Are you preparing for the marriage as well as the wedding?
Anyone who has ever experienced wedding planning knows that it can be a STRESSFUL and polarizing experience. It is too easy to get swept up in the logistics of a wedding day at the expense of preparing for married life.
After all, the wedding is one day (or four, if you belong to my family) and marriage is every day. What if we told you there was a way to be more intentional about preparing for your marriage?
Those who are on the road to marriage or in long-term or common-law relationships may benefit from today's piece on pre-marital counselling. If this isn't your current situation, that's okay!
Knowing what pre-marital counselling is and that it is becoming more widely available is still useful information that may come in handy one day.
In this post we will cover:
What pre-marital counselling is
What topics to expect in pre-marital counselling
A few frequently asked questions about pre-marital counselling
Without further ado (ha, sorry), let's begin.
What Is Pre-Marital Counselling?
It's a misconception that you have to be in the thick of a serious problem to seek counselling. This applies to people in relationships too!
Pre-marital counselling is a type of couples therapy that occurs before marriage or commitment to a long-term relationship. Pre-marital counselling offers a safe space to have challenging conversations and build self-awareness and communication skills.
The purpose of this proactive strategy it to allow couples to:
- Discuss the important issues affecting their future
- Build strategies to get ahead of common issues and disagreements in long-term relationships (finances, decisions around children and parenting, in-laws etc.)
- Lay out their impressions and expectations of married (or long-term partnered) life
- Have a space to talk about any concerns they have been 'sitting on' or nervous to bring up in the past
Who Is Pre-Marital Counselling For?
Despite the name, pre-marital counselling is not reserved exclusively for married couples or couples considering marriage.
The topics covered in pre-marital counselling apply to any relationship with a long-term focus.
Say for example, you are nearing a commitment phase in your relationship and could use guidance or facilitation to talk more deeply about the future of the relationship. Or perhaps you are heading towards a common-law relationship and would like to explore issues that will emerge as your lives intertwine.
Pre-marital counselling may be the label, but feel free to discuss the specifics of your personal situation with the therapist!
What Topics To Expect From Pre-Marital Counselling
The specific topics up for discussion will of course depend on the needs of the couple. We are providing a general pool of topics that are relevant for long-term relationships.
Even if you are not considering pre-marital counselling, you can refer to this list for important conversation areas to cover. This topics are also an excellent way to create depth in conversations in the early stages of a relationship.
Future Conflict Resolution And Your 'Conflict Personality'
Conflict, when done right, can bring people even closer together. Conflict is also inevitable. It is worth getting uncomfortable to discuss how you may handle future conflicts.
In pre-marital counselling, a counsellor will cultivate conflict resolutions skills you can take forward. Perhaps you have already faced many conflicts as couple. In pre-marital counselling, you can break down which resolution skills to leave behind, which ones to refine, and which skills carry with you.
Furthermore, pre-marital counselling can bring awareness towards what conflict brings out in each of us.
For example, perhaps you have a tendency to shut down because in your past experiences of conflict, the outcome was never positive or productive and therefore conflict feels inherently unsafe. Or maybe you recognize that you get defensive easily because you have low self-worth and any form of feedback or criticism is difficult to tolerate.
Our past experiences of conflict greatly influence these knee-jerk reactions. Pre-marital counselling can help get to the bottom of each person's 'conflict personality' and provide strategies to address this in action.
Defining Beliefs And Values
Values can be defined as the guiding principles of our lives. They are principles that give our lives meaning and also help us determine what is and is not important to us.
Alignment in values and beliefs is an important factor to consider in long-term relationships. If there are areas of difference, it's a good idea to address these and have a strategy for managing them.
This is because values tend to reveal areas of compatibility and incompatibility. Differences in core values are also a potential source of conflict in a relationship.
Many couples have had discussions on core values before entering the marriage talks. However, we have also found that some couples find it difficult to discuss values for fear of revealing fundamental differences or incompatibility.
A pre-marital counselling session is a good place for each person to highlight the values that are most important to them and discuss how to manage any key differences.
A counsellor can also help the couple clarify their relationship values together. If you need some guidance on understanding your core values, see this post we wrote for that exact purpose :)
Financial And Property Matters
Money and property matters can put strain on marriages and long-term relationships.
Part of the reason is we sorely underestimate how much our emotions and childhood upbringing affects our financial decisions and how we think and feel about money. Money is material, but it is also highly personal. There are a wealth of challenging emotions connected to struggling financially- shame, guilt, and anxiety among others.
It's important not to make money matters a taboo discussion in your relationship. Pre-marital counselling can help facilitate conversations around: financial values, debt, income, money management, spending habits and financial goals.
