What Is Premarital Counseling?

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson
Updated February 23, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Most couples enter a marriage thinking about the marriage arrangements and talking to their wedding planner team while they decide who to invite. They get caught up in the preparations, getting ready to make those lifelong vows. Unfortunately, not all couples consider what comes next, which can lead to tensions within the relationship, and too commonly "Until death do us part" becomes little more than words of passion. Many partners don’t spend much or any time thinking about how they will resolve conflict or talk openly when difficult problems arise after their wedding day.

All relationships whether between family or partners, require a solid foundation on which to stand. It's common for couples to get cold feet as the wedding approaches, faced with the daunting ceremony. Sometimes it can be because you're just not good in front of crowds, but marriage anxiety can also be brought on by concerns about the future of your marriage. That's where a couple therapist trained in premarital counseling online can help. Research shows that couples seeking premarital counseling sessions have stronger relationships than those who don’t. One Verywell Mind survey finds that many regretted not trying premarital counseling.

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Feel like going to pre-marital therapy means you failed?
For those who seek therapy through premarital counseling, this method aims to help couples open up and address any conflicts before they become potentially destructive to the relationship. The benefits of premarital counseling are entering the commitment on the same page with each other and gaining basic conflict resolution skills to deal with problems when they come up.

Couples counseling or a couples’ workshop can help you and your future spouse have important but difficult conversations that will keep you on the same page and set you up for a healthy relationship together and avoid becoming another statistic in the divorce rates. 

If you plan to get married in a church or other place of worship, generally, faith-based religious leaders there often require that engaged couples complete a couples counseling pre-marriage. If not, it may be a good idea to seek out a professional counselor on your own.

Things to know about premarital counseling

Premarital counseling programs are designed for people who are not yet married but are planning to get married soon. The couples counselor can be a licensed marriage and family therapist, another type of licensed therapist, or a pastor or priest with training in family psychology. 

In most cases, the partners attend several joint sessions with the counselor to explore what the marriage means to both partners before they tie the knot. In some cases, partners attend couples’ workshops with other soon-to-be-married people and engage in a group course that provides insight and education about the commitment they are about to enter. 

Others choose to work by themselves through premarital counseling books, podcasts, or online courses such as those presented by relationship experts John and Julie Gottman. The important thing is for both partners to feel confident that they have the right therapist for their needs.

How does a licensed marriage therapist implement premarital counseling?

Relationship therapists providing premarital counseling can offer an extensive array of services to better the chances that your marriage will last. In some states, couples can get a discount or waiver of fees for their marriage license if they participate in premarital education before being wed.

Relationship therapists use psychodynamic couples therapy to create a safe space for couples to be able to talk about and address concerns, express emotions, and allow each person to communicate honestly. A relationship therapist can provide effective strategies to help partners gain insight into their relationship and teach couples better communication skills. This allows each person in the relationship to address all issues and concerns and feel positive and confident going forward on a strong foundation in their marriage.

Many couples opt not to reach out to a premarital counselor, commonly because they either believe they have no problems, or will solve them on their own. However, a premarital counselor can help in multiple ways. For example, some of the advantages of premarital counseling include coming to terms with differing opinions, exploring conflicts about a partner’s beliefs, and difficult decisions and issues that might include a frank discussion about the partner’s family, the couple’s sex life, or a partner’s feelings about how many children to have, if any. Premarital counseling sessions are not all the same for every couple, and the issues you choose to discuss when you seek premarital counseling will depend on what you and your partner discuss when you sign up for premarital counseling services.

Benefits of premarital counseling sessions

Premarital therapy helps couples plan for the future, set financial or family planning goals, and helps couples find ways to accomplish their goals. Premarital counseling offers a safe place for couples to talk about their expectations for married life and what they want in the future with their partner.

The time spent in premarital counseling can help you discover what the other person thinks about many topics before you walk down the aisle and help you have a stronger relationship. In premarital counseling, you may explore the topic of religion, and within what religion you will raise your future children. You might talk about children and if you want them and how many. You may talk about your in-laws and how you want to split time between them on holidays or regular occasions. You might talk about how you want to split house duties how you want to raise children or how to go about setting realistic expectations about finances in your married life. All of these things are important to talk through before marriage, and premarital counseling is a great place to discuss these things and create a plan of action to feel prepared. Doing this can help prevent future conflicts and arguments for married couples.

