Why I Think Premarital Counseling Is One of the Best Things You Can Do

Because seriously: who doesn't like to sit down and analyze every major life decision they need to make together?

bride and groom fist bump during ceremony

First, the facts: we did our premarital counseling with the rabbi of the congregation we are members of, the rabbi who was officiating at our wedding. It was ‘free,’ by which I mean we pay thousands of dollars a year in support of our congregation, and there is no extra charge for life cycle events, though we did make an additional donation in thanks. (Suddenly paying for it doesn’t sound so bad, huh?)

Additional facts: David and I had been together for five years when we got married, lived together for two, and been friends for fourteen, so, I don’t think it’s just for couples who haven’t been together for ages.

In my head, what we’d do in premarital counseling is talk about our issues as a couple (everyone has some, right? I figured yes.) and work on them, and then enter marriage with a clean slate. Or something. I was wrong. What we did talk about in premarital counseling was really practical things, and really important things, such as:

  • Living wills, and how each of us wanted to be treated as we were dying.
  • Regular wills. Had we made them? Could we go ahead and do that already?
  • What values we wanted to instill in our children (we made lists), or alternatively what values we wanted to make central to our lives together.
  • Inspired by the values exercise, David and I also made lists of our life goals, and them compared them. Interestingly, lots of them were the same. Of those goals that were the same, we figured we would go ahead and get started… and our honeymoon ended up being the very first shared goal on that list. Awwww….
  • How we felt about monogamy, and what our attitudes and approaches would be if one of us slipped up.
  • What we would do if we felt our marriage was in crisis.
  • Would we agree upfront that we would both attend marriage counseling if the other partner requested it, even if our marriage was not in crisis?
  • Kids. Did we want them? Had we discussed a time line? Had we thought about what we would do if we discovered we were infertile? How did we feel about adoption?
  • Money. Had we thoroughly discussed our attitudes about it with each other? Had we talked about budgeting and debt?
  • What our relationship meant to each of us. Our rabbi asked us to go home, and each write a statement privately about our relationship. When we came back, she had us read the statements out loud to each other. Let me just say, they were more similar than I could have guessed, and while they were both very unsentimental, we cried.

We also talked about divorce. Because here is the thing: I don’t think you have any business getting married unless you have sat down and had a long frank talk with your partner about divorce. How do you feel about it? Has it happened to anyone in your family? How do you feel about that? Do you feel like it is an option in your life? If so why, when, how? And when you talk about divorce, I’d really suggest that you have a professional sitting across the table from you, challenging you to think even harder, because divorce is a huge and difficult subject.

When it came up in our sessions, I said something like, “DIVORCE IS NOT AN OPTION EVER IT IS TOTALLY OFF THE TABLE PERIOD.” And then there was a pause, and our rabbi said, “Meg. Divorce is written into the Jewish Ketubah. (editors note: The traditional Ketubah language dates back thousands of years, and was one of the first marriage documents to give woman specific and protected rights. Among these rights is the right that, under certain conditions, a woman will be granted a religious divorce, and that her husband will be required to financially provide for her.) Our rabbi then went on to talk about cases that she’d seen in which divorce was actually a mitzvah (a good deed). This was challenging. This was confusing. This was thought provoking. This is a conversation I’m really glad we had before we walked down the aisle. I do not think you should get married until you’ve talked about divorce. I mean it.

There are as many kinds of marriage counseling as there are people who do it. There is helpful counseling, and there is… less than helpful counseling. (We had friends who’s counseling consisted of a pastor giving them a Myers-Briggs Personality Test to see if they were a good match. As our friend said at the time, “We’re getting married next month. Isn’t it a little late to be taking a compatibility quiz?”) But here is what I really think: Wedding planning is fraught with stupid questions. Chairs, for example, or what length your gown should be. Marriage is fraught with things that really do matter. Taking some time in the middle of the planning to talk about the reality of your lives together, and to ask yourselves hard questions? Well, that’s a gift. So if you can, go find someone, and talk. It will be worth every penny, even if you think you already have everything figured out.

The day of our last counseling session I showed up frazzled. I’d just gotten a quote for getting my hair and makeup done that was, I swear to god, $700. I’d just had a silly conversation with my mom where she tried to talk me into outfitting a table full of toys for the kids at the wedding (as if all they wanted to do wasn’t to eat cake and run around after each other and hide in flower beds that were totally off limits). I was at my wit’s end. And then our rabbi asked us to go into the hall outside her office and practice walking down the aisle, and circling each other. We giggled like little kids, we got teary, we felt ridiculous, and we gasped at how huge this thing was that we were about to do. And I realized once and for all that the other sh*t? Well, it just didn’t matter.