If you have property ownership goals, it can also be a good idea to share realistic timelines around this.
Children And Parenting Styles
Pre-marital counselling can help facilitate discussions around starting a family. Some areas to consider are timelines (i.e., maybe you decide that having kids is off the table until 2 years in), whether you are open to adopting, extended family involvement, and how you envision your life as a family.
Some couples may wish to re-iterate that they do not wish to have children of their own. Others who have children from previous relationships may want to discuss expectations, roles, and boundaries around their new partner’s relationship with their children.
Ideas about parenting and discipline are also heavily influenced by our own upbringing. While you may not have all the answers yet, it can be eye-opening to discuss what each person brings to the table in this area. For example, perhaps you grew up with very relaxed parenting and your partner had a more structured upbringing. It’s worth discussing how your own upbringing influences how you may parent.
Too often couples do not discuss how life with in-laws will look in practice. It’s important to discuss any concerns you have with living arrangements, personal vs family time, boundaries, and expectations from both sides.
Having these discussions early fosters healthy in-law relationships! Often couple wait for major challenges to emerge before beginning these discussions- and that is really not necessary.
Talking about these issues does not ‘invite’ them into your life either. When two families come together, a little friction can be anticipated. All you’re doing is proactively getting ahead of it so it does not escalate.
Family Of Origin
It's important to discuss how your past influences your present and future as a couple.
Relationships often challenge us because they bring to the surface dynamics we have absorbed from childhood, caregivers, and prior relationships.
Discussing what we bring with us to a relationship is important at any stage, and particularly when we are working towards a commitment or marriage.
Sex And Affection
If you feel uncomfortable talking about sex with your potential spouse or long-term partner, pre-marital counselling can get the conversation going. We are linking a wonderful resource here (@sexualhealthformuslims) to begin those conversations regardless of whether you are considering pre-marital counselling or not.
Pre-marital counselling is also a great opportunity to discuss love languages, emotional barriers to intimacy, your hopes and desires for your sex life, and the way you like to give and receive affection.
Frequently Asked Questions About Pre-Marital Counselling
We address some of the most common questions we receive about pre-marital counselling below.
1. Do I need to be part of a certain faith to receive pre-marital counselling?
Not at all!
There are certain faith groups or places of worship that either mandate or strongly advise faith-based pre-marital counselling. However, you can seek pre-marital counselling outside of this too.
As mentioned above, the topics covered in pre-marital counselling apply to any long-term relationship, marriage or not.
2. How do I find a pre-marital counsellor?
Many therapists who offer couples therapy also offer pre-marital counselling. It helps to reach out to specific therapists you are interested in to see if they offer this type of therapy and what their approach is. Psychology Today is a good place to start!
If you are interested in faith-based pre-marital counselling, try checking directly with the place of worship you are affiliated with. For those who identify as Muslim, Khalil Centre Canada offers a structured pre-marital coaching program.
Wellnest also offered pre-marital counselling #shamelessplug : )
3. What if pre-marital counselling CREATES issues in my relationship?
You may worry that examining the relationship like this could unearth differences and issues that create problems in the relationship. Let's address this!
The purpose of pre-marital is to provide a space for clarifying and vulnerable conversations. It is unlikely to create issues and differences that did not already exist.
Getting these differences out on the table may seem scary at first, but the long-term relationship gains are worth it. Also know that you are having these conversations in a supportive environment- a counsellor can facilitate repair as well.
4. Life changes. What if what we discuss in pre-marital counselling no longer applies in a few years?
It's true, life changes. What you gain in pre-marital counselling is not necessarily a template to address all of life's challenges.
Instead, pre-marital counselling helps you understand the vulnerable parts of each other better, so you gain an idea of how to approach adversity.
Pre-marital counselling can also help you plan how to navigate the early years of marriage as you adjust to each other and join your lives together. There is inherent value in that :)
Before You Go...
Having intentional conversations about the future can be challenging.
Pre-marital counselling is just one way to make this process easier. By setting aside time to intentionally ask the tough questions and make the future more concrete, you may feel more confident about the path you are on. Don't forget to express gratitude to each other for being courageous and vulnerable.
Pre-marital counselling is not the only way to have these conversations. It's also important to note that you don't have to WAIT for pre-marital counselling to approach these topics.
In fact, we recommend that you talk these things through with your partner, regardless of your counselling plans. It's okay if some things are. a surprise in pre-marital counselling, however, not everything should be.
We wish you the best of luck on your journey!
I want to hear from you: What are your thoughts on pre-marital counselling? Essential or extra? We would love to know!
Until next time!
Mental Health Content Specialist