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Premarital Education


It's not just for Catholics anymore

by Anonymous

Premarital Education | A Practical Wedding

As an independent, career-driven woman, I have never been sure about marriage, both in concept and in practice. My parents are two of the lucky few who seem to be effortlessly still in love with each other after nearly forty-five years of raising children, navigating recessions, and sleeping in the same bed together. Juxtapose that mythology of “everlasting love” against the countless heart-wrenching breakups and hard love lessons being learned by my close friends and me, and I was left still wanting something I was now terrified of. The relationship detritus seemed to be everywhere I turned.

My friends and I tried desperately to analyze everything about these relationships to try and parse out the key disabling factors, but none of us could definitively say why or how these things broke down. They just seemed to break.

In the midst of my anxiety-driven romantic-existentialism, a family friend casually mentioned to me that she and her then-fiancé had gone to premarital counseling. “Isn’t that the thing where the pastor tells you how to make a baby?” I asked. Not quite. I guess times have changed. She calmly explained that though it was originally something like the church telling you “how to make a baby,” most premarital education classes are now secular. Just like a standard therapy session, it was basically a safe place for you and your partner to be guided through some of the bigger questions that can derail relationships later on: how do you want to deal with finances, do you want to have kids, what if one of us has an affair, what will you do if one of us falls terminally ill? You know, the fun questions. When I asked her what she thought of the experience, she said, “It’s already, hands down, the best thing I’ve ever done for my relationship.”

This stuck with me. Even though, at the time, marriage wasn’t even a blip on my radar, I was drawn to this idea of proactively working through and within a relationship before times got really tough. The more I thought about it, the more I couldn’t believe this wasn’t a required practice for everyone. How could dedicated time to learn about healthy communication be anything less than great? And, the thought of it lessened the anxiety I felt about my chances at a “lifetime of love.”

Fast-forward to today and I can safely reiterate my friend’s thoughts: premarital education is already, hands down, the best thing I’ve ever done for my relationship.

This year marked my first big sacrifice for love, and instead of being romantic, it was paralyzing. I left the comforts of family, friends, and a wonderful career in the states to begin life again with my partner in Canada. This emotional rawness led to some debilitating fights and days of frigid standoffs—most of them starting with nothing more than an offhand comment. Though the interstitial times were love affirming, I had no confidence that we would get better and not worse. I was signing myself up for lifetime, after all.

To placate my growing sense of panic, I repeatedly insisted that we try our hand at premarital education. If I was going to make the plunge, I wanted to make sure I was doing everything in my control to make it work. When I arrived in Canada, we made quick work of finding a couple’s therapist. When we settled on a likely candidate and told her what we were looking for, she replied with, “I wish more people did this, it would make my job a lot easier.”

In four short sessions, we laid the groundwork for some profound emotional understanding between the two of us: how to keep each other emotionally safe, how to healthily disagree, how to recover from fights, how to talk about emotions, and how to maintain connectivity. She enlightened our narrow understanding of “fight” by clarifying that healthy and unhealthy couples didn’t agree any more or less than the other, but they fought differently. Most importantly, we were able guide the focus of our work, bringing up instances we knew were already tough spots and demanding more help in specific areas.

Five months later, though we’re still not above getting into fights about the dishes and the snooze button, we’re also in much less danger of letting our smaller spats grow into bigger ones or stay unresolved. And, we’re getting better and better at it every day. My fear is no longer subsuming my confidence in our ability to continue learning or make this last.

For those of you also in pursuit of a “lifetime of love,” I highly recommend premarital therapy or education. It’s probably the best money you’ll ever spend on yourselves.

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  • Britanny Precht

    Yes. This. Though N and I have been married a little over a year now I still want to do this. (Now that we have access to and can afford mental health services.) Any suggestions for how to bring this up to your partner?

    N isn’t opposed to therapy.. he’s just less.. proactive than I am?

  • Sofia

    Guys does anyone know of a secular pre marital training provider that does e- or phone or Skype sessions??? The secular thing is not so much happening in South Africa :(

    • K.D.

      A good alternative might be to buy some marriage self-help books! My fiance has social anxiety & couldn’t bear the thought of sharing personal feelings with a counselor, but he was more than willing to check out a few books as a compromise. The best one so far is The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman…it has short chapters, and in each one, there are quizzes & activities you & your partner can do to help learn more about each other & work through a variety of scenarios in a healthy way. Also, The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman was incredibly helpful, so much that I was able to overlook the 2-3 Bible verse quotes in the book. It has already changed the way we communicate with each other, for the better!

      • Amy A.

        Second both of these book recommendations. Maybe make it like a book club; you both read a chapter a week and discuss it at a certain time, perhaps over tea or coffee?

      • SarahG

        Like both those books! Also, it sounds counter-intuitive, but The Ethical Slut contains some of the best relationship advice I’ve ever gotten. I think it’s an incredibly useful book, especially if you are monogamous (it’s written for non-monogamous people) in thinking through your sex life/jealousy/who you and your partner are to each other. It has great exercises in it as well. Bonus points for making everyone on the bus do a double-take when they see you reading it :)

        • Jess

          *sigh* adding another book to my list. Someday I’m going to stop making these lists and actually read through them all. I’m on like 2 of 20 billion. This one may go to the top, though.

    • Eh

      Good luck! I know of individual counselors that do everything through phone or Skype so there should be couples counselors that would do that too. If you can’t find one, I highly recommended the book The Ten Conversations by Dr. Guy Grenier.

    • TeaforTwo

      My partner and I took a course from MarriagePrep.ca. We did the in-person version, but there is an online option as well.

      The facilitator is an Anglican priest, but there was no religious content in the course. It was based quite heavily on the work for John Gottman, and I found a lot of it useful. Forewarning: I wouldn’t say it was sexist, but it was definitely heteronormative.

    • Hope

      This is becoming pretty popular. Google should find you someone without much trouble.

  • Brooke

    Some practical discussion on premarital counseling would really help me out right now! How do you know what to look for in a counselor? We got a recommendation from our friends who just got married, and I’m tempted to go with him on their word alone, just because I know very little about what else to look for. Which therapeutic orientations are the most effective according to the most people? Do you need more sessions or a different approach if you have really heavy duty baggage (family, history, etc.) to deal with?

  • Jade

    I’m Hindu but I’m marrying a Catholic dude and this is exactly what the priest was telling us, that it would be more of a secular thing to help us get started with the Big Issues in life. My FSIL also said the pre-marital course was incredibly helpful and eye-opening for her and her husband.

    I’m quite excited about it! Counselling is great! We start our course next month!