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  • MWK

    Hear, hear. We aren't religious at all but I sought out a friend-of-a-Masters-in-Divinity-friend who is an Episcopalian pastor to do our pre-marital counseling and I was really, really glad we worked with her. Sometimes just having another person there giving you permission to(and, um, making you)talk about some of those hard subjects is exactly what you need to get things out on the table. I remember our "Counselor" starting out by asking us to describe the other person in three words and I cried THEN, just because it was such a big deal to start what was going to be such an intimate and important process to the rest of our lives. I agree, no matter how long you've been together you shouldn't get married without talking about a lot of the things you mentioned. Well said as usual, Meg.

  • thank you for posting, meg!! last week, i went through the list of blogs i follow and deleted all of the ones that made me feel icky looking at them. yours? it makes me feel so good. we are right in the midst of our pre-marital counseling with our lovely episcopal priest. and i couldn't agree with you more. thanks for posting this… because i'm so fed up with the planning and silly-ness, that now i'm ready for the serious mess.

  • Amen, sister. Thank you for posting this.

  • I found our pre-marital counseling very affirming — it felt good to tackle hard subjects and, more often than not, we had a near-identical take on them. And apart from the practical benefits, I too felt like the counseling deepened the engagement experience. Finally, someone wanted to talk about marriage and not just the wedding!

  • Amy

    Agreed! I'd strongly recommend a counselor who will work with you individually instead of working in a group setting. It gave us space to deviate from any schedules and explore what issues really mattered to us.

    Our counselor also suggested having a 'six-month checkup' after the wedding to discuss any changed expectations or issues that have come up. Ours is scheduled for next week, and Meg's list of counseling topics is very timely.

  • GOD, YES. We don't belong to a church, so we looked for both pre-marital counseling sessions that were religious based and ones that weren't. But, for one reason or another, we ended up not doing it and I am still regretting it.
    I think we missed out on an important experience that would help us past the normal little hiccups that a marriage goes through. Not that pre-marital counseling makes your marriage ding-proof, but I think at the very least it gets you talking about things that need to be spoken about and discussed. They won't be solved, but at least they'll be out on the table…

    Yes, it might be uncomfortable and intimate and time-consuming, but it's for health and happiness of your MARRIAGE and your future FAMILY. (And yes, even if you aren't popping out babies EVER, you'll still be a family. Even if it's just you, your partner, a pet that doesn't listen to either of you and a dead plant in the corner, that's a family.)

    Plus, for those like me, who are Texans and looking to cut money where they can? Texas has a Twogether in Texas program and website that shows you where you can get counseling in your area, how much it is and whether it's faith based. And if you go to one of the programs from the website, you get $60 off your marriage license. I seriously doubt we are the only state that does this, so others should check it out for their area!

  • Kristen

    We're a little less than six months out from the wedding, and my fiance and I started pre-marital counseling sessions last week. We've definitely gotten the "But you guys have a great relationship!" from friends, but so far it's been so helpful. We've also been setting some time aside each week with this book called "The Hard Questions," which prompts discussions about career, children, etc. I love having dedicated time to focus on us and our relationship and our future together – so that all "wedding talk" doesn't involve flowers and fittings and paper.

  • We actually did pre-engagement counseling because I am so type-A I couldn't move to the engagement stage without talking about these type of big things with somebody first. TOTALLY worth it. :)

  • Wonderful!

    We actually did not get to do premarital counseling; our pastor told us that he wasn't a counselor and didn't think he had anything to impart on us.

    What we ended up doing was using each other to talk about things. I'm a training therapist who focuses on couple's counseling, so I had some good stuff, if I do say so myself. But we also leaned on my parents and his to talk with us frankly about their marriages and how they got through rough patches, thoughts on divorce, kids, etc.

    I would have much preferred having someone to go to professionally for a time, but we can always do that now.

  • Our pre-marital counseling was also the best thing we did. It was hard. We fought and cried and bitched about it, each other, our pastor… pretty much everything. (we're nothing if not completely opinionated–about the only personal characteristic we have in common) But it was awesome. And completely worth it.

  • Lindsey

    Thanks for this! We are starting pre-marital counseling in January and I have been really looking forward to it. We've been dating over four years so yes we've discussed a lot of this but there are always issues that have not come up yet. Our pastor is a young married father himself and was a counselor before he became a pastor – I am very excited to work with him. Thanks for the topic list – this is great stuff to think about first!

  • I love that your rabbi had you talk about divorce. I really think that should be a part of every marriage counseling session. Both my wife and my parents are divorced and so we talk about what divorce means a lot. For our parents it was a very good thing and in both my wife and my lives, our fathers continued to be a big part of our childhood. I'm always bothered by people who talk about "broken homes" and who say that divorce is not an option because it's as though they've put blinders on to the world around them — where divorce happens all the time for a lot of really good reasons. It's usually a really sad thing — but many times it's a really good thing.

