You probably know by now that marriage is a pretty big deal.
And just like any other major life decision, whether it’s taking the bar exam or buying a house, being prepared is always the best option. When it comes to getting married, that “homework” is premarital counseling. If you’re on the fence on whether marriage prep is right for you, here are five benefits to consider.
- Premarital counseling decreases the chance of divorce
When it comes to making a lifelong commitment to someone, there’s always an elephant in the room: divorce rates.
“Divorce rates hover around 50 percent. If you think about it in terms of a roller coaster, you probably wouldn’t get on a roller coaster that has a 50 percent chance of going off the rails without stopping to think about it,” says Alexandra Solomon, PhD, a Chicago-area licensed clinical psychologist. She also teaches an undergraduate marriage course, “Building Loving and Lasting Relationships: Marriage 101,” at Northwestern University.
Building a happy and successful marriage is also at the core of Couples Counseling in Chicago, founded by Dr. Sara Schwarzbaum, LMFT, LCPC. She says that more and more couples are looking for ways to prevent divorce, with research showing premarital counseling can decrease chances of divorce by up to 30 percent.
- Counseling provide couples with useful tools
Preventing divorce isn’t the only objective in premarital counseling. Many different forms of marriage prep, whether it’s counseling, online assessments or Pre-Cana, offer couples a safe space to talk about everything from conflict resolution to marriage roles and finances.
The transition to marriage can be a challenge for some couples, Schwarzbaum says. As time goes on, she says, relationship satisfaction often diminishes in couples, partially due to work and children. With a good course of premarital counseling, though, couples can build up skills to use in navigating the ups and downs that come with marriage.
“With counseling, couples will have enough ‘assets in their love bank’ to withstand the negative emotions that inevitably arise even in healthy relationships, and they’ll know how to rebalance when distance if they are too distant,” Schwarzbaum says.
Roxane Thorstad, a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Journeys Counseling in Tempe, Ariz., also notes that premarital counseling can really only help couples.
“Some couples may feel that addressing hard to talk about topics is uncomfortable, but I often say that not addressing them is essentially sweeping them under the rug,” Thorstad says. “Issues will resurface at some point, so why not address them with a facilitator or professional early on and gain some strategies?”
- It shows that it’s OK to ask for help
Northwestern’s Marriage 101 class, which has been taught for nearly two decades, was originally created by two longtime counselors who wanted to get to folks before they chose a life partner and provide them with the tools to create a healthy relationship.
Solomon says the class is one of the most popular with students. But she has found, through individual and couples psychotherapy, that many people are often embarrassed to be enrolled in counseling, says Solomon. For some couples, the term “counseling” or any sort of therapy might come with a negative connotation.
“Some couples think, if we’re already asking for help now, we might really be screwed,” Solomon says. It’s the opposite though, she says, as premarital counseling can show couples it’s OK to ask for help when they need it – whether it’s now, when they’re about to have a baby, or anything else.
- You and your partner can learn more about each other
For couples that do participate in premarital counseling, talking with a professional can help reiterate what they may already know. Claire Kraneis, who married Ryan Conaghan in 2012, says that premarital counseling, which was required by the couple’s church, can help people be even more confident in their decision to tie the knot.
Premarital counseling also helped newlyweds Jaclyn Feddes and Dan Marks, who married in Naperville, Ill., this May and received counseling through an elder at their church.
“It helped Dan and I get everything out in the open,” Feddes says. “For example, I learned that he’s a procrastinator and viewed my reminders to get things done as nagging, so that’s a habit I’ve worked to adjust.”
- There are many alternative ways to prepare
Though premarital counseling is typically thought of as a time-intensive form of marriage prep, for those lacking time or financial resources, there are other ways to prepare for the lifelong commitment.
Journey Counseling’s Thorstad recommends couples look to other couples they admire for advice on building a healthy relationship. Another option used by many churches and counseling practices across the country is the PREPARE/ENRICH assessment, which can be completed online and then discussed with a trained facilitator. To date, the assessment, which points out strengths and areas to improve for a couple, has helped strengthen over 4 million relationships.