    • macrain

      I am also just really PUMPED to get going. I don’t know that I was expecting to get so jazzed about pre-marital counseling, but I am!

  • Rachel

    My fiance and I are currently going through some old-fashioned pastoral pre-marriage therapy. Some of it is religious (your relationship should form a triangle with God at the top) some of it is moral (how to avoid temptation, cheating on your spouse, pornography) but most of it is practical (how to communicate, resolve disputes, handle extended family, finances, deciding on children and how to raise them). I’ve been extremely grateful for our sessions, we still have a few left. By far the best advice I’ve been given marriage-wise was in our first session. “Right now you two come from two different families, but after you are married you become your own family and everyone else is your extended family. Be one.”

    • Eh

      That is great advice! My husband and I did not do pre-marital counseling. I had been in therapy (individual and couples therapy with an ex) and I use what I have learned from that in how I go day by day. Don’t get me wrong, I think it would be useful for us to have gone to pre-marital counseling or couples therapy. We did read and work through the book The Ten Conversations (highly recommend the book, especially if you are not going to do pre-marital counseling).
      Before I met my husband I had been in long term relationships but our relationship is my husband’s first real relationship. He has had a much harder time with setting boundaries with his family (his mother has a need to take care of her sons and never taught them how to do things so they would have to rely on her). I have seen this with some of his other relatives too. His brother had a hard time finding a happy medium so went from letting his mother continue to do things for him (even after he was married with a child) to nearly cutting his family out of his life because his wife found them too overbearing. As newly weds we are still figuring out how to set boundaries but our position is that we do what is best for us, even if our families disagree (e.g., we did not sleep over at my in-laws house on Christmas Eve, we split holidays between the families based on what works best for us).

    • TeaforTwo

      Yes – leaving your family of origin was a huge focus of our premarital course, too, and it was SUCH good advice that you don’t really get anywhere else. My partner and I were both born at the tail end of big, close-knit families (our rehearsal dinner was “immediate family only” and that was 26 people). Finding a balance between honouring those families and making our own way has been a huge part of figuring out how we do marriage.

      • Megan

        I’ve never heard it put like that–“leaving your family of origin”–but thank you for putting the feelings I’m grappling with into words!! I think that’s the biggest struggle I’m dealing with right now–sort of mourning the family of four that was me, my sister, and mom and dad, and accepting the new extended family I’m getting (in-laws, step-in-laws, my sister’s in-laws, etc), and realizing that I’m starting my very own “baby family” at the same time. In the last 2 months, my sister has gotten married, and my fiance’s dad has gotten re-married, so by my wedding in October, I’ll have racked up a whole lot of new family members. So many feelings!

  • Kate

    How did people track down the right program? My church doesn’t offer such a program, and I definitely want to make sure we go through it. Right now, I have no idea where to start or how much money I should expect to spend on this. My google skills are less than fantastic this morning.

    • Meg Keene

      If you have a church, go to your clergy member to ask advice. Most (all?) clergy do one on one pre-marital counseling, and only some religions have larger programs. If they don’t do pre-marital, I can guarantee you they’ll have recommendations, and probably ones on sliding scales.

      • ElisabethJoanne

        I’d just add, if you think you’re going to get a referral, it’s something that can be handled by email/phone. In my family’s experience, scheduling a meeting with a Priest, or just getting 5 minutes of one-on-one or two-on-one time, can be really tough. So “go to” doesn’t need to be literal.

    • JSwen

      If one of you works for a large organization, ask HR about your Employee Assistance Program (EAP). It is there for something like 5-7 sessions of therapy per issue in the household. We had to go this route because even though we are on the same health insurance plan, our health care system doesn’t do couples counseling (wtf?).

  • H

    Just a word of caution about Catholic/religious-based pre-maritial counseling: one of my Catholic friends recently started the process at her local Catholic church, and the priest told her and her fiance that they needed to move apart (they currently live together and will be married in a few months), made some very sexist comments (“Priests can’t marry, but I have a maid who cooks my meals, so I don’t even need a wife!”) and told them that to pass the program, she needed to attend weekend-long female-only retreat on becoming a good wife. And this priest is in his mid-thirties! On the other hand, I know lots of people who had great experiences with it. I’d just recommend being very clear on expectations and finding a good fit from the start.

    • Meg Keene

      I know so many people (including people on the APW staff) who sing the praises of Pre-Cana to the hills. That said, any religious program is obviously going to be working within the framework of a religion. Those of us who are religious are usually pretty adept at taking what we want, and questioning or discarding the rest, so some of that may always be required.

    • http://readingandthensome.blogspot.com/ Martha Smith

      It’s really crazy how varied the Catholic pre-cana experience can be. Our local diocese does a “pre-cana in one day” seminar which was run by married couples from the diocese. Only one segment was presented by a single person (the segment on natural family planning, and it was admittedly rough). If you did pre-cana through our specific church it was a 6 week program (once per week) presented by the pastor and the deacon on staff (which seemed nice because the deacon at our church was married). When my sister got married 5 years ago she and her husband attended a weekend-long retreat.

      While my husband and I appreciate that we were able to complete the pre-cana requirements in one day, in retrospect we didn’t get anything from it really. Sure, it was in no way unbearable and no one said anything nearly as insulting/patronizing as your experience, but we don’t think we really got much from it. We did, however, meet with the priest who married us on several occasions just for kicks and those meetings were much more effective for us. He was a wonderful priest who truly seemed to understand the two of us as a couple and has such a great attitude about Catholicism and religion in general that now my husband is considering becoming Catholic.

      • http://readingandthensome.blogspot.com/ Martha Smith

        *I should mention that we feel super lucky to have been married by Father Dave. When searching for a church to have our wedding his response to my husband’s non-Catholic state was all but non-existent. Treated it as it should be treated: not a big deal. Other priests at different churches had balked when I mentioned my then fiance was not Catholic. The church we married at was on a college campus and I think Father Dave’s experience as a “youth” pastor helped inform him regarding the secular world and make him a better priest because of it. We certainly just stumbled upon him, but the person who marries you is very important.

        OOOOOO, segment on “How to Pick Your Officiant”????????????????

        • Fiona

          I would LOVE to see a “Pick Your Officiant” piece!

          • Rachel

            This is something I’m struggling with right now too – especially since I’m a not very religious Protestant, my fiance is a slightly more religious Catholic, and we would like to have a secular yet somewhat traditional ceremony….help!