    I hope that my wife and I will never get divorced, but I also know that it may happen and I won't view myself as a failure if it does (like my mother did for so many years).

  • LPC

    My best friend and I always say that everyone should have to get divorced before they get married. Even a concept as simple as community property, here in the US, uncovers enormous gaps in important beliefs. This is the best advice yet.

  • I think it's really alienating when you say things like "I don't think you have any business getting married unless you have…"

    Just saying.

    It doesn't necessarily negate any of the nice and helpful things that you say, but it is indicative of a new attitude on this blog, which I think is kind of sad.

    I'm not trying to be a jerk, and I'm happy to stop reading here if that has to be the case.

  • Yes. Yes yes yes yes yes.

    Our pre-marital counseling was about half ceremony planning (who did we want involved, what roles would they fill, what translations of the seven blessings did we want) and about half talking about our relationship. It was one of the best parts of the entire engagement, and probably the one thing I look back on with the most fondness.

    And for the record? My husband and I were together for seven years before our wedding. Four of those were living together. We have a terrific relationship (if I do say so myself) and have spent quite a bit of time deliberately learning to communicate better with each other. And premarital counseling was STILL tremendously useful! Just having someone we admired and trusted say, "Here is something I've seen come up for other couples, here are some ways I've seen them deal with it. What do you think?" was tremendous. Nothing that came up was shocking to me–our cantor didn't tell me anything I didn't already know on some level. But still, a truly meaningful experience.

    And you know, I think just having had the experience of going to counseling together will make it easier for us to go to someone if we do want more support in that line later on. Like that NYTimes article said, the average couple spends 6 years being unhappy before seeking help. We now have the experience and confidence to overcome that inertia if we need to.

  • wow, this is such a great post, but my head hurts thinking about all the things we haven't discussed that we should. it's kind of scary, actually. did you find that you were both on the same page about everything or did you disagree? and what did you do when you disagreed? me a little bit afraid. :)

  • I'm so on board with this. I'm forwarding this post to the mister. There's not a lot more I could say that would be more convincing.

  • Meg, this was a wonderful post. I'm nowhere near getting married (not even close to being engaged), but I love your blog.

    I just hope that I can find a secular counselor who was as good as your rabbi.

  • excellent post.

    I DO want to go through pre-marital counseling. However, because the two of us are different relgions, it makes it a tad more difficult. I'm Catholic, and the Catholic church makes my guy a lil squeemish. Eh. Sometimes it makes me a lil squeemish. But that's beside the point.

    Has anyone heard of secular pre-marital counseling? Do such things exist?

  • K

    miss meg. you fascinate me.

    this is something i've never given any thought whatsoever… but now i'm fascinated. does definitely seem like some important things to discuss.

    thanks for sharing. and for always being wise and thought provoking :)

  • fleda

    Jes, there is definitely such a thing as secular pre-marital counseling. I think any pschologist/therapist/psychiatrist/social worker could either help you out or point you to someone who could. You might also consider working with a Unitarian Universalist minister: UUs are very accomodating to people coming from other faiths, as well as people who are essentially secular.

    My fiance and I are athiests, secularists, and were raised UU; we're going to be married by a UU minister who's also going to provide some counseling.

    Meg, do you really mean "ephemeral" (ie, fleeting or transient) when you say "something so ephemeral yet so centrally important as marriage"?

    Was anyone else _not_ big fan of the Weil piece? I was embarrassed for her and her family: she seemed to me to be revealing way too much without offering any real analytical payback. It seemed kind of fluffy and highbrow-reality-TV-ish to me. Frankly I think much of the musing here on this blog is more warm, more provocative, and incisive! That said, of course I read the article compulsively as a I gulped my Sunday coffee…

  • The pastor for our wedding is my fiance's father, who was also my former boss. Although he officiated his other two sons' weddings, his session with us was the first time he did the pre-marital counseling for one of his own children. Talk about potentially awkward! But it was actually great. We had a four hour session to go over the results of an assessment we had taken separately. It was really enlightening and brought to mind some things we hadn't really figured out definitively yet (our session was less than one month into our engagement).

    For those of you looking for a secular approach or a way to "do it yourself" (although I really valued the objective third party) there is a book my friend told me about called The 10 Conversations You Must Have Before You Get Married (And How to Have Them) by Guy Grenier. I actually bought the book and we started going through it, but it was accidentally left behind on a airplane and we haven't purchased another one yet! The nice thing about the book is that he doesn't tell you what to think, but he tells you what to think ABOUT and gives you a helpful framework to discuss the topics. And, honestly, I don't see any reason why couples who are already married wouldn't benefit from having those conversations, either!

