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Pre-Marital Therapy: Benefits, Drawbacks, and Who Needs It?

Posted Feb 21 2011 12:54pm 1 Comment

I did an interview for a fairly popular magazine* last week, although I don’t think the editors decided to go with my answers to their questions about pre-marital therapy. Therefore I’m posting it here for those who have any interest in the topic. Enjoy.

1) On average, how many pre-marital counseling sessions do couples have?

Pre-marital work isn’t all that common, so it’s very difficult to estimate how many sessions a couple needs with any real certainty. For couples with specific goals, who grab the bull by the horns and take the therapy seriously, only a handful of sessions might be needed to give them tools with which to build going forward. Couples who arrive in crisis, with the relationship hanging in the balance, may need many months of therapy. For the average couple, I give a qualified estimate of about 10-15 sessions, but make them pinkie swear that they won’t hold me to that number.

2) What percentage of the couples you have helped separate/decide not to get married?

Very few, if any, have chosen to not to go forward with their marriage. While I have not always agreed, virtually all couples are at the point where they’ve invested so much in the relationship that they decide to not turn back. I’ve actually had a few people return months or years later to deal with divorce/grief issues when the relationship dissolved.

3) What do you see as the main benefits of premarital counseling?

The main benefits of premarital counseling aren’t much different than regular couples’ therapy (unless the couple is truly using the treatment to decide if marriage is a viable option). There are countless books on marital therapy, but for most couples the work usually boils down to honing their communication skills so that each party gets his/her needs met. Almost everyone fancies themselves as great communicators, but within the confines of such an intimate relationship, it is virtually impossible to be the ideal talker and listener. For couples who are not experiencing extreme hardships such as domestic abuse, financial issues, substance abuse or extreme child-rearing problems, communication style is usually the focus of the therapeutic work. (Note: you can read more about communication within a romantic relationship here ).

4) What advice would you give to somebody whose partner does not want to attend premarital counseling with them?

I encourage people to speak to their partner in the vein of the following: “this relationship is very important to me, but there are issues and topics that I’m not fully comfortable with or capable of talking to you about. I really need us to use a qualified person to help with these things so that I’m more at ease with taking this huge step.”

In short, if you won’t do it for you, do it for me. And if you won’t do something like this for me, I need to think about what else you might not do over the course of our lives together.

5) What questions should couples ask themselves to decide whether they would benefit from premarital counseling or not?

Any couple that is giving more than a passing thought to premarital therapy should probably give it a shot. Aside from the financial and time issues involved in a preliminary session or two, there’s no real obligation. If it’s not for you, you can simply stop. The stigma associated with mental health treatment often makes people erroneously think they need to make some huge leap to be “in therapy,” almost along the lines of “having heart surgery.” It’s not an either or, lifelong endeavor.

All couples getting ready to be married need to remember the following: marriage is a very serious commitment. It lasts well beyond the wedding day, and I guarantee that it will not always be pleasant. Use as many resources at your disposal to help increase your odds of success. If an obstacle to this is time, remember that your marriage is the most important adult relationship you will have. It requires time and effort, not unlike the way many people view exercise for their bodies. If the issue is money, consider the follow costs: divorce lawyer, divorce filing fees, alimony/palimony, child support, dual mortgages/rents, multiple cars, divorce therapy and possibly even anti-depressants. Premarital therapy doesn’t sound so expensive now, does it?

* As you probably know, I’ve been whoring myself out to try to promote my book , so that involves a lot of interviews. I don’t have people banging down my internet door; rather, I’m constantly hounding dozens publications to let me talk to them, so I truly forget with whom I’ve spoken.

Related Post: Why Marriages Fail

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Pre-marital counseling is preventive medicine for a good marriage, and a necessity for a marriage that does not have a strong foundation.
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