          • http://readingandthensome.blogspot.com/ Martha Smith

            We had a Catholic wedding “outside of mass.” Which pretty much means the first half of mass occurs – the Liturgy of the Word and there is no liturgy of the Eucharist with communion. It’s probably very priest/church community dependent but Father Dave was very open to different readings and would have been fine with us doing additional personal vows (on top of the required religious ones). We didn’t go this route for personal reasons. You could also consider using a protestant minister for the service and a Catholic Priest for the vows. A good friend of mine is Catholic but has a close aunt (who introduced her and her husband) and is a protestant minister. So she performed the entire service except for the Catholic vows, which, according to the priest involved in their ceremony, was the only part he absolutely was required to perform for it to “count.”

          • Dom

            I’m Catholic, but my fiance is not religious at all. I always dreamed of the full wedding ceremony in the church, but it just isn’t a reality for us. Instead, we went for a third option: ceremony in a theatre with the Anglican minister who presided over his fathers funeral as the officiant and I get to chose all the religious readings.

            It doesn’t have to be one or the other. Your wedding is your wedding, and if you find an open enough officiant or priest, you can have the ceremony that you both want.

          • Meg (Not that one)

            Not sure if you are dead-set against a Catholic wedding, but at our venue, our deacon allowed one of my dear friends, who is a methodist minister, to participate in a lot of the wedding ceremony, including doing the blessing. We got married at a university Catholic Student Center, and I think that played into the liberalness of our service. We also got married outside of Mass as a lot of my family is Jewish, and I did not want them to have to sit through a long ceremony that they could not participate in. We had secular music, except during the required religious parts.

    • Sarah

      Yeah, my Catholic Pre Cana weekend was NOTHING like that. We loved it. We are very liberal, progressive, and don’t do traditional gender roles. To my pleasant surprise there was NO talk of gender roles. No “women were made for this and men for that.” It was much more about what you decide as a couple, with the understanding that many couples will choose an egalitarian model, and with an understanding that that probably works best. There were some very religious and/or old fashioned couples there who will no doubt choose to maintain “traditional” gender roles, but the vast majority of us do not. None of us felt judged or discouraged. My husband and I lived together (and all that entails) before marriage. Many of the couples at the weekend were cohabitating, already had kids, were on second marriages, interfaith marriages, all kinds of people. And no one was told to change. Although there was one (literally ONE) discussion question on the potential benefits of “renewed celibacy” prior to marriage, it was optional and they stressed that it was up to the COUPLE to decide. The discussion leaders, a married couple who was very involved in and loved by the church, admitted that they were not celibate before marriage. They get it. They don’t encourage it, but they get it.

      We were given a choice between an online program, a one-day workshop, a 6-evening class, or a 2 and a half day retreat. For scheduling reasons, we chose the retreat. So there were options.

      Similar to what Meg said, you have to know that you’re getting married and prepping for marriage within a religious institution, so you have to be prepared for that. I disagree with several parts of Catholic doctrine. I had to think long and hard about whether I wanted to marry in the Church. Ultimately I decided I still wanted to because I think my definition of what a good marriage is (FOR MY HUSBAND AND MYSELF ONLY, not necessarily for other people) matches the church’s. We are no longer two separate people, but one. We plan on staying together forever, even when it gets hard. We plan on having children. That’s pretty much all they want, and we feel like that’s a great model for us. But if we didn’t, we wouldn’t have married in the church and we probably would have hated pre cana.

      I guess what I’m trying to say is that if your particular church IS being sexist, or if there is something you disagree with in church doctrine that you can’t get past (for example, we disagree with the church on whether gay marriage should be allowed, but we got past it since we don’t think it affects OUR marriage – and yes that was a tough call!), then you shouldn’t be getting married there and you definitely shouldn’t do marriage prep there.

      Well and also, to be honest, I’m being defensive on behalf of the church because it gets a lock of flack (and rightly so!!) and since it’s part of my culture and upbringing I get defensive. It’s one of those “only I can criticize my family” kind of things. I have no doubt that these bad experiences with the church happen. It’s got some effed-up ideas about some things, and even when it doesn’t, sometimes there are just bad leaders and bad members. But if you can find a good parish and sift through some crap, you can find a lot of wisdom. We loved our marriage prep, even though my husband isn’t Catholic and I am a very lapsed Catholic. Just had to say that. Sorry your experience was like that – i would have been completely turned off to the church after that!

      • H

        Sorry just seeing this – just wanted to clarify that I wasn’t putting down this option, just saying that it’s important to do what you’re saying – find a good parish, feel it out beforehand. My friend was really upset by the experience and the priest was threatening to “fail” them if they didn’t follow his advice, which from what she understood meant she couldn’t get married in the church (I can’t imagine that’s true, but who knows). Anyway, all that could have been avoided if she and her fiancé had looked around and found a good fit first.

    • Meg (not that one)

      We did Pre Cana and it was nothing like what you described. We met with our deacon and did the FOCCUS assessment with him and that was honestly the best part of the whole experience. He quickly saw that our biggest fight was fighting about how we fight. It was very interesting to get his input. Although I had been told by family friends to lie about my fiance’s address, we were honest about our living arrangements because I refused to start my marriage on a lie. There was some discussion about how the Church perferred that we not live together before marriage, and our deacon gave a very rational explanation that the Church wants you to come into marriage completely of your own will, and that the Church feels that living together before marriage can put undo pressure on people so that they don’t feel as though they can refuse to get married. Not sure if I agree with this rationale or not, but it seemed like a good argument. He did not make my now-husband move out of our shared home. He accepted the fact that neither of us regularly attend church, nor did we plan to regularly attend in the future. The weekend class was basically useless to us to the point of being laughable. The people who came in to speak about Natural Family Planning have fertility issues so they were perhaps not the best choice – as someone with fertility issues myself, I found the whole thing annoying as it didn’t really apply to me. My diocese requires you to go to an additional Natural Family Planning class taught by a nurse from a local Catholic hospital, which I thought I would hate (again because of my fertility issues, it didn’t really apply to us as we will likely need medical assistance to get pregnant); however, I actually found that information to be very valuable and wish I had been taught that information in high school health class. Ultimately, I think we may have benefited more from going to a non-Catholic marriage counselor, but it wasn’t a terrible experience

  • Jules

    “in much less danger of letting our smaller spats grow into bigger ones or stay unresolved”…

    Yeah, this is pretty much EXACTLY where we’ve come in the last few months. (No counseling yet, but planning on it.)

    In my previous relationship, I didn’t understand how “fighting” could be good – usually because I never saw it done in a loving manner – until three and a half years in, we realized we weren’t that compatible and we had been happily ignoring it all along, not wanting to touch our issues. And when we looked at why, it highlighting some of our key differences.