  • Neither of us are very religious (though we both were raised in the church) and we don't go to church now.

    How does one go about finding non-religious pre-maritial counseling?

    Anyone have any suggestions? My best idea right now is to call my employers "employee assistance program" that they use to refer people to regular counselors. Google has failed me.

    What about self study counseling (ie, intentionally asking each other certain tough questions)? Would there be any value in that?

  • I would recommend a tool called Prepare-Enrich as part of the pre-marital counseling process; it is about a half-hour long lifestyle/beliefs/values/family of origin questionnaire/inventory you and your partner take, and then you can compare your answers. I believe it was made for faith-based premarital counseling programs originally, but I think they may have revised it now to be more general? In any event, while my husband and I were aware of our differences and similarities, it was wonderfully helpful just to recognize those areas in a thoughtful and processed way with our kind and wise priest.

  • Meg

    To all and sundry-
    You should totally look into secular pre-martial, OF COURSE it exists. I'd call around to seclar counselors in your area and see what they suggest. Our sessions were (as evidenced by my list) almost entirely secular in nature. The one non-secular thing we discussed that I forgot to put on my list is discussing what our concepts of God where. And honestly, I think that *everyone* should dig into this one too, because belief systems are complicated, and I think it's impossible to not end up surprised by something your partner says. Finding out, "What? I knew you were an atheist, but you still do secret wish-prayer things when you get scared?" or "What? We go to church every Sunday and you never ever pray unless you are in church?" or whatever, is startling, and also sort of exciting, since you get to know your partner a little bit better, in one of their most hidden ways.

    @Giovanna I think I ended up surprised and how much we *did* agree on. But as I mentioned above, as long as you don't feel pressure to agree, it will mostly feel like a fascinating revelation of bits of someone you love that you didn't know about before. And if big stuff comes up, this is the time to deal with it… ESPECIALLY if you can do it with a pro. I have a friend who did Pre-Cana (though she is not at all religious personally) and she told me about a really interesting exercise they did. They each had a piece of paper, and they were asked to write down how much money they would feel comfortable speeding at such-and-such store without getting the other partners approval (they were pretty poor at the time). So her partner said, "I wrote down $80." And she said she almost fell out of her chair, "I wrote down $8!!!!!" So. Needless to say, they had a chat about that. And much better to do that in a pre-marital workshop than in a screaming match, when your partner just came home with fabulous non-returnable $80 curtains.

    @StackingPennies You can and should do some of this on your own, if you don't have another option, but I want to emphasize how great it is to have a professional on hand. They will ask you things you never thought of, push you to think in new ways, and challenge you. But I think the very best thing they do is actually give you outside perspective on your relationship (and I mean that in a good way). Since our Rabbi has seen it all, she could compare and contrast for us quickly. Like, "Oh, that's so interesting, you both believe XXX and most people don't, but you both do, huh!" or "you guys are so great at XXX. Make sure you hang on to that skill." So that perspective is priceless. Plus, having someone who pushes you to think about your service (if you can find someone who will talk with you about that too) makes it even richer when you go through with it, I found.

  • @ fleda – I wasn't! I was uncomfortable reading the article, as if it was way too personal for me to get any benefit from it, but also very clincal and impersonal. Maybe I just read it too fast, but it was too invasive for me to want to read it slowly and absorb everything.

    And for people looking for resources in their area, try http://www.twoofus.org ane search by your state. It is an affliate of National Healthy Marriage Resource Center http://www.healthymarriageinfo.org which is sponsored by the US Department of Health and Human Services. (ttp://www.acf.hhs.gov/healthymarriage/)

    I'm sure there are better links, but that's a start!

  • Anonymous

    My huband and I didn't do pre-marital counseling. We did talk about a lot of these things pre-wedding (and continue to talk about a lot of them), but I definitely think a conversation about some of these things would be more productive with a third person. Your talking-point about whether your partner would go to counseling if you asked I think is a really great point. My parents have been married a long time and they really recommend that people go to counseling every once in a while during their marriage when things start to feel tough more than usual, even if you're not sure you have a really big issue to work on. They have felt like it is really helpful to have a third party professional perspective, for the same reasons as it's helpful for pre-marital counseling. That advice is why one really important thing for me was for my husband and I to agree to go to counseling (whether individually or as a couple) if the other person asked.

    Meg, I'd be interested in more posts about marriage advice you have received – and received by Team Practical. My favorite advice (besides the tidbit above from my parents) was that we should try to act and try to perceive the other's actions as if we are always on each other's team and intending outcomes that are good for the team. This advice has helped me pull myself out of some cranky reactions to things.

