A Case for Pre-Marital Counseling

By

A Case for Pre-Marital Counseling

I recently had an interesting discussion with a panel of colleagues about the value of couples therapy.  The question was this: "Can all couples, even those who are happily married, benefit from working with a skilled couples therapist?"

Some of my colleagues made interesting points about prevention and maintenance and how pre-emptive therapy may give happy couples a chance to make sure they are taking good care of their relationship.  My colleague's angle is compelling.  Why wait for the problem to arise?  Why not nip it in the bud by working on the relationship before potential problems have a chance to surface?  Clinician's often mention John Gottman's research that most couples are unhappy for years before entering therapy.  Gottman likens waiting too long to seek therapy to walking around on a broken leg for years and therefore inflicting permanent damage that could have been fixed much more effectively in the beginning. 

I agree that if a problem arises in a marriage, it is optimal to seek help sooner rather than later. However, achieving a happy marriage is a tremendous feat.  For those who get there organically, I believe they have created something precious and important.  If there is no reported problem, such as infidelity, poor communication, or loss of sexual desire, I believe a happy marriage does not necessitate a therapist's intervention.

I grew up with a surgeon for a step-father and his motto was: "If it's not broke, don't fix it."  This message informs my perspective.  My observation is that if both halves of a couple report that they feel happy and satisfied with their marriage, they have built something substantial and the value in seeking to tweak or modify such a union seems limited.  

Where I do view universal value in some form of pre-emptive relationship counseling is during a couples' engagement, as they prepare to marry.  Marriage is perhaps the biggest single decision an individual will make, and it's ramifications are extraordinary and lasting.  While statistics are limited on the benefits of pre-marital counseling, an interesting study recently reported in the New York Times described significant benefits of brief counseling before or early in marriage.  The study compared the CARE and PREP methods of couples counseling as well as film viewing followed by guided discussions.  The CARE approach emphasizes building empathy while the PREP approach emphasizes communication skills.  The film approach was extremely hands-off with minimal clinical involvement.   All three groups were half as likely to separate or divorce three years later when compared to the couples who did not engage in any pre-marital intervention.

This article was originally published at . Reprinted with permission.
Article contributed by
Advanced Member

Elisabeth LaMotte

Counselor/Therapist

Social worker, psychotherapist, blogger and author of "Overcoming Your Parents' Divorce"

Location: Washington, DC
Credentials: LICSW, MFT, MSW
Specialties: Communication Problems, Dating/Being Single Support, Divorce/Divorce Prevention
Other Articles/News by Elisabeth LaMotte:

A Therapist's Review Of 'Romantics Anonymous'

By

Most of us experience some form of social anxiety. We may feel nervous before a social gathering or slightly agitated during group activities. In the extreme, social anxiety compromises the ability to connect to another person in an intimate relationship. Jean-Pierre Ameris' 2010 French film, Les Emotifs Anonymous, is a comedic but meaningful study of what ... Read more

Robin Williams And Cinema Therapy

By

Cinema therapy is an aspect of psychotherapy that is gaining attention these days. This approach involves the therapist's suggestion of various films that relate to the issues the client wants to address. Film's power to help and to heal, and therefore complement that therapeutic process, may be one of the most interesting aspects of practicing ... Read more

How Our View Of Relationships And Breakups Changes As We Age

By

Intimate relationships are a primary focus in psychotherapy. Through therapy, people examine their closest relationships in order to determine what aspects of their approach to others work well for them, and what aspects of their approach they might want to change in order to form healthier attachments. In order to figure this out, it helps to look at current ... Read more

See More

PARTNER POSTS