Effective communication is one of the most important aspects of any healthy marriage, and premarital counseling can be a great place to learn how to communicate effectively with your partner, using the insight and experience of a marriage counseling expert. When communication problems persist, it may be likely that the marriage will not last. Counseling can help the two of you to learn how to be good listeners, so that you know what the other person needs and wants. Keeping an open line of communication between couples and being able to express love and continue to build on your relationship can help a marriage last. Premarital counseling can help couples learn to talk to each other and express feelings in a way that will not damage the relationship. You can learn when it is appropriate to express how you feel, create realistic expectations for communication, and learn how to speak honestly without causing the other person to feel defensive.

Premarital counseling is also beneficial for the little problems that might already exist in a relationship. Little problems can turn into major arguments if they are given a chance to fester and build up internally. Holding things in, and not talking about them can create resentment towards your partner, which can cause tension and unkind feelings. Counseling can address these issues and help you work through negative feelings before they turn into something bigger.

Premarital counselors may also employ strategies from the Gottman Institute using the Gottman method, which takes a multifaceted approach to resolving conflicts in relationships. These strategies emphasize effective communication and understanding between partners to prevent short-term conflicts from becoming harbored resentment. The institute has researched and studied relationships to identify harmful communication patterns, such as criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling, which can escalate conflicts. The Gottman method provides couples with tools to shift these negative behaviors toward constructive communication. Your premarital counselor may use these tools to help you and your partner build emotional intelligence, help each other recognize and manage their own emotions, as well as understand your partner's feelings. By fostering empathy, active listening, and the skills to compromise, the Gottman method empowers couples to navigate conflicts in a healthier, more constructive way.

Who can benefit from premarital counseling?

Whatever relationship concerns fill your table of contents, premarital counseling is a potential avenue for couples who plan to get married and want to gain the skills that could save their relationship in the future. It's a common misconception that only people in terrible circumstances need counseling. Couples of any race, gender, age, or previous marriage history can benefit from this type of counseling.

Maybe you have a bit of trouble expressing how you feel, or you want advice on how to express yourself in a loving way. Maybe that nagging little conflict is always there but doesn't feel big enough to bring up, and you are hoping it will just go away. Maybe you sense that your relationship has hit a rocky patch, but both of you are committed to saving the relationship and moving forward with marriage. Premarital counseling can benefit any couple considering long-term commitment, especially marriage.

Feel like going to pre-marital therapy means you failed?

How to get premarital counseling

As mentioned earlier, most churches and some community centers offer pre-wedding counseling, sometimes free of charge. You might want to ask whether your religious leader offers premarital counseling at your place of worship. If you and your significant other are not planning on a religious ceremony, there are still many options. 

When you seek premarital counseling, make sure that your potential therapist specializes in this type of counseling service. Providing premarital counseling is a specialized field in which not all marriage and family therapists are trained, so be sure to ask the appropriate questions before making a time commitment with a specific therapist for premarital counseling. When you find a therapist, you might want to ask them, “What is premarital counseling for you?” to see if their answer is on the same page with your needs.

There are many mental health professionals who offer counseling services, as well as online resources such as BetterHelp for individual therapy. Premarital counseling costs typically run from $50 per hour up to $150 per hour, and that depends on whether they accept insurance, but online therapy at BetterHelp can be considerably less expensive than in-person one on one meetings with marriage and family therapists. With premarital counseling costs running high for some, BetterHelp is a convenient option for busy couples to seek premarital counseling at a more affordable rate. Licensed marriage counselors can work with both you and your partner through video chat sessions, phone calls, or even text messaging, making it easy to get the counseling services you need before your wedding day.

You can also rest assured that these virtual sessions are working at the same level as an in-person session despite a reduction in price. Research confirmed with medical reviewers has shown that online mental health counseling and therapy is just as effective as its traditional counterpart for a variety of concerns and conditions, and may offer more comfortable and reachable environments.

Takeaway

Premarital counseling can help couples better understand and communicate with each other so that both parties’ needs are met and both feel more ready for the commitment of marriage. With online therapy options like BetterHelp, good premarital counseling can be an affordable and reachable option for many couples.

Marriage can come with complex challenges

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
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