    Now, my SO writes down his feelings, and once we’ve both cooled off, we talk about them. Or I start to get snarky and mean, and he will diffuse me by asking, “Are you upset with me?” instead of just letting it boil until one of us cracks. We’ve learned what each of our apology languages is. (See When Sorry Isn’t Enough by Gary Chapman). We’ve come a LOOONG way towards a healthier relationship, and it feels good.

  • macrain

    I would love to know from the author and from everyone else- did your therapist have a specific curriculum or did you just wing it? Any resources to share?
    Thank you for this! My fiance and I are on the hunt for a good pre-marital counselor, so all of these issues are on my mind.

    • disqus_gipME9lJgC

      My fiance and I were lucky to find a wonderful Unitarian Universalist minister who was trained in using the Prepare Enrich approach. We found it to be a super helpful curriculun – we each took an assessment separately, then talked through our results with her, and she gave us “assignments” out of an workbook to do between sessions based on what we wanted to explore more deeply. It was flexible enough that we didn’t need to follow a specific prescribed path, but we both thought it was a great starting point. Maybe not for everyone – it can be a little uncomfortable with a third party reviewing your own individual responses and then talking about areas of growth together – but we really appreciated the open setting this gave us.

      I think that Prepare Enrich is very loosely based in Western/Christian principles (or at least it seemed that way) but mot blatantly so if that’s uncomfortable for you, and easy enough to avoid (or discuss further) any questions/issues that raises. The curriculum has a website with all certified Prepare Enrich facilitators listed (warning: it’s a very outdated website). Some are religious and some are secular (not all are therapists, but many are). Ours wasn’t free, but it wasn’t as expensive as I thought it might have been (ours was something like $120 for 3 sessions). I think that the facilitators set these prices.

      I agree with everything said here – this was one of the most valuable things we’ve done.

      • Lauren from NH

        Does anyone else have any input on cost? I expect it will be worth it and more valuable than extra flowers or other fancy wedding stuff but I (like most of us) still like to spend smart. I was googling and saw a local therpist offers Prepare Enrich with 5 – 90 minute sessions for $800-$900, but I do live in an uber expensive area (in a basement). Any other numbers people wouldn’t mind throwing out there? (anonymous is fine by me)

        • SarahG

          Our couples’ therapist is $85 a session; this is cheap for our area. She was a trainee when we started, supervised by someone who is highly regarded (and $200 an hour). We see her every other week. It is so totally worth it! We live in the Bay Area, FWIW.

        • JSwen

          Ours is free through an EAP at work.

        • april

          That seems pricey. Our pre-cana course (2 Saturdays, 8am to 3pm) was $100 for the both of us – and we live in a fairly expensive area. I can’t really price our one-on-one sessions with our priest, though, since that was rolled into our church fees …

        • Aubry

          We had a 4 pack of sessions in the prepare/enrich program for $350. But it is through our officiant, so maybe a bit of a deal? I also live in Vancouver, Canada (most expensive city in north america … woo)

    • april

      Our experience was probably a little different (Catholic pre-cana), but ours definitely involved a curriculum. In our one-on-one sessions, our priest gave us each a premarital inventory to fill out individually. He then went through it with us and had us discuss the inventory questions we had responded to differently. Our group sessions (which were through the regional archdioces and not our church directly) were structured around a workbook. A married couple would give a short presentation on a topic like ‘love language’ or ‘finances’ or ‘discussing difficult topics,’ then we would be dismissed for 10 or 15 minutes to do workbook exercises with our partners (mostly just having conversations based on questions relating to the talk). Overall, a good experience. Although as a liberal non-catholic, I found parts of the group sessions pretty uncomfortable …

      This webpage actually has links to some of the more common marriage inventories: http://marriage.about.com/od/premaritaltests/a/premaritaltest.htm (I think our priest used FOCCUS).

      • C

        April, I’m anticipating a similar situation. . . I’m curious, what topics were the most uncomfortable?

        • april

          A couple of moments spring to mind. First, there was a session on ‘the purpose of marriage,’ which basically devolved into an explanation of why the church opposes gay marriage (ugh). Second, there was a session on ‘the role of prayer’ which basically exhorted us to pray together – I found this one uncomfortable mostly because the man who led it was very emotional and evangelizing. I honestly don’t think his presentation was appropriate for a crowd that included a lot of mixed-faith couples.

          On the other hand, while some of the other sessions certainly addressed view points (on sex and sexuality, for example, and on family planning) that I don’t share, they did so in a respectful manner that helped me to better understand the church’s position without feeling pressured to adopt it myself. And the whole experience was a really good opportunity for me to talk with my fiance about his own religious beliefs and what they mean for him/us going forward, which is not necessarily something we had done before.

          Hope that helps!

          • ready_set_go

            I went to pre-cana too, and I don’t think we go the same “purpose of marriage” talk? My impression is that it certainly varies a lot based on who is running the program and who the speakers are, so it certainly helps if you check with friends (or even online!) to see if people have good or bad things to say about different pre-cana programs. But I enjoyed mine overall, and I was pleasantly surprised by how respectful and open-minded the speakers were. :)

          • C

            Thanks for the insight everyone!
            I’ve been concerned that they will pressure my guy, the non-Catholic party, or be disrespectful of his beliefs (he was raised Catholic and left the church). Also, read about Engaged Encounter and their rules just weirded me out. The EEs in my area require that you stay there for two nights, even if you live in town, and you are strongly discouraged from leaving the premises for any reason during the weekend. We’re not children in summer camp. It just sounds juvenile and controlling to me.
            Again, thanks!

          • anon

            We went to pre-cana, and it was mostly bland with a bit of awful. I’ll never forget the Natural Family Planning session, taught by a young couple with 5 kids (and she was super pregnant with 6.) The husband made all kinds of gross jokes about her being pregnant “But it works, I swear! Mostly! HA HA HA” And about how this stuff might seem like a pain, but “Once she’s pregnant, it’s great, you can have ALL THE SEX YOU WANT without worrying for nine months, because she can’t get MORE PREGNANT!” Ha ha ha. Burned into my brain.

          • C

            Ugh, gross. Sorry, anon.

          • C

            Thanks, April! I appreciate it.