  • Hannah

    For Catholics we have to do Pre-Cana. We talk a lot about money, and who is going to pay bills and balance the checkbook, and who is going to quit working when we have kids and are we going to have pets? And who is going to cook dinner every night and who is going to clean the house (I cook, he cleans). People keep telling me it's not romantic and what a pain in the ass etc, but these are the same people who tell me that I don't want a little ring (when my children are barfing on me and when I'm washing dogs and when we're hiking the Appalachian Trail etc I'm going to want a little ring). I think in many ways it's the most romantic thing we're doing before getting married. We're talking about OUR LIVES. The lives that we are going to be having together. Not the stupid wedding.

  • I must say that this is a great post. Mr B & I have had relationship counseling and you're right when you say it's one of the best things you can do. It's great to know you're on the same page about things. And I think it's much easier to discuss things before they have the possibility of becoming big issues.

  • This post is exactly why I listed you as one of my favorite blogs on my last post. I really appreciate all the meaningful and insightful things you have to say about relationships. Thank you.


  • Peonies and Polaroids

    This is the best post you've ever written.

    We didn't do pre-marital counselling, in fact it never even crossed our minds as something that happens outside of a religious wedding, and this makes me wish that we had. However a lot of those issues had come up in our relationship so far before we got married – kids, divorce, money issues, wills, infertility, adoption, counselling if necessary (we packed a lot of Big Stuff into our first 3 years!). In fact the only things on your list that we haven't discussed are monogamy and life goals. We should probably have a go at those.

  • Anonymous

    Interesting blog. All of those things you listed are important, and counseling can be helpful to facilitate those topics, but I don't think it's necessary. If you've talked to your partners about it already and feel comfortable about your discussions, then there is no need to feel pressured to add another thing to your pre-wedding to-do list.

    And to answer Fleda's question, I didn't like the Weil article either.

  • agirl

    Fantastic post. One to cut out and keep for sure.

    Also one that I feel I need to send to the priest back home, who only wanted to talk to my mostly agnostic but raised in the Church of England husband about how we *must* raise our children in the Catholic faith. NOT USEFUL.

    Instead, we've had to do our own ad hoc sessions, and I have since learnt that the presence of a professional is indeed very very helpful when you're discussing certain issues!

  • Thank you for sharing this. We will be doing pre-cana (although it's not called that anymore) but I'm looking forward to being FORCED to talk about some of this stuff.

  • @Meg — yes times 1000 to premarital and marriage counseling. I don't have anything insightful to add, but this is SO important.

    @fleda – I didn’t love the Weil piece either, but not because I thought it was an overshare. I think her willingness to talk about this semi-taboo stuff, and the idea of a healthy couple in marriage counseling to make their marriage better, is going to lead to a lot of good conversations.

    What did turn me off was that at the end of the piece, I had no idea why she wanted to be married to her husband. The way she described him, he came across as narcissistic, immature, and a bit of a bully. I know I can’t possibly have a complete picture of him, or of their marriage, from one article written from her point of view. But I couldn’t fathom why Weil wanted this man as a life partner when he seemed so selfish and insecure, and I had trouble feeling happy about her conclusion that they were now more committed than ever if this is really what he's like (and/or this is really how she sees him).

  • thank you, thank you for saying that couples should talk about divorce before they get married–i completely agree. i am a huge fan of premarital counseling. i had a spiritual director in college, and found it really powerful to discuss personal things with a professional of faith. my church requires premarital counseling, and i really wish mine would have been more like yours. ours was…not terribly helpful. but i think the point, at the end of the day, is to get used to the idea of talking to others about your relationship, and to see that there are professionals to talk to when issues come up, or in the good times, too. one of my friends did not want to do premarital counseling with his now-wife b/c "they loved each other, and didn't need it." it was such crap, and we and she told him so. they did premarital counseling anyway. i totally believe that it is incredibly loving to go through premarital counseling with your partner, and i can't recommend it enough. while i wish we had had a more powerful experience, doing it was meaningful and useful nonetheless.

  • Vee

    I think this is probably one of the best blog posts I've ever read. Because my FI and I are not getting married in a church, we are not required to have any sort of counseling… but I know that many of these issues you list are issues that are going to come up for us in our future. This was such an enlightening read. Thank you.

  • I had thought that pre-marital counseling was not right for us until I read this post … We had a friend marry us, and the JP, so there was no formal process at all for us. We have a fantastic relationship, and I've always been one of those "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" kind of gals, but honestly it wouldn't hurt to get some things said before they come up as life events. Thanks!

