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Should we do pre-marriage counseling?
March 8, 2004 8:13 PM   Subscribe

My fiancee and I aren't sure if we should do pre-marriage counseling or not. We agree on most issues (ie. money, children, religion) but aren't sure if the counseling will bring up issues we haven't thought about. Is pre-marital counseling just for religous folk or is it something everyone should do? What type of questions arise in the counseling sessions?
posted by graventy to Human Relations (12 answers total)
 
If you have the opportunity, do it. The issues that you don't anticipate are likely to cause trouble. And there will always be something you didn't anticipate.
posted by whatnot at 8:33 PM on March 8, 2004


Just make sure you settle whether gifts from Santa are wrapped or not. That's a biggie.
posted by Space Coyote at 9:17 PM on March 8, 2004


I'd suggest doing it, even if it's church sponsored. It's not that you're going to learn something earthshattering about your future spouse (Do you imagine you'd learn something that'd keep you from getting married? If not, you can always go into 'post marriage' counseling if you need it).

More likely they're just going to remind you that close relationships are inevitably hard at points, and maybe give you a couple skills to try and deal with them. Learning together can help establish some trust that can smooth bumps down the road.

Is there any reason you're against it? I can't see much of a downside, excepting time and expense,. But they hardly figure over the course of your life...
posted by daver at 9:32 PM on March 8, 2004


I believe anyone wanting to marry should first seek counseling. This is one of the few issues on which my ex and I agree.

Not so hypothetical situation: You are in your early 40s, you both get disabled, you have a child, you max out your lifetime coverage of health insurance, and your total prescriptions cost more than your total income. Now what?

Oh, and just for the hell of it, you did a Chapter 7 bankruptcy 2 years ago.
posted by mischief at 9:32 PM on March 8, 2004


"Is there any reason you're against it?"

We're not against it, just curious if it's actually worthwhile. Obviously, in the great scheme of things 5-10 hours of counseling means very little in the way of a time commitment.
posted by graventy at 9:43 PM on March 8, 2004


Would you go in to see a minister or a psychiatric counselor? It'd likely be very different. What did you have in mind?

If neither of you has had any experience with a psychiatric professional before, you may be amazed how little you'll get out of them in 5-10 hours. If you can find someone who specializes in short-term pre-marriage counselling specifically, you may have better luck.

But in my personal and anecdotal experience, the average shrink wants to establish a long-term relationship with you and slowly, ever so slowly, let you trawl your own waters and slowly, ever so slowly, realize yourself what you need to do/fix/etc. Seriously, if you're not sure exactly what you intend to go in and ask for help with, you may find yourself in a room with some stone-faced man or woman, blinking at each other.

If you can, ask for 15 minutes of their time on the phone before you meet (this is actually *not* unreasonable if you're going to pay them in the neighborhood of $100 an hour) and screen them with a couple of questions. Ask "What kinds of issues would you expect to cover in pre-marriage counseling?" and "How much time do you recommend for this?" and "What can we expect to get out of it?"

If the answers to any of the above are "it depends" or "I don't know" then you are probably in for a bug hunt. You may sense that I have no respect for the psychiatric trade, here. Stop me if I've told you this one before.

But then, if neither of you has any problem trying it, what do you have to lose?
posted by scarabic at 10:06 PM on March 8, 2004


I am totally in favor of pre-marital counseling, especially of a secular nature. However, I would say that the kind of stuff that scarabic is talking about would be pretty useless. You don't need a shrink to fix problems, you need somebody to help you get to know your partner and (optimally) to give you some tools for dealing with issues that come up between you in the future.

My wife and I did not go to premarital counseling, but after having been married for 7 years we attended a class called Practical Application of Interrelationship Skills (PAIRS). Despite the goofy name, and the overly gooey language on the site, it was an amazing experience for us.

We took the long course: 1 night a week and one weekend a month for 3 or 4 months - turned out to be 160 contact hours I think. There were 10 couples and 2 Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (a married couple) who were facilitating, and it got very intense at times. We covered EVERYTHING - gender differences (i.e. how men and women approach similar situations in different fashions), gender roles, how your family of origin affects who you are, how that affects your interaction with your spouse (and their family of origin), how you and your spouse deal with money and money troubles, how your parents fought and that affects how you fight and ditto for the spouse and then how to fight fairly when conflict comes up, how holidays are celebrated and which family each of you expects to spend the holidays with, holiday traditions and how you will combine the two sets into one for your new family, historical conflicts in the families of origin, attitudes about religion, death, work, vacation, schooling and discipline and religious instruction/indoctrination of future children and more. A lot more.