        • anon

          This wasn’t directed at me, I know, but as a person in a similar situation (an agnostic marrying a Catholic in the Catholic Church), I hope I can offer some information on what our counseling experience was like for me. Honestly, I was surprised by how un-uncomfortable I was with most of what was discussed in our program. There was, as others have mentioned, a certain amount of discussion of praying together, and we also sat through a program on “natural family planning”, but I don’t recall anything like the “purpose of marriage” session referenced by another poster. I will say that I went into the program knowing that there would be emphasis, discussion, and advocacy of specifically religious things that I don’t believe in, and that that sort of thing wasn’t going to bother me: I signed up for a Catholic wedding, and it’s fine if affirmative discussion in Catholocism is included in the prerequisites. I *would* have been uncomfortable with an emphasis on gender roles, gay marriage, abortion, or other things that feel to me to be religously-related but not explicitly part of the faith (that may not be an intellectually coherent distinction and may fall elsewhere for others–I’m just hoping to give you a sense of where I’m coming from).

          To talk specifically about the positive aspects of my experience: first, and most importantly, my fiance and I both found the experience to be really valuable for our relationship, and we still talk about things we learned there. That’s particularly notable because he went in skeptical, though I was enthusiastic. There was a lot of time for talking one-on-one with your partner, and we also were responsible for writing down our thoughts before talking (we’d then read what the other had written, and then talk), which worked well for getting to fully air out whatever you were thinking of. The married couples with whom we worked were also great, and one of them was interfaith (though Episcopal and Catholic, I think, so not quite my situation), which was nice. In general, we found the experience to provide a good forum for talking about the different ways we do and will want to approach things as our lives together progress.

          Notably, reading others’ comments here about Catholic marriage prep, I have the (possibly mistaken!) impression that people have mostly done pre cana through a local diocese, where you meet with one or more mentor couples from your diocese regularly over a period of months. That wasn’t possible for us based on geography and timing, so we did a one-weekend intensive program called Engaged Encounter (http://www.engagedencounter.org/). While the program is run at a (relatively) local level and so may vary somewhat by location, I really did think it was great and would recommend that anyone looking for Catholic marriage prep seriously consider it.

      • kaywel

        Another non-Catholic marrying a Catholic — my experience was very similar. In our case, both the pre cana class and the FOCCUS test were administered by lay ministers who were, themselves, married couples. I would presume those folks have more valuable advice to offer than unwed clergy.

        There were definitely sections in the pre cana class that I didn’t agree with, but things were presented from very much of an angle that “This is what the church teachers. Do with that what you will.” We skipped over a few of the sections in our pre cana workbook that I probably would have found more uncomfortable, though I read most on my own time to gauge what else was taught. For instance, the church is pretty concerned about online pornography and what it teachers [young] people about sex and sexuality — a viewpoint not so wholly different from what some secular feminist friends have. The section I actually dreaded–having to write “love letters” to each other–ended up being surprisingly helpful: my fiance, knowing me, didn’t gush about the depth of his affection but instead articulated his profound respect for me and intention to honor my professional ambitions alongside our domestic ones. It wasn’t what I expected, but having that written down has proven more meaningful to me than anything I would have thought of to ask for on my own.

        I will say, though, having spoken to friends who had lesser experiences, that some depends on the church you go to and, frankly, how authentically Catholic (at least one of) you are. I have a number of “Creaster” who weren’t really incorporating Catholic principles about non-married life into their lives already, dragged their feet through the whole thing and hated it. On the other hand, my fiance is a practicing Catholic (who, admittedly, does pick and choose the dogma), so nothing said was surprising because it built on principles he had already incorporated into his worldview.

    • Meg Keene

      We winged it. WELL. I feel like we winged it, but honestly, working with a trained professional, I’m pretty sure they know what they’re doing, even if we don’t.

      We worked with our Rabbi, but clergy are obviously trained for this.

      • TeaforTwo

        As a preacher’s kid who’s spent a lot of time on the inside of religious communities, I want to point out that not all clergy are trained for this. Different denominations have wildly variant educational and training requirements, and offer very different levels of support to their clergy.

        I know some brilliant preachers who are salt-of-the-earth people and who would be lousy at offering any kind of counselling. The hope is that they know they would be lousy at it, and won’t try to muddle through with you. Lots of clergy are smart and compassionate folks who, through being invited into the most personal parts of their congregation’s lives, have a lot of life experience and wisdom to share. But they rarely have any formal training in offering counselling, and they’re certainly not guaranteed to.

        I would see counselling from a clergy person more as advice from an auntie. If you’re a member of a congregation, you’ll know if they seem wise and if you would trust their counsel. And if so, they can probably see you through most things. But I wouldn’t advise blindly trusting someone because they happen to be a clergy person – if it turns out to be the guy who just LOVES New Testament Greek, but has weird people skills, it won’t end well.

        • SarahG

          Yeah, I have had some seriously weird/spectacularly useless advice from clergy. Some of them are really great at listening and counseling, and some are… not. I’ve had much less variation in therapists (none have been terrible, though I know terrible therapists exist). Personal experience, of course… others may have had the opposite.

          • TeaforTwo

            I think fit is everything – I’ve definitely had therapists that just weren’t going to work for me, either. I just wanted to point it out because while therapists are specifically trained for providing therapy, clergy aren’t necessarily.

            My father was an Anglican priest for 30 years, and I admire him hugely. He’s a wise man, and he gives great advice. But I have also often heard him rail against the expectation that priests should function as therapists, because he thinks that’s better left the professionals. (When I got married, we took the same marriage preparation course that he has recommended to all of the couples he marries, run by a marriage and family therapist who IS trained in this, and has been doing it for decades.)

          • Sarah McClelland

            All of the above.
            My FH and I are both Seminary grads seeking ordination, and in my pastoral care and counseling coursework, we were encouraged to have at least 4 sessions with any couple we marry. Or have 2, and refer them for a group workshop/retreat with certified Marriage and Family Therapists, just depending on the needs and wants of the couple. Every church I have worked in requires a couple to meet with someone on pastoral staff before a marriage can be performed in the church- and we take it far more seriously than advice from a kind auntie. BUT! I am aware I can’t speak outside of my experience in the Christian Church(Disciples of Christ)

        • Meg Keene

          As someone raised in the church (by biblical scholars who love New Testament Greek) I’ll say it depends. I’m pretty sure all mainline clergy have mandatory training in pastoral care, and a fair amount of it. As far as I know reform and conservative Rabbi’s do to. Some are going to be better than others (hell, let’s be honest, some therapists are better than others) and some are going to be more trained than others. But, in denominations I was raised in, they’re all trained for it. In fact, in bigger mainline churches there normally is a dedicated pastoral care clergy member, who only deals with births/ deaths/ marriage/ crisis/ etc. If you have access to that, they are normally FABULOUS at it, and phenomenally well trained.

          Another option if you’re going the religious route, there are also often religiously based therapists who you can get referred to. Again, quality will vary, but they can be fabulous as well, and helpful if you want to look at things through a faith lens.