  • My Mr-2-be and I are both in emergency medicine as a paramedic and a paramedic student. We had thought about the PMC but were not looking forward to having to explain the "lifestyle" of the average medic to a "civilian" counselor. We both work nights in places where we are saying we will be ready for the worst humanity has to offer from violence to illness to tragic accidents. We are signing up to be the ones to help when everything goes wrong. That said some nights things are slow and you watch a lot of bad TV from an easy chair. The point is there is a crouched and ready mentality and stress that comes with that. There is a need to decompress after the fast and slow nights. It would be hard to explain why some nights I sit up and worry that he might get hurt at work and then I am angry when he comes home late (safe but late) because he had a late call and didn't think to text me because he knew I would be asleep at 430am. A man came and spoke to my Medic class who specializes in counseling first responders. Firemen, Cops and EMS providers. My Mr and I were pumped. He does a lot of work with first responder couples and really enjoys the premarital stuff. We are very excited.
    We love our jobs and we love eachother but we would happily take help building a better stronger relationship for the future. Thanks for continuing to post topics that resonate in a timely and often inspiring way.

  • Great article! Thank you for posting this. Like you in the beginning, I thought that pre-marital counseling was about couples' issues. We're Catholic and we have Pre-Cana, but we don't have to do it coz we're doing a non-denominational ceremony. But after reading your article, I think I may want some sort of pre-marital counseling before the wedding.

  • Cate Subrosa

    Loved the article, looking forward to Elizabeth Weil's book coming out. (Let us know if you hear it's been released, won't you?)

    Our counselling was pre-engagement rather than pre-marital (which seems like an even better idea to me) and was definitely the best thing I ever did. Not just for us, but for me.

    We're like couple's counselling evangelists around here now. Every time someone gets engaged I want to buy them a session to get them started. And every time Nate hears about a couple having issues he says "they should go to Relate!" (big UK couple's and family counselling charity).

    Great post, Meg. I loved the list. There's a couple of things on there we should get around to talking about too.

  • Anonymous

    Wow. I linked to this from another site and am so glad I did. Excellent post. I'm in the camp of wanting pre-engagement counseling, let alone pre-marital. Not that I need to worry yet ;) but this post really hit home.

  • Kirsten

    I don't know. While I really like this point, I don't know if premarital counselling is right for everybody. Maybe it's just me, but I had already spoken with my husband about all these types of things long before we got married.

    However, I think that is partly because of our type of relationship. We have very little in common in way of hobbies, etc, but find kinship in our values, ethics and worldviews.

    Thereby, I never would have fallen totally head over heels in love with my husband had I not known these things about him in the first place.

    I do believe that premarital discussions/counselling on fundamental issues is incredibly important, but I think there are many more alternative methods to this than are noted here.

  • Kirsten

    … and by point, I mean post. Yeesh.

  • Anonymous

    Meg, if you ever turn this blog into a book, it would be a best-seller. THIS is the most important stuff engaged couples should be discussing.


  • Meg

    Oh, we'd discussed all or almost of this stuff too, but TRUST me, there is always more to talk about. Especially right before such a big step. And what everyone has to discuss is different (and often surprising even to ourselves) which is why I can't suggest strongly enough that you go talk to a pro. Worst case? It wastes 5 hours of your life. But that is 5 hours pre-wedding that you are focused on talking about your lives together, which if nothing else drives home why you are doing this.

    And if nothing nothing else? It gets you out of the "ehhh, we can work it out on our own" mindset that most of us have, just a little bit. That way if things ever do get bad (and in most of the best marriages I know there have been really rough spots) then you already have practice with the idea that talking to a professional is something worth doing. My parents are also among the crowd, mentioned by a commenter above, who say that over the course of a lifetime happy couples end up in therapy a few times if they are smart. When things get a bit choppy, sometimes a little help makes you say, "Ahhhh, I see. Oh, ok, I can work with this," instead of communication getting worse and worse.

    So that's my two cents. You might not have the same things to gain from it that we did, but I 110% think everyone should do it, no matter how figured out they think they have it (and trust me, we're pretty figured out).

  • Oh, I get your point Meg, I just disagree a bit. I'm not saying I know everything, because I don't, but I don't always think that counselling, or therapy, is the right choice for everyone. While I realize that's not so common anymore, especially since I've been to therapy myself lol, I just want people to take some ownership of these discussions themselves, if they can. If they can't, or don't, seek professionals. I just think that pros should be used more in the emergency situations, and that people can use common sense and life skills to work the majority of the rough patches out. But that's just my opinion :)

  • Meg. Oh Meg. THIS is why you are a writer, and why I'm so glad to be involved with this bloggy community.

    We were married after living together, and I thought we'd covered all the bases, but those questions from your rabbi are so damned pertinent, it's a wonder that we worry at all about the flowers beforehand when we Should be talking about the future, and THINGS THAT ACTUALLY MATTER.