One of the best bits were exercises in which we explored our unspoken assumptions/rules out into the open and examine/deal with them, both as individuals and as a couple. For example, I realized that my lifelong opposition to having kids (that was causing a real problem for us because my wife was pregnant and I was feeling trapped and panicy) sprang from a decision I made when I was 12. To wit: that if my parents were how parents treated kids, then I would never have kids and subject them to that kind of pain and anguish. I was 29 before I realized that kids can and do have better parents than mine were, and that I was in charge of the kind of father I was going to be. Suddenly, no more issue about the pregnancy and my impending fatherhood.

If this sounds like a lot of work, it was. But it was good work, and useful and valuable, even during the parts when it wasn't a lot of fun. We did it because we plan to be together forever.

I came out believing that everyone should go through something similar before getting married. Love is great, and love is grand, and very powerful - but knowing your spouse, understanding who they truly are is (IMO) a far stronger foundation for a long-term relationship than just passion. 6 years later, I still believe this just as firmly. Everyone who ever asks me about my marriage or their impending marriage/engagement or complains about fighting with their spousegets this same spiel from me.


[full disclosure - I don't work for PAIRS, or therapists, or anyone else in the counseling/therapy industry. I'm an IT geek who stands to gain exactly nothing from this endorsement. I just think that PAIRS was the most useful/positive thing we ever did for our relationship, and we've been together 13 years now.]

[oh, and it wasnt cheap - we paid 3 or 4K for our class. fortunately, the couple running the show had very liberal payment plans for participating couples]
posted by Irontom at 4:08 AM on March 9, 2004


My sister did her Doctorate on the efficacy of marital counseling, and her conclusion is that:

a) if you start it AFTER you get married, the main reason is that one of the partners wants to leave the marriage, and that the couple typically does get a divorce. (The "let him/her down easy syndrome.)
b) People who start pre-marital counseling BEFORE marriage but after getting engaged both stay married longer and report a higher degree of satisfaction with the marriage, but there is a "so-what" factor in that those who did later divorce discovered a major problem while in therapy, but chose to ignore it because the date had already been set, they already had the dress, they had paid for the honeymoon, whatever.
c) People who went into therapy because they were thinking of getting engaged and wanted to make sure they were on the same page about money, childrearing, etc - revealing their hidden expectations about marriage and developing a more realistic perspective of each other and married life both had the highest incidence of staying married, and the highest reports of satisfaction with the marriage.

So there you have it.
posted by pomegranate at 8:19 AM on March 9, 2004 [4 favorites]


I don't want to "me too," but I wholeheartedly agree that premarital counseling is a fine idea.

The time before and after the wedding can be tumultuous and stressful, and counseling can truly help with that. The counseling my wife and I received wasn't religious in nature and, ultimately, wasn't with an incredible counselor - but we still valued the experience.
posted by hijinx at 8:40 AM on March 9, 2004


We did it, as it was a requirement for the church we were being married in. I was reluctant at first, but the experience proved to be very helpful.

Similar to your situation Graventy, my wife and I both agree on many issues. The counseling was helpful mainly in the way of looking at issues that come up for most marrieds that we hadn't foreseen. Simple things like whose parents will be visited during holidays, what are our unspoken expectations for the other (we all have them), etc.

The first year of marriage is at times a difficult transition for both and the simple act of knowing and communicating about issues can go a long way.
posted by jazzkat11 at 10:43 AM on March 9, 2004


If you can act naturally around each other (without issues, other than minutaes), you are doing great.
posted by Keyser Soze at 2:38 AM on March 10, 2004


irontom's reply was really interesting. when i read the question i thought "wtf is that? why not live together and see how it goes?", but the kind of things he lists are exactly the kinds of thing that make living together (we're not married, but have been together 10 years or so now) really hard at times (and not just the first year...)

i'd say that if you're already at the stage where you know how to handle the kind of issues irontom mentions then it would be pretty pointless going to the counselling, but i'm guessing that there's some cultural subtext behind all this to do with american religious people that no-one's actually mentioned, and that you probably haven't been living together for years, or lived with other people, etc. in that case it sounds like a good idea, even to a cynical, unmarried atheist. good luck.
posted by andrew cooke at 5:21 AM on March 10, 2004


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