Premarital Counseling

Premarital counseling is a specialized type of therapy that helps couples prepare for both the rewarding and the challenging experiences of marriage.

Premarital counseling is often provided by a licensed marriage and family therapist, a type of mental health professional who can help couples build a stronger relationship. Other couples may go through a religious institution, as some religious organizations require a premarital counseling program as a prerequisite step before conducting a marriage ceremony.

Premarital counseling aims to help partners understand each other's values, traditions, and goals going into a marriage. It provides a safe, neutral environment to empower partners to define proactive strategies to work out differences, gain conflict resolution skills, and provides them with the tools they need to build a strong foundation.

Sessions are typically 60 minutes long. Together with your therapist, you and your partner will determine how many sessions you want to attend before getting married – though six weekly sessions are standard.

Related: Premarital Counseling Questions: 52 Qs You'll Ask – And Answer

What can premarital counseling sessions help with?

While life throws many curveballs – and no one can anticipate every potential issue – premarital counseling can help a couple’s mental health to prepare and be confident in their ability to tackle any issues that do arise. By having difficult conversations early on, you can build effective strategies that may diffuse short term conflict, as well as build a solid foundation for the future and long-term commitment. Some areas where discord may arise include:

  • Finances: Can you and your partner openly discuss money and financial issues? In premarital counseling, you may begin setting realistic expectations such as how much debt is acceptable, shared banking and credit information, lifestyle expectations, career expectations, and fiscal responsibility. These are important money issues to be on the same page as your partner.
  • Communication: How do you and your partner resolve conflict or discuss issues? Are there ways you could improve your communication skills? Your premarital therapist can help you identify both positive and negative communication patterns.
  • Beliefs and values: If you and your partner couple decide to raise a family, will they be raised within a faith? Will you attend religious services? In addition to religion, what other beliefs and values do you hold important? For example, do you expect to eat dinner at the table or in front of the TV? What will certain holidays look like?
  • Roles in marriage and intimacy: Are you both comfortable talking about sex and intimacy? Do you share the same expectation of who will take on which roles in the household?
  • Children and family relationships: Do you want to have children? If so, how many? Will one of you stay home, or do you both want to work while raising a family? What kind of discipline will you practice with your children? How much will you or your partner’s family play into these dynamics?
  • Decision-making: Do you both partners feel like your opinion is being valued when making decisions? What strategies will you lay in place for making decisions in the future?

(You’re engaged! Now what? Learn more about what to expect in a premarital counseling session.)

Does premarital counseling work?

Research has connected premarital counseling to as much as a 30% decline in the likelihood of divorce over five years.

How does premarital counseling work?

Premarital counseling can help because it gives couples a safe, open opportunity to discuss topics that might otherwise have impacted their relationship and married life.

Couples seeking counseling and premarital education will go into their marriage with a set strategy for communication, goals, values, and expectations so that they are empowered to better support one another and themselves to support a healthy relationship. When partners discover ways to proactively communicate in healthy ways, they can solve conflicts better and increase their marital bliss.

What are the different types of premarital counseling?

There are many different types of premarital counseling that can fit each couples’ needs. Couples can research what the best fit for their goals would be. Here are some examples:

  • One-one-one premarital counseling – this may be good for a few counseling sessions for the couples counselor to understand the individuals before starting joint sessions.
  • Religious premarital counseling – you or your partner’s beliefs may be something that should be discussed prior to marriage as this subject may touch many aspects of married life.
  • Online premarital counseling courses – this may be a practical choice for busy couples to fit couples counseling into their schedule.
  • Group courses, retreats, and discussions – couples workshops at local community centers with other couples may be an opportunity to see how other couples work together.

These various types of counseling also often include compatibility tests or questionnaires. These premarital counseling questions are helpful because they quickly highlight where you and your future spouse are aligning and identify where guided conversations could prove helpful. This aspect of couples therapy, before marriage, is a way for engaged couples to develop healthy communication skills and set realistic expectations, dispel any marriage anxiety, and receive professional advice in the hopes that marriage counseling may not be necessary once the knot has been tied.

Discussing religion in premarital counseling

While premarital counselors can absolutely help with discussing religious beliefs in the context of your relationship, it is worth noting that Pre-Cana – a consultation course for couples who will marry in the Catholic Church – differs from premarital counseling with a licensed therapist.

If you are seeking support for a marriage within a particular religious institution, be sure to reach out to your religious leaders, representatives and/or members of the institution directly.

What to look for in a premarital counselor

When searching for the best premarital counselor for your needs, prioritize personal fit. It may help to schedule introductory calls with a few premarital counselors – you can do so individually, or as a couple.

You and your partner should both feel comfortable sharing honest thoughts with, and in front of, your premarital therapist.  

New to therapy? Learn about how to find a therapist here.