Non-religious marriage classes in Toronto?
November 6, 2007 8:37 AM   Subscribe

We're getting married next year. Yay! We'd like to go for pre-marriage counselling (marriage classes?), but we're unsure where to find such a thing outside of a religious context.

We're both getting married for the first time and we'd like to keep it that way. Does anyone have a recommendation for a good, secular marriage class in the Toronto area? We would ideally like a group setting rather than one-on-one type counseling. I suppose we're not fundamentally opposed to religious counseling but we're both pretty staunch non-religionists (although not militantly so) so I'm imagining that most of what goes on in a Church class would not make sense to us.
posted by sid to Education (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I think you might be surprised that a lot of the religious wedding counselors aren't going to have too much to say in terms of religion, other than maybe 'God wants you to have a good marriage.' In other words, unless you want counseling on how to incorporate blood orgies into your marriage, you might not find any meaningful conflict in having church sponsored pre-marriage counseling.
posted by ian1977 at 8:40 AM on November 6, 2007

I'd try calling a Marriage Counsellor / psychologist type. They might be able to point you towards a group session. But if you decide one-on-one is okay, I'm sure they'd likely do pre-marriage counselling. At the very least, they'd know what stumbling blocks are and how you can communicate better and get you thinking about Big Issues.
posted by Wink Ricketts at 8:46 AM on November 6, 2007

Well, both my husband and I are non-religious and we had a Unitarian minister (a family friend) do our ceremony. She made us do premarital counseling with her, because it's one of her requirements.

Since Unitarianism encompasses pretty much any religion and doesn't prescribe a belief system, the counseling had almost nothing to do with religion. She did ask us to think about whether we wanted to raise our child with any religious beliefs or whatever, but mostly it was focused on having us think about and discuss how we would handle difficult situations. For example, we had one session on children, where she asked us to discuss whether we planned to have children, what we would do if we unexpectedly got pregnant tomorrow, what we would do if we found out our child had severe disabilities, what we would do if we were pregnant with triplets, what we would do if we found out we could not naturally have children. She also had us talk about our basic beliefs in terms of how children should be raised, etc.

I do think a marriage counselor would work too, but you may find that a Unitarian minster would work well for you two.
posted by tastybrains at 9:03 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

If religious classes turns out to be the only/best/most convenient option for you, it might not be as bad as you think.

My sister was raised jewish and her husband's parents were christian, but he wasn't raised with any religious foundation beyond a celebrating christmas. They both are completely non-religious, though they are not atheists but only because they couldn't care less whether or not god exists, so why bother pondering it? They decided to have this minister marry them because they liked him when they saw him marry a couple they were friends with. My sister and her husband had to attend marriage classes and a retreat at the church. She said that it wasn't preachy, and if it was, she just tuned out those parts. It was very productive for both of them, they mostly learned communication skills and all the other things you'd expect to learn.

If it is your only option and you are able to tune-out any religious portion (she was able to because she regarded it as a quaint little culture she had to sit through in order to get what she was there for, it might have been more difficult if she was a staunch non-religionist.), it might be better than nothing at all.

Also, you could check out options offered at a Unitarian Universalist (they most get more links from AskMe than anywhere else). It is still "religious" in the organized-religion sense, but it isn't religious in the god-and-bible sense.
posted by necessitas at 9:14 AM on November 6, 2007

There's a Humanist group in Toronto, with at least one humanist officiant. You might check with them on whether pre-marital counselling is offered.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:17 AM on November 6, 2007

I agree with UU as having a non-religious focus.

I would suggest a mediator trained in conflict prevention as a valuable person to go to if you are looking to figure out potential trouble areas, but I'm not sure anyone does this in a group setting.
posted by MtDewd at 9:41 AM on November 6, 2007

The spouse and I did what Wink Ricketts said upthread. Wanting to focus on specifically our own relationship, we found a local psychologist specializing in marital counseling. The skills and experience that made him good at helping already-married couples in trouble, also made him very good at helping an about-to-be-married couple who wanted a sherpa for the terrain ahead.

