples that they do an extensive marriage preparation."

Says Riechmann, "During an engagement, life can seem a lot like a fairy tale, but that inevitably wears off. It's best to have some discussions about money, sex and family planning before you are forced to endure tough times and realize that you are not adequately prepared to deal with those issues in your marriage." Is Couples Counseling Right For Your Relationship?

"It takes courage to go to counseling," adds Westfall. "The alternative is that you walk away from it. The person you care about walks out of your life. People go to therapy as a last resort. It should be a starting point."

In a recent survey, 78 percent of YourTango readers said all couples should get premarital counseling.

If you're still unconvinced that premarital counseling is right for you, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you know each other's financial history, and have you worked out a plan for handling finances going forward?
  • How important is religion to both of you, and how will you honor your faiths going forward? If you plan to have children, what kind of religious education will they receive?
  • What are the differences in how you were raised? How might these differences affect your marriage?
  • How sexually compatible are you? What are your expectations when it comes to the bedroom?
  • Are you in agreement about plans regarding children? What about careers? Living situation?
  • Do you share the same core values?
  • What are your expectations of marriage, and does your partner share those expectations?
  • How do the two of you handle disagreements?
  • How will the two of you negotiate any future roadblocks that may unexpectedly pop up, like job-loss, caring for an ailing parent or financial difficulty?

If there's even one question you have difficulty answering, it could be worth considering premarital counseling.

If you're unsure how to go about finding a counselor, one good place to start is your church or temple. It can also be helpful to ask for recommendations from friends and acquaintances, and especially from people with marriages you admire. Beyond that, there are plenty of qualified professionals among our YourTango Experts. Directories also exist at Psychology Today, the American Association of Marriage and Family TherapyPrepare-Enrich, etc.

Don't just go with the first counselor you meet. Once you've found some likely candidates, ask them about their credentials, their counseling strategies and their pricing, and also try to get a feel for whether or not you click. It's important that both you and your partner feel comfortable with whomever you choose.

And if your partner resists?

"Don't say, 'I really think we need help,'" advises Dalgliesh. "Say, 'Look, I love you. I want to see us be successful at marriage. How about we talk to someone and see if they have tips? I value what we have. This is an investment in us.'"

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