          In short, there may be some churches where pastoral care will be more like advice from an Auntie. But there are also other churches/ denominations (many that I’m more familiar with) where pastoral care is going to be from a highly trained person, just with a faith background.

          (Which isn’t to say you can’t get truly terrible pastoral care! But it’s worth asking about training, if you’re not sure. And just asking around the congregation for advice. Also, if you have multiple clergy members, one might be better for you than another, or better at a particular time of your life. OR, if it’s not a fit, they should have recommendations.)

          • TeaforTwo

            That’s really all I meant: That some are very well trained and skilled, and some are very not. My father is a mainline clergyperson who ran a large church, writes books about theology and church growth, and teaches at a seminary. (And who was once, in a past era, a New Testament scholar.) He often says that he was not trained to give counselling, and always had someone on staff at his church who was dedicated to pastoral care. Not all churches have the budget for that, though, and not all clergy have the self-awareness to say “that one course in seminary didn’t really equip me to a good job here. Why don’t I refer to you a faith-based counsellor?”

            When I said it’s like advice from an Auntie, I basically meant that it could be good or bad, and your other experience with that person will be a useful guide in how good or bad it will be. (I happen to have terribly wise Aunties.)

          • Meg Keene

            I’ve also had great and terrible pastoral care from the same clergy person, when they were at different periods in their life. It’s good to have the self awareness yourself to also step back and be like, “That advice fucking sucked.” It’s not the best when you get shitty pastoral advice, but realizing, “Hum, that was not helpful,” is important, when it happens. (Same same with therapists, btw ;)

          • TeaforTwo

            This. This is good advice for all advice.

          • Alyssa M

            Also, different people (clergy and therapists) will only be able to handle certain issues. Most therapists can “specialize” but clergy members tend to be stuck covering ALL the issues. I had a youth pastor who was FABULOUS at helping people navigate teen issues and even adult relationships, but at 14 I had a boyfriend commit suicide and he completely dropped the ball. Suicide was just not an issue he could handle.

            So… your totally awesome trusted pastor who was great when you had a death in the family may stink at relationship advice…

        • Fiona

          I know my denomination (Church of the Brethren) definitely has highly trained pastors. They must all go to seminary and absolutely have counseling training. I would absolutely trust my current pastors with counseling (they were enormously present after my dad died) and my pastor before them was just as qualified. HOWEVER, I know that this can vary widely across denominations, and it really depends on how your denomination chooses to hire pastors and what the requirements are to be a pastor. Also, there is absolutely a difference in training and readiness between professional pastors and lay pastors.

          • Meg Keene

            THOUGH. That’s another good point. Lots of denominations have pretty serious lay training programs, so lay people can provide pastoral care when needed. I’ve been a member at or had my parents be members at huge churches where they had a intensive lay training program, because clergy can’t care for a congregation (I almost said ‘flock’ because CHURCH Y’ALL) of 4,000, no matter how well intentioned they are.

    • JSwen

      Sue Johnson, “Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations…” has been a good read. VERY corny in the first several chapters but worth getting to the good stuff. It helped us because we don’t have many foundational disagreements but were seeing the little “beefs” turning into very hurt feelings. I recommend you have two bookmarks and read small chunks, catching up to each other and talking about what you read.

  • Kayjayoh

    I’m a little envious. Our counsellor seemed like she’s a reasonably good therapist, but *not* a good pre-marital counsellor. After she flaked on us and vanished into the ether (I still don’t know what happened there) I didn’t end up finding another counsellor. I kind of wish I had, because it sounds like you can get a lot out of it if you go to the right person.

    We got something out of it; it wasn’t 100% non-useful, it just wasn’t as useful as it tends to sound like other peoples’ were.

  • Amy A.

    For people who are looking for pre-marital counseling, I would start by looking for a licensed marriage and family therapist in your area (in the U.S. most states have boards of professional licensure for people like doctors, therapists, etc. That state office website would be a good place to start; afraid I don’t have any suggestions for non-U.S. residents besides Google). You can also check out the Gottman Referral network for therapists who are recommended/trained by the Gottman Institute, which was established by the authors of 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work. Some therapists offer specific classes or programs, others will see you individually. Don’t be afraid to call someone and say that you are interested in a trial session to see if the person and their style work for you, and don’t be afraid to go elsewhere if it isn’t working. Most therapists understand that pre-marital counseling is by nature a highly personal experience and both partners need to feel comfortable talking to them if you’re going to get the most out of it. I’m really glad we did ours (a two-day class conducted by a licensed therapist, followed by taking the PREPARE inventory and reviewing it with a married couple from our church.)
    One more thing to look into- you might be eligible for a discount on your marriage license if you complete marriage preparation. In our state the preparation must be done with either a member of the clergy or a licensed therapist, and the $100 savings on the license almost covered the cost of taking the class!

  • Christina McPants

    We got some couples counseling – we went in as premarital counseling, but honestly, we’d already hashed out the money / babies / living stuff, so it was really focused on our relationships. One of the most important sessions I think we’ve EVER had was about how we fight and the way that we react to things (my wife can immediately articulate her feelings about things, I need to think and see what emerges). It really, really set a base for our relationship that has only grown stronger. Cannot recommend enough.

  • Danielle

    We also did premarital counseling. It was totally worth it. We were on the same page about a lot of things and had already had most of the conversations, which made us feel pretty good. i also thought it was important to have a person we are already comfortable with later if we need someone to talk to.

  • JSwen

    For us, premaritial counseling has been like college. You get out of it what you put into it. And: Don’t be afraid to see a different therapist if the one you are at isn’t giving you any good advice or guidance. And: If a book is recommended reading, read it. This isn’t Lit 101.

    • KC

      And, similar to college, whether the counselor/professor is any good at it and/or connects well with your style has something to do with what you get out of it. But yes, put in the work and (provided the person isn’t incompetent or a really bad fit), you can get out awesome stuff, relationally.

      (that said: if you have time to do premarital counseling but don’t have time to do extra reading, it’s still worth doing! Save the book list to peruse later if you must, but get that in-person conflict-management guidance, etc.!)

      • JSwen

        From our experience, if we hadn’t read the book, we wouldn’t have discovered some of our emotional attachment issues. The therapist was very excited to have pre-marital clients instead of angry pre-divorce clients, so she mostly just praised us and asked some questions.

  • Fiona

    I’ve been convinced! Question for those of you who have done this: any recommendations on how to find someone who can do this? My pastors (very cool husband-wife team) are more than willing, and I’ve heard that they are very good at this, but we are a bilingual couple, and the best language between us is definitely Spanish, and my pastors definitely don’t speak Spanish. Also, how does one generally pay for this?

