5 Reasons to Do Premarital Counseling
Wedding season is right around the corner, and many couples are busy getting ready for one of the most joyous days of their lives. All too often, however, in the hustle and bustle of preparing for their wedding, a couple may spend too little time preparing for their marriage. Premarital counseling—whether meeting individually with a therapist or participating in a premarital workshop—can help the couple strengthen their relationship to ready for a lifetime of love and commitment. If you’re getting married (or know someone who is), why consider premarital counseling?
1) Premarital counseling can help you understand what makes your relationship “click.” Couples who marry want intimacy, romance, deep friendship, and lasting love. During this early stage of their relationship, premarital couples often enjoy very positive feelings for one another. However, they frequently don’t know much about what makes a relationship really work and how to cultivate what they want in their marriage. For that reason, they’re often not prepared for the inevitable changes that occur in every couple relationship.
So what makes a relationship last? In a word, empathy. It sounds too simple, but if you and your partner can learn to lovingly turn toward one another and be empathically curious about what’s going on for the other, you will enter into authentic, meaningful dialogue in which both of you feel heard and understood. That kind of conversation will deepen your relationship over time.
2) Your early relationships in your family of origin will strongly affect your marriage. You learned how to “do” or “be in” an intimate relationship in your family of origin, so your family has strongly influenced how you will be in relationship with your partner. Often in ways mostly outside of our awareness, the relationships that we had with our parents especially form the “emotional blueprints” for how we experience our emotional lives and share our lives with others in relationship.
Premarital counseling provides a forum to begin to explore how your relationships with your family growing up affect your relationship. Intimate partners are unconsciously attracted to each other because each one is attempting to fulfill needs that were unmet in their families, so it pays to understand the contribution of your family history.
3) Your relationship has its own emotional “rhythm,” and tuning into it is critical to your relationship’s vitality. As I’ve written elsewhere, each of us has an emotional rhythm of our own, a way that we “be” with ourselves and our feelings. It’s how we interpret and make sense of our experiences, listen to the hum of our emotions, and manage our feelings. Therapists and psych majors call this self-regulation. In intimate relationships, partners together create a rhythm of the relationship as they interact and affect each other (interactive regulation).
The rhythm of your relationship is important because just as couples can help each other interactive regulate positive feelings, couples frequently (and quite normally) dysregulate each other: Couples interact all the time in ways that create anger, hurt, pain, sadness, and other painful feelings for one or both partners. Premarital counseling can help you learn to tune into your relationship’s rhythm, discover what happens when you’re out of step, and how to get back into your groove again and reconnect.
4) Winter is coming. You probably don’t need a Game of Thrones metaphor to know that the honeymoon phase in any relationship eventually passes, giving way to a season of mutual disappointment and frustration. Most commonly, for instance, a partner will either begin to voice their annoyances to the other, who becomes slightly withdrawn, as they unconsciously settle into a pattern of relating quite different from that of the honeymoon period. While this is quite normal, it can come as a surprise if you’re not ready for it. Premarital counseling can help you anticipate this pattern and help you take steps to prevent it from becoming problematic and conflictual.
5) Learning how to manage conflict well is critical. That being said, conflict is inevitable in your relationship: When two people with differing emotional needs and hopes for self-actualization decide to commit to each other for a lifetime, sparks are going to fly. Without the right know-how and skills to manage conflict, small sparks can turn into roaring fires that can do some serious damage to any relationship.
Couples don’t fight about finances, sex, family relationships, or anything else, though. Partners are really fighting about their feelings about these topics, the topic’s emotional resonance and meaning to each of them, and their emotional needs attached to and expressed through the topic in question. That’s why the argument about finances in one relationship isn’t an issue in another relationship. Premarital counseling can help you learn the emotional undercurrents associated with these “hot spots” in your relationship and give you tools to help negotiate them.