    Thanks for tempering wedding craziness with some actual real advice.

  • April

    Due to my family dynamic and background, along with my husband's line of work, we actually covered quite a lot of things like wills, insurance, family stuff, kids, adoption, religion, money, divorce, etc. etc. very early on.

    We did not, however, talk about counseling in general. I guess I felt like we'd gotten the big stuff handled and discussed.

    One thing we didn't talk about was a timeline for buying a house. He's READY for a house RIGHT.NOW. The prospect of a mortgage scares the crap outta me, however. And I still have a laundry list of foreign countries I want to trek around in before we hang a mortgage around our necks. So that little life goal (home ownership) has been kicking our marital asses lately.

    We also never discussed supporting our parents. Mine are 3 years from retirement and haven't a dime. While I am estranged from my family, I also wouldn't ever let them starve or lose their house. The mister has never met them, and they don't accept he and I, so of course, the thought of potentially supporting them gives us both hives.

    I think you can be prepared for marriage, but I also think there's stuff that's just gonna end up in the "we'll cross that bridge when we arrive at it" category.

  • I agree…BUT I feel like all of those things should be discussed by a couple long before they are already engaged in and halfway down the aisle. I didn't feel comfortable getting engaged to my husband until we had already talked through all those issues, and then I could feel at ease saying "Yes, I am prepared to spend the rest of my life with you." That's probably why we were together for 8 years before getting engaged, but it's just what felt right to me, personally.

  • Meg

    Maybe… but not so formally. We certinly hadn't discussed seven questions on how we'd like to be treated in hospice care, or written and essay about our relationship, or drawn up a list of 50 values we wanted to impart to our children, or talked about managomy and cheating in front of a pro.

    But which I mean, of course you know a lot about each other. You're getting MARRIED. But there is something to be said about the formality of it, about saying these things with a professional who can push you farther (I did not get into our farther in this post, for obvious reasons) and for putting things on paper.

    It's like marriage. You already have a great committed relationship, so why bother? Well, because formality means something, saying things outloud in front of ohers means something, writing things down means something.

    So it's like that. Taking those vows and talking about them in depth.

  • Anonymous

    We didn't do pre-marital counseling, but we have talked about all the things on the list. :)

    As for the discussion on divorce, there's one couple I know that were very, very adamant that divorce was never on the table for them. I think I heard that at least 5 times during the wedding planning process.

    During our first 6 months when we were working out the kinks, while we were nowhere even remotely close to divorce or even mentioning it, I know the female in this couple definitely judged us and the fact that I was open with our difficulties.

    About two weeks shy of that couple's first anniversary, she kicked him out and they filed for divorce because he was cheating on her (among quite a few other problems).

    I don't know why this is so relevant to me, but it IS. Do I want to end up divorce? Hells no. But I can't speak for what's going to happen a year from now let alone 20 years from now. We're rock solid, but I don't feel the need to declare it by opposing divorce. Of course I'm opposed to divorce; I'm married and love my husband fiercely. We love our marriage fiercely. But I also recognize that marriage has its ups and downs, extreme highs and extreme lows. I think I just hold the faith that we will work it out rather than shouting my opposition from the rooftops.

    • I absolutely agree because I was that bride. I swore up and down that divorce was NOT an option– until 5 years later when I caught my husband cheating and he told me he’d been doing it all along and that he was NOT sorry and he didn’t want to be married anymore. I had assumed that if the marriage was in crisis we would go to counseling, work through the issues, etc., but he refused. All of the sudden I was a woman who doesn’t believe in divorce calling a divorce attorney. Our divorce was fairly simple because we earned equally and we had no assets before we married, no children, and he decided to go into the Marines so I got the “stuff” by default. But it was still heart-wrenching. And I remember back to one of our marriage counseling sessions when the preacher told us gently that maybe we shouldn’t get married. He performed the ceremony, but if I had listened to him then I could have saved myself 5 years and a lot of pain.

      Now I am getting married again and I know what to talk about before taking the leap. I’m 7 years older than when I got engaged the first time, and I still don’t “believe” in divorce as a first option, but now I think it’s vital that my fiancee and I discuss all the scenarios, especially the worst case scenario. And also I remember thinking that divorce was an “easy out” with disdain, in all of my 19-year-old wisdom. Even though my divorce was straight forward it was definitely NOT easy.

  • I have bookmarked a lot of your posts, Meg, but I think this one above all others really grabbed my attention and made me think. It's so easy to forget that the wedding is not the most important thing here… every single day after the wedding is what's really important.