    • JSwen

      There is some advice below but I think I can summarize:
      1. Religious leader ($?)
      2. Mental Health Professional through health insurance (copay)
      3. Professional Therapist through Employee Assistance Programs (free)
      4. Marriage Gurus (via reading their books – there are book recommendations below)

    • laddibugg

      Ask your pastors if they know of any local Spanish language churches, or if there are any churches that offer Spanish services, and get in contact with those pastors.

      • Sarah McClelland

        THIS. Another really great takeaway from my pastoral care classes class is that every church setting should come with a rolodex and some awesome, trusted contacts. If they don’t know someone, they’ll know where to send you.

    • Hope

      This is a great therapist-finding resource from Psychology Today where you can specify that you want someone Spanish-speaking in your area (and you takes your insurance, shares your faith background, etc.)
      ://therapists.psychologytoday.com/rms/?utm_source=PT_Psych_Today&utm_medium=House_Link&utm_campaign=PT_TopNav_Find_Therapist

      • Fiona

        Ooo thanks!

  • anon

    I wish we had done this – we’re getting married in less than three weeks, and in the last two weeks we’ve hit an incredibly stressful patch (a window into the “for poorer” part of our soon-to-be vows). It’s terrible timing because the last-minute wedding stuff already has us a little on edge, but a good lesson in not being able to control terrible timing. It’s definitely bringing up the hard questions that we’ve talked about before, but are now facing with a “this is your life, FOREVER!” perspective. It would be nice to have a few more tools for these discussions.

    • anon

      I should say that the your-life-forever part is a much happier thought than I’ve made it out to be, now that I’ve re-read my comment. It’s just that shit’s getting REAL, you know?

  • SusieQ

    I’d like to put in a good word for the 1-day Marriage Success Training seminars here: http://stayhitched.com/prep.htm. It’s located in New York or Boston, the cost is ~$500, and it was exactly what my husband and I were looking for:
    1. Even though it’s one day, there’s some very thought-provoking homework for each person to do beforehand, which lets you get into the meat of the material quickly.
    2. It’s mostly about how to communicate and how to keep things good, with a sprinkling of “here are some possible issues many couples have to navigate, and tips on how to do so if/when the time comes”, so it’s very positive.
    3. It’s structured where the instructors give some information, and then the couples privately discuss, so we didn’t have to share anything with anyone outside of the two of us – key for my husband, a very private guy.
    4. It’s completely secular (though a little heteronormative only in the sex discussion, which irked me because we do not roll that way)

  • http://thinkweirdthoughts.blogspot.com Phira

    Right now, my partner and I are making a second attempt at couple’s therapy (the US healthcare system and our work schedules thwarted the first attempt). Two things from your post really resonated with me. First, the fear that things will not get better, only worse. It’s been hard to explain to my partner how I can be simultaneously sure that I want to marry him, but also insistent that we consider moving back the wedding so we have a chance to work out some issues in therapy. It’s really that I absolutely do want to be married to him … so I need to make sure that we’re going to stay married without us destroying ourselves.

    The second thing? So. Many. Fights start with some of the most inoffensive offhand comments. Goodness. It’s the worst.

  • Jessica

    One of the biggest lessons I took into marriage from APW is that counseling is not just for the bad times. My husband and I have very strong communication skills with each other, but that does not mean everything gets communicated all the time–and the times that communication doesn’t happen means it’s more hurtful since we are normally so good at it. Having a mediator to talk through things keeps are heads cooler and forces us to keep our emotions in check. We will probably set up a counseling session with our pastor 1-2 times a year just to make sure we are staying on track and that anything that seems to big for a Tuesday night conversation gets talked about. While I had brought up this idea before we started pre-marital counseling, it was reinforced by the sessions we had with our pastor.

    We are also going to look for a financial advisor just so we are on the same page and have outside input rather than just one of us saying something and the other either going along with it or resisting because of it being unfamiliar territory.

  • Dacia E.

    We got fired from premarital counseling. We went for basically “preventative therapy” when our relationship was doing really well, and after a few sessions our therapist was like, “you don’t really need me.” Which is nice because, hey, that’s the professional thing to do if you think your clients don’t need therapy (instead of taking our $200 cash a week), but at the same time…I still kind of feel like we’re not prepared for the really stressful times that are definitely ahead. (See: medical school.) We can have a great “I-statement” conversation when both of us are relatively relaxed and emotionally available, but I have a suspicion that will fly out the window when I’m working on 5 hours of sleep and he’s buried at the prosecutor’s office.

    Did anyone else have that issue? Going when things were good enough that you had a hard time finding things to talk about? I wonder how many secular therapists are trained to deal with happy couples. I thought ours was a really good therapist too – we both really liked him.

    • Hope

      I hear you. I was terrified of being derailed by the really stressful times (we moved across the country for grad school for *both* of us immediately after getting married) and tried to seek out a lot of preventative help pre-maritally to inoculate our marriage, but the message we got was that while you can work on being in the healthiest place possible for right now, you kind of have to wait for the stress to come and then paddle from there. There is no getting ahead on the tough times. You just live it, and seek help again when it starts getting tough.
      I am a therapist myself, and it can be tough when a client is doing just fine and thinks counseling might be helpful somehow but doesn’t have a sense of what areas need work because everything is so fine. Counseling is great for exploring problem areas, examining the past, and understanding yourself better, but it’s hard to do productive work without raw materials, you know? It violates the counseling code of ethics to continue seeing clients who have achieved the goals you outlined together or no longer need services.
      Also, you are very correct that all the great “tools” you learn for communication can go straight out the window when stress is running high–this is a neurobiological reality, because you stop using your prefrontal cortex when you are super emotionally activated. BUT, you still have the tools to repair things once you calm down again. One famous therapeutic truism is, “Even more important than what you do is what you do *after* what you do.”
      Sounds like you really care and are proactive, and that in itself will do worlds for your relationship. Go on, girl! :)

      • Dacia E.

        Your comment made me smile. Thank you! (Also, thanks for the great explanation about the neurobiology. That makes a lot of sense – I feel like, if I’m really upset while we fight, I can tell when I’m not fighting well, but I can’t seem to stop myself in time!)

        What you said about repairing after the damage – that’s exactly what seems to be happening, so I definitely wouldn’t say that the therapy was a waste. Fighting well, and resolving fights well, seem to be the key.

