There are a few fundamental truths in premarital counseling. The first one is that what goes around comes around. By that I mean that the very traits that endear your partner to you today might be your biggest complaint about them tomorrow.
Another is family. Decide early you will never allow yourselves to be separated by family members. Your goal in pre-marital counseling is to agree on your core values and develop a strong sense of “we.” Decide solemnly that you are first, last and always… a team.
Sharing values helps, but having values and talking about them intimately helps even more. The social science on the benefits of a spiritual orientation is quite robust and stubborn. Think about your intimate bond in a larger context. What do the two of you stand for? The Japanese have a word that means continuous improvement. That word is kaizen. Think about the kaizen of your relationship. What could be better? What do you plan to improve together? If there is something either of you is experiencing that is uncomfortable, what could you do instead? Pre-marital counseling will invite to explore all of this in great detail.
Your relationship is going through and will continue to go through predictable stages. The earliest stage, symbiosis emphasizes your similarities. Pre-marital counseling can help you prepare for a richer and deeper relationship. This will help you as you both discover some real differences between you.
Remember that it’s a useful lie to believe that you chose your partner because they are perfect for you to work out all of the bad JuJu from your parents. Someone once said that marriage was a place to grow yourself up. They were right.
Working on an assessment tool such as the Big Big Book can help you uncover your partner’s goals and values are on a variety of issues. This will build confidence that you are a solid couple, and point out areas that might require deeper conversation and growth.
Religion, beliefs about drugs and alcohol, having children, finances, habits, in-law issues, and a bunch of other important stuff should all be unpacked and discussed. Even if you can communicate well, there may be some predictable issues you’d like some help growing through. Pre-marital counseling will provide you with talking points and crucial guidance for these intimate conversations.
Assessment is crucial. We will help you and your partner understand exactly how your family, culture, and values have impacted you. Our clinical goal is to help you both reflect more deeply on the beliefs you have in common, and where areas of difference might create predictable challenges in the future.
When we do pre-marital counseling, we ask each partner to complete their own Big Big Book, just like married couples. We want to understand the impact on you both from your families of origin, and why the two of you made sense to each other as a chosen life partner. The Big Big Book is a science-based diagnostic questionnaire. Science-based assessment will identify your strengths as a couple, your opportunities for mutual growth, and areas where a possible problem might show up in the future. In many cases, pre-marital counseling is more about saving your marriage before it starts, rather than treating serious ongoing conflict.
Pre-marital counseling promotes discussion and awareness of real and potential difference. With our help, you can address these topics in a direct and proactive manner. We will review the findings from your Big Big Books, and help you to dig deeper into the lessons you learned from your parents about intimate relationships. Then we help you enter a heartfelt dialogue about your future, and what it will be like for you both to move through time together.
Will premarital counseling help you? Are you a cross-cultural couple? Or do you just come from very different families of origin? How would you describe your ability to communicate? What is it like when the two of you struggle? Could you both be using the same words, but describing different things? What did your parents teach you about being married?
Every marriage will have their share of challenges. Communication skill, loyalty, and connection are the remedy. If you want help talking through the issues in your lives — and I mean really talking — it’s smart to get pre-marital counseling and learn how to do early, while you are still engaged.
Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He currently sees couples at Couples Therapy Inc. in Boston, Massachusetts, three seasons in Cummington (at the foothills of the Berkshires...) and in Miami during joint retreats with his wife, Dr. Kathy McMahon. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and the Developmental Model in his approaches.