Till death do us part? Reflections on Premarital Counseling

As a relationship therapist I often work with couples before they get married.  Pre-marital counseling has become a fairly standard practice, if not a requirement, for many couples seeking to be married.  It’s a chance for the new couple to identify potential problems before the problems take root; a chance for the couple to recognize upcoming hurdles and clarify spousal expectations.  It’s a chance for the couple to begin planning some parts of the marriage before they actually live it.
In this post and the following, I’ll describe some of the issues that I find critical to discuss in premarital counseling.  Enjoy!

Get good at talking to each other… openly.  It’s the only thing that will save you.

If I can give any gift to newlyweds, it’s the skills required to talk to each other about almost anything.  The ability to talk, openly, to each other, about everything – now that’s a meaningful wedding gift!  It’s the kind of skill that may even outlive the blender, and may help them enjoy their fine china on their 50th wedding anniversary.  Couples who make it can talk to each other, openly, about the tough stuff encountered during their marriage, and the tough stuff about their marriage.

In the lifetime of a marriage a couple will face untold stress and challenge. Financial pressure, job stress, children, and disagreements are some of the predictable challenges early in a marriage.  Illness, job loss, relocation, injury, and death are some less expected but still predictable hurdles for long-term couples.  Moreover, beyond these external challenges, the marriage will also face internal pressure.  Different marital goals, changing and unmet needs, relationship wounds and injuries, unresolved disagreements leading to resentment, are some of the examples of internal marital discord that must be overcome.  Dealing with these very painful challenges requires open communication.  The couple must have the ability to look each other in the eye, discuss the issues, listen to each other’s heart, grieve, support, and eventually move through the challenge.  This takes the skill of communication.  I’ve personally seen lots of great communicators be very ineffective at communicating with their most significant other.  It takes skill: intentionality, clarity, listening, and accurate understanding.  If you’re struggling now to communicate with your partner about difficult issues, getting married won’t make it easier…

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