Premarital counseling is one of the most rewarding challenges a counselor, pastor, or rabbi can undertake. Premarital counseling can reduce chance of divorce and help promote more satisfying and fulfilled marriages. Here the steps you can take to make sure it goes well.
ESTABLISH A SESSION SCHEDULE AND PREMARITAL MINIMUM MEETING REQUIREMENT. It is helpful to let couples know up front what to expect. Six sessions is a standard among many in the counseling profession for premarital counseling.
GIVE THE COUPLE A LIST OF GOOD DISCUSSION QUESTIONS FOR COUPLES TO TALK THROUGH BEFORE MARRIAGE. Here is a list to get you started: 1. Where would you like to live long term? 2. How many kids do you ideally want to have? Pick a number, not a range. 3. Where will you spend the holidays? 4. How often do you think you would like to have sex? 5. What are the boundaries for you sexually? 6. How will you handle sharing household duties? 7. What will you do when you disagree on a major issue such as a job promotion, geographical move, or schooling for a child? 8. What are some key things your future spouse should know about relating to you? 9. What will you do when one of you starts to fall in love with someone else? 10. How open do you want to be about sexual temptation and emotional attachment issues? 11. What percentage of your budget should each of these categories receive: tithe, tax, saving, housing, entertainment, and groceries? 12. How will you work your budget? Envelope system? Excel File? Monthly, weekly, quarterly? Unified finances, divided bank accounts? 13. What is your primary love language: words, touch, time, companionship, or service? 14. What do you think you will usually do as a couple on Friday nights? Sunday mornings? Weekday nights? 15. How will you work to maintain friendship outside of your marriage? 16. Is there a relationship with either family or in-laws that will likely cause difficulties in the future? How do you plan on drawing good boundaries for that relationship? 17. When do you like to go to bed at night? Get up in the morning? 18. What were the unspoken rules of your families growing up? (i.e. No shouting, be careful around Dad/Mom if he/she is angry, we don't talk about sex, never let people outside the family know we struggle, love is earned, love is gifts, crying is for babies, being smart is more important than anything, hard work is more important than anything, etc.) 19. What role did you play in your family? Hero, Martyr, Mascot/Clown, Peacemaker, Lost Child, Favored Child, etc. How do you think that role will have to change? 20. The most important thing you have to have in this marriage is...
ASK THE PREMARITAL COUPLE TO TALK THROUGH A DIFFICULT ISSUE IN COUNSELING. If the couple has received this assignment to talk through issues ahead of time, they have likely had a conflict over one of these issues. Have them talk about it with you in the room. This way you can unearth communication patterns that need addressed. Allow the couple to talk in a free way. Then once you have listened and observed...
HELP THE COUPLE CREATE PERSONALIZED CONFLICT RULES. For example: 1. No interruptions allowed (this is a culturally defined rule, some minorities may find this to be too restrictive and actually desire to be interrupted by their partner. Discuss these together.) 2. When the other is talking, give affirming feedback verbally and non-verbally. 3. Make sure your partner feels heard and understood before sharing your own perspective. 4. Imagine the issue sitting on the table, not in your partner's person.
GUIDE THE PREMARITAL COUPLE THROUGH HEALTHY COMMUNICATION PATTERNS. Marshall Rosenburg's Nonviolent Communication is the best resource for couples I know of in this department. It is a relatively easy read, yet has enough depth to be required in many masters level counseling programs. Have the couple read this book and discuss it. Practice it's principles in one of your middle sessions.
USE PREMARITAL PERSONALITY PROFILES TO HIGHLIGHT PROBABLE CONFLICT AREAS. Personality profiles are tools that uncover hidden land mines that are easily predicted. Consider using the Taylor Johson, Prepare/Enrich, or some other profile you are trained to administer.
IF A COUPLE IS TROUBLED REFER TO A SPECIALIZED COUNSELOR BEFORE SIGNING OFF ON MARRIAGE. Part of the role of premarital counseling in most people's mind is gaining a certification or release to get married. They view the process as a vetting of the viability of their relationship. Don't take this lightly. ** You may need to suggest a couple reconsider whether or not they are compatible for each other if conflicts easily arise, verbal abusiveness emerges, or some form of addictive/co-dependent pattern rears its head. At the very least indicate a need for intensive long term help by a trained and licensed counselor.
EQUIP THE PREMARITAL COUPLE THROUGH READING ASSIGNMENTS. Part of the goal of premarital counseling is to guide a couple toward resources that will help them equip themselves and establish a pattern of intentional marital growth. Assign a book list, give enough time in between sessions for the reading to be done, and offer accountability for the reading. See the resource section link for a suggested list of marital resources.
SCHEDULE A SIX MONTH MARITAL COUNSELING CHECK UP. Often this is as or even more helpful than the premarital counseling. A couple doesn't know what issues need addressed until they have been married for a while.
- Model good listening skills as well as teaching them.
- Help the couple feel comfortable with you and safe in revealing difficult issues.
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- It is better to be up front about difficult relationship patterns than to have a couple come to you during divorce for help two years later.