He led us through discussions and "homework" regarding our individual perspectives on love, sex, money, work, child-rearing, families and in-laws, spirituality, housekeeping and domestic division of labor (don't laugh, it's one of the top things couples fight over)... and how to bring those individual perspectives together into a team approach. He helped us learn about the other person's communication style, and we worked on how to communicate more productively, both on positive and negative topics. We learned how to listen better, and how to argue fairly. (not to imply we've perfected it, but we're better for having had the early help, and at least know when we're behaving badly, which is half the battle) And it was nice to have the sherpa when the wedding planning itself got stressful and we needed to recalibrate on priorities.

So, clearly I'm an advocate for the one-on-one setting, because that was the experience that worked for us -- but I also think that you could definitely call a psychologist and ask for a referral for a group environment. At the least, he or she will know if such a thing exists in your area.

Another thing you might consider, if you really want a totally secular group setting and can't find one locally: maybe you could start one. Ads in local publications, notices in coffee shops, libraries... maybe there are other couples out there who are also seeking a non-religious community preparing for marriage. You could invite experts to speak on a different topic every couple of weeks... maybe a marriage counselor here, maybe a money manager there.

It would take some work... but then again, presumably the reason that the group doesn't already exist is because either there wasn't the demand... or there was the demand and no one wanted to make the time. Every good project starts somewhere.

Good luck either way! For me, it was really scary (as a non-religious person who wouldn't be a candidate for church counseling) to say, "Wedding planning is so much fun! We're going to get lots of presents! We'll be the king and queen of the party! Oh, wait, what about the whole marriage part, guess we better invest some energy in that bit too...", but I'm glad we did it.
posted by pineapple at 9:44 AM on November 6, 2007

nthing Unitarian. We are non-religious and we did this and it was great. I expect Humanist would be just as good.
posted by lockedroomguy at 9:50 AM on November 6, 2007

1. Rest up.
2. Spend as much time with both sides of family as humanly possible. Go camping together.
3. See therapist to discuss marriage issues.

Mostly, it's about money (I mean the divorce rates). So see a financial counselor too. Why not>
posted by ewkpates at 10:55 AM on November 6, 2007

ian1977: You haven't seen what the fundies can bring to the table, then. Yikes, is all I can say.

Unitarian/United Church of Christ are probably your best bet in the US. In Canada, the United Church of Canada is a great resource for low-key, practical marriage prep. (I should know -- I'm married to a UCC minister! :)

Good on you to do this, btw. There are some really valuable skills to be learned from pre-marriage counselling that can solve TONS of problems preemptively. And don't shy away from the group ones -- most of the time, you tend to spend the sessions just talking to each other, not too much with other couples.

Good luck!
posted by liquado at 11:16 AM on November 6, 2007

This post from a few years back may be helpful... it recommends checking out "PAIRS".
posted by dicaxpuella at 11:51 AM on November 6, 2007

My fiance and I started going to an LPC for premarital counseling. We discussed everything that you would talk about with a minister or marriage counselor-- faith (or lack thereof, in my case), values, lifestyle, and how to reconcile our differences. I would highly recommend it. Many counselors are secular or do not extol a religious faith in their methods.
posted by mynameismandab at 6:19 PM on November 6, 2007

It would be a little time consuming, but you might look for a psychologist in the area who has some similar experiences to you and can offer some wise words of wisdom. As gay men, we felt we wanted a perspective that could address the concerns that same-sex relationships have. We found a local psychologist through friends who was formerly Catholic and now ordained in the Episcopal Church and who is gay and in a stable long term relationship. That pretty much hit everything we were looking for. It might just be a matter of looking around to find someone who you feel comfortable with.

Another option I considered was a sort of quorum of family members to each provide insight and introspection into what makes a happy healthy relationship last. Each meeting could be with a different set of family members who could, among themselves, decide the lessons they want you to learn from them. It might be a nice way for them to share a meaningful experience with you, and for you to address some of your issues within your newly expanding support network. Of course, that is all predicated on the idea that you a) have family members who would have good advice and b) would feel comfortable talking to them!
posted by greekphilosophy at 7:22 AM on November 7, 2007

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