Is Online Premarital Counseling Right For You? What to Do Before Saying “I Do”
We get it - marriage is a huge step. And if you’re in a serious relationship, it is likely that you’ve looked at some of the married couples around you and wondered ‘Is it all downhill from here?’. Marriage gets a bad rap for a number of reasons - one of which is that somehow, after you say ‘I do’, everything changes - how you see the relationship, how your partner (soon to be spouse) sees the relationship, and how others see your relationship.
An interesting trend that we’ve seen in the past decade has been the rise of premarital counselling - couples who have decided to be proactive about their relationship, and possibly ‘future-proof’ it as they enter this next stage of life. While in the past this was mainly the domain of religious unions - and in fact, premarital counselling is required in some faiths - more recently it has become more mainstream. For many of these couples, they’ve witnessed their parents or friends in unhappy marriages that either don’t last, or - perhaps even worse - do last, and result in two unsatisfied, frustrated and miserable individuals (not to mention their offspring).
So - what are the options for premarital counseling? Who might benefit from this? What are some of the potential pitfalls, and is it worth it in the long run? Let’s start by looking at who might benefit from premarital counseling.
Who is Premarital Counseling for?
Most people who take this step are in the process of a big life change - whether this is going into marriage or a serious commitment, or starting a family together. It might not be so useful if you’re just starting out in a relationship - although counselling is useful at all stages - but more for when things are starting to get serious.
In modern life, we know that marriage is not the only big commitment you can make - in fact, many couples choose to do things like buy property together or start a business together as their big commitment/investment - so premarital counselling can be a bit of a misnomer. You might want to think of it as ‘precommitment coaching’ instead - having a private space where you can talk through existing issues, plan for how you’ll resolve them in the future, and talk about future goals and dreams. Often the coach or counsellor can offer advice about how to deal with conflict and common relationship issues that arise - as a way to pre-empt those inevitable clashes that occur in the first year of a union.
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Types of Premarital Counseling
As you might have noticed, we live in a world where the options for help are practically unlimited. In terms of premarital counselling, there are :
Therapists: Most therapists with expertise in relationships will offer this kind of support, and might see you as a couple and individually, depending on the situation. Their approach will likely depend on the state of the relationship - perhaps you and your partner are wanting help with major issues in the relationship, or perhaps you are only wanting one or two sessions to clarify shared goals and vision.
Benefits: A trained therapist can be a wonderful resource for a relationship - most of them have seen literally everything before, so issues that you might be feeling awkward about - you don’t have to worry. They can also give guidance about mental health issues and things like trauma, sex, family dynamics and stress management .
Negatives: Therapy can be expensive!!! Even with insurance, couples sessions can be pricey and, depending on how many you need, this can put a dent in your savings - especially if you are planning a wedding or a family
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Religious Support: For some faiths, premarital counseling is a normal part of the process of getting married - and the support of a religious leader can be an important and valuable part of the marriage process. In these sessions, common issues in marriage are discussed, and advice is given for how to manage these. Just like in therapy, these sessions are generally confidential and supportive - but they may not be suitable if there are serious issues in the relationship or mental health concerns.
Benefits: Often a religious counsellor will have lots of experience with couples, and can really help with the practical side of things - and it is likely that they are someone you trust and respect.
Negatives: There can be limitations on this - sometimes we might feel uncomfortable disclosing really personal or intimate information to someone in this role, and they might be a bit ‘out of touch’ with your generation -as well as the previously mentioned lack of expertise in mental health concerns.
Books: There is a huge range of reading material available in this area - after all, it is incredibly important, and we have centuries of (sometimes) good advice. Some that come recommended are: ‘Tying the Knot: A Premarital Guide to a Strong and Lasting Marriage - by Robert Eric Green’, ‘Things I Wish I'd Known Before We Got Married’, by Gary Chapman, and ‘Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts: Seven Questions to Ask Before (and After) You Marry’ by Drs Les and Leslie Parrott. These are somewhat traditional resources, and for something a bit more modern, you might want to try ‘Mating in Captivity’ by Esther Perel - she gives an interesting perspective on commitment and domesticity that is refreshing and also comforting.
Benefits: It's likely that, even if you don’t agree with every book about this subject, you will still learn a heap - you won’t regret reading or listening to these books. Additionally, since most of them are a few years old, they’re available for free at most libraries, to download as an audiobook or eBook. Saving your relationship on a budget - yes please!
Negatives: We know - a book is no replacement for a person who understands and cares. Books are great for that self-development, but sometimes we need someone to talk to as well. Additionally, some of the books in this subject might not be quite right for you in terms of values, some might be a bit out of date, or you might just be someone who prefers to get help in person.
Apps: Luckily for us, as well as therapy and books, we also have the chance to get support using technology - and the good news is that it has never been a better time to use a relationship app. Relish is described as ‘relationship self-care for couples’, and has been designed for couples at all stages of a relationship - including those who are about to make a big commitment to each other. Unlike regular therapy, people are able to work through content at their own pace and set specific goals to work on - as well as being assigned quizzes that they can share with their partner. For more personal support, they also have access to Relationship Coaches who provide one on one coaching and advice.
Benefits: We love apps, mainly because they are accessible (24/7 help rather than waiting for an appointment), easy on the budget (especially compared to therapy) and often very user friendly - since they are competing with lots of other well designed apps. The key to apps like Relish is that working on your relationship doesn’t need to be expensive, time consuming or stressful, but more like a hygiene thing - just like you go the gym, do your laundry, brush your teeth - improving your relationship can be as easy and regular as these things, and fit into your routine.
Negatives: For some issues, a relationship app is just not going to cut it. Issues like a major betrayal of trust, different values, serious conflict - sometimes there is the need for a third person in the room to help mediate and work hard to heal hurt. Relationship apps are ideal for couples who are having issues that can be worked on - but they may not be right for couples who are halfway out the door.
So - there are your options. You might want to try a couple of these options, or go ‘all in’ on one of them. If you’re interested in taking the next step, a good move might be to talk to your partner about your concerns (the issues in the relationship, how premarital counselling might help), and figure out what help is best for you right now. It is rare that people regret getting help for their relationship - even the most harmonious and loving relationship is going to hit a bump at some point, and the work you do now is likely to pay off down the road.
For many couples who have gone through this process - whether it is speaking to a therapist, or using an app like Relish to understand each other more - there is a sense of discovery and self awareness that can come from this kind of work. Being aware of our own, and our partner’s triggers and hang-ups (and we all have them!) means that we can move into the future with confidence - and be prepared to face life’s challenges together.
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