    • macrain

      We have only been to one counseling session (it was awful and we’re trying to find someone new), but I have this fear too. If you’re getting married, obvi things are great and you wouldn’t be tying your life to this person if there were any big red flags. But- therapy is driven by the client, so pre-marital counseling just has to be different than regular therapy. I discussed this at length with the therapist I see on my own, and she suggested working with a good therapist to develop our own curriculum.
      I don’t know, maybe we don’t need therapy, maybe we all need something else that doesn’t exist? It’s a little confusing.

      • Dacia E.

        I know! I want to do preventative care for my relationship like I do for my health. We need relationship check-ups. I think there’s an element of fear that we can’t control our relationship’s fate buried somewhere here (at least there is for me).

    • Megan

      I sort of worry about this too. I like the idea of pre-marital counseling but right now my fiance and I are doing pretty well with our relationship. We have a few underlying issues that come up now and again but have been having pretty constructive conversations with each other about them as we go. I think I worry both that counseling will stir the pot when things are good, or that we won’t have enough to talk about! So I think I want to look for something more structured like a pre-marital course with a curriculum and maybe less open-ended? Neither of us have strong religious backgrounds either way and a friend is marrying us, so we don’t have a place of worship to go to or that kind of counseling built in with our officiant. Neither of us have had counseling or therapy before, but certainly see the value in it whether or not there are any big issues right now.

    • Alyssa M

      My area doesn’t seem to have any real secular pre-marital counseling options… just marriage counselors, so I’ve been pretty worried about this… I really really think we need a mediator to discuss some of the big getting married type stuff though. So if whoever we find doesnt have a curriculum I’m going to bring in the APW list of questions to ask before you get married and let that guide us…

  • ambi

    Not on topic exactly, but when my best friend and her then-fiancé went to Catholic pre-marital counseling, they decided beforehand that they wouldn’t tell the priest that they had had premarital sex. The priest’s first question was, “Are you pregnant?” She was so shocked, she just sat there with her mouth open and didn’t answer. Her fiancé waited a moment, then looked at her and asked, “Wait, ARE YOU?!” The cat was out of the bag at that point, I guess.

    • Hannah B

      That’s kinda funny. They ask these days not out of judgement for the pre-marital sex having but to prevent people getting married solely because the woman is pregnant. Having a child together doesn’t necessarily mean a relationship has what it takes for marriage, though people sometimes still feel obligated to get married. As a priest told my folks, get through this (unexpected) pregnancy first, and if you can get through that and still be together, you can get through anything. Plus, grave doubts about getting married (like, I gotta get married cuz of the baby but otherwise I’d never see this person again) are grounds for a future annulment, so the church is just saving itself a step I suppose.

  • ferg

    I am also giving up my job, friends and family to start a new life with my partner in another country. I am not quite as panicked as I am excited but I think that premarital counseling is a very good idea and I think I will look into it – thanks for writing this!!

  • http://thescienceoffood.info/ Cassandra

    Any chance that anyone knows of a good counselor in Montreal? I haven’t been able to find one.

  • Patrice S.

    Do any APW writers or readers have any recommendations for affordable pre-marital counselors in the NYC area (aside from stayhitched.com)? I have been contemplating doing this for a while and after reading this article and everyone’s comments, I’d love to get the ball rolling! Thanks!!

  • Annie

    I submitted this post and am so happy to see all the comments it inspired! My partner and I are not religious, so we just found a couple’s therapist who could help. She is based in EFT (Emotionally Focused Therapy) which was perfect for us. There’s a great book out for initial reading/introduction into the method: Hold Me Tight by Dr. Sue Johnson. Regardless, any type of intentional work to make a relationship better is good work.

  • Alicia Williams

    This is one of the things that I’m most worried about actually; as a Catholic, I’ve been told by my priest that in addition to doing the one-to-one marriage prep with him, we also have to spend £100 on a one day marriage preparation course.

    Now my fiance is not religious in the slightest (ie. he feels incredibly awkward just standing in a church) and he’s making a massive compromise by getting married in a Catholic church because he knows how important it is to me.

    But having to discuss things in great depth with other people isn’t something that he’s particularly comfortable with and now that we have to pay for this as well as have the meetings with my priest, in order for us to get married in a church I’ve attended regularly all my life, is causing issues.

    I’m finding it rather difficult because I appreciate how much he’s already compromising what he believes (he’s very much in the not-a-fan-of-the-church camp) but my priest seems really inflexible as well. I’m feeling like my faith’s actually putting up lots of barriers to us getting married…

    Sorry for the rant, just a little stressed about it!

    • april

      As the non-Catholic partner in a somewhat similar situation, here are my thoughts on this. For me, the marriage prep course was actually a really good opportunity to better understand my partner’s faith. I don’t necessarily share all of his views (and he doesn’t necessarily share all of the Church’s views), but understanding his religious background and participating to some small extent in a religious community that is important to him is something that is important to me. Maybe encourage your fiance to think of it in that light rather than as some sort of church indoctrination course?

      Another point that may help to ease some of his dread of pre-cana: at least in our experience, there wasn’t actually much group discussion. There was typically a short presentation on a topic (everything from sex to finances) and then we would split off as couples to discuss the topic together. The goal is really to get the two of you to have some deep conversations about your relationship – your fiance may feel more at ease if he knows that.

  • http://www.blackgirlunlost.com Jubi The Great

    I just asked my fiance about premarital counseling last week. Originally I’ve always been a proponent of it but now I feel like it’s a bit unnecessary. My fiance and I are very much on the same page, both on the small things but also the big things. We’ve talked about lots of different things, and we handle conflict well. I started looking at the cost of counseling and it seemed like a waste of $ considering how precious our wedding budget is. So…is it worth it? If you already have a good relationship, are very similar in values/morals/goals, communicate well, etc, is there a need for counseling?

    • http://ourpeacefulfamily.com/ Marcus

      Yes, it is worth every penny.

  • unlikelyheidi

    My soon-to-be fiance and I were interested in some pre-engagement counseling, but couldn’t really afford to visit a therapist, so we’ve been doing work on the online Power of Two Marriage Counseling http://www.poweroftwomarriage.com. While it isn’t focused on premarital issues, we’ve found it to be great for sparking conversations on important topics, especially communication. It’s a little bit cheesy (which works well for us), with videos and worksheets and such, but you get a personal coach who gives you feedback and responses on your work, and you can ask them anything. It’s only $18/month, and given the structure of it we’ve been able to do it at our own pace, which has been very convenient. Like others have said, you get out of it what you put into it.

  • http://ourpeacefulfamily.com/ Marcus

    As a marriage coach for newlyweds, I highly recommend pre-marital education for both newlyweds and engaged couples. I had one with my beautiful wife, and even though we agreed on many key things, it was the best thing we did before getting married to help build a strong foundation for our marriage.