    I don't think my fiance and I ever considered premarital counseling, mostly because we're having a completely non-religious wedding and our officiant is a friend of the family. But I just emailed him this post, and I think it's something we should really look into. While we've talked about a lot of things on that list, there are still a lot we haven't covered – and haven't thought to cover – so it would probably do us a world of good to have a pro bringing up all those things we're forgetting.

    I'm sending this to all my engaged friends.

  • Meg

    @Katie Jane Parker
    I kind of love you :) Thank you for telling me you liked it, not just liking it. Warm fuzzy.

  • Meg, As you know, I feel so strongly about this and agree with you wholeheartedly. I'm late to read, but I so love this post and I wanted to thank you for writing it.

  • I wasn’t sure where to get started on a Practical Wedding with such a wealth of information. I’m glad I started with this post. I am definitely a cheerleader of pre-marital counseling…and I really enjoyed the points you made here. Thanks for sharing!

  • You know what I JUST realized as I re-read through this and thought about my parents’ divorce? That seeing them go through that ordeal and come out on the other side still civilized and soon after married to people that are great for them made me more OK with the thought of divorce. Not that I would want to get divorced but if I did, I’d want to have a divorce like my parents. That sounds weird, I don’t want a marriage like theirs but they set a good example of divorce being a blessing as your rabbi put it. I’m re-reading this post because I want to discuss the things you talk about here before my boyfriend and I move in together in the next few months.
    Additionally, I was recently talking to a male co-worker whose thoughts on marriage and his own marriage/wife enrage me. He’s in a bad marriage but doesn’t want to be “divorced” and I told him honestly that I think divorce (in general, not just his) can on occasion be a blessing because I’d read this post. I think something small, very small, shifted in his brain a little.

  • jlc12118

    we are doing counseling with our pastor – it’s definitely been one of the most enjoyable things we’ve done to date! We come out loving each other more every time…

    but – in defense of the myers-briggs – yes, as a “are you compatible?” tool a little late – but – if used right, it can be a great “OH! That’s why you do that?” tool… to help people really understand their partner’s personality and what makes them tick…

  • Ian

    I love this article and agree that premarital counselling is an excellent idea. As a therapist and counsellor working in Manchester, UK I work with couples who relationships have broken down because they didnt really plan for the stress and strains that everyone faces in long term relationships. Premarital counselling can sort the probelms out before they start.

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  • jennie

    I’m so glad I found APW (just this week)! Thanks for all the posts and comments. Reading them makes me feel like my situation is not unique and that’s a great feeling! Since I will be getting married for the second time, I’m a lot more conscious of the importance of communication this time around. We’ve read through and discussed some relationship books together already, but we would still like to get pre-marital counseling. The difficulty is knowing whom to go to. We live in SF. Can anyone recommend a good counselor in the city? We’re not particularly religious (I have a protestant background and he’s not religious).

    By the way, I highly recommend Gary Chapman’s book The Five Love Languages. It talks how people perceive love differently. For some people it may be doing house chores, for others it may be physical touch. The important thing is to provide your mate the love he or she needs. It sounds trivial in the early years of a relationship, but over time this is how you keep your mate’s “love tank” filled.

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  • Maria Paz

    SO true, SUCH good advice, SO well written! Man, this is why I love APW.

  • Thank you for this insightful article! I myself am a minister/wedding officiant. I just put together my very own non-denominational premarital counseling program….after 20 years as a minister! I guess I’m the only ordained minister who has ever been through divorce and wants to help their clients not just have a great wedding but have a great marriage. I feel like this is one of the downfalls of using ordained/non-denominational ministers as wedding officiants–churches often require couples to do premarital counseling; freelance wedding officiant AKA “ministers” do not. I’m hoping my clients will see the value of the 2.5 hours of the program, but I sense there will be resistance. “What do we need premarital ‘counseling’ for? We’re happily in love.” Sigh! P.S. Brides, it’s not really couple’s counseling–it’s just a class in how to be married.

  • Jeanette

    My fiance and I are 3 months from our wedding and are looking to find a good premarital counselor right now. We strongly believe that it will help us step on this path of life together in the same direction. We talk about things all the time but still know that an outside prospective from someone who deals with the issues that we may not even realize we need to talk about (like divoroce) is a good thing.

    We are looking forward to getting started on this step that leads to a wonderful path of life together.

    Thank you for this blog even 4 years later it is very helpful.

  • Nancy

    Husbands really need to be careful of other woman outside their marriage,this was a true life story that happened to me to my own notice my sister took my husband from me the Husband whom i have love so much and promise me that no woman will take him from me but all of a sudden things turned apart if not for my friend hear in USA that told me i needed a spell caster that can cast a spell to separate them maybe by now he must have went for a divorce which could have made me commit suicide because i loved him so much likewise like him also but how things turn around was a thing that surprised me.
    I vowed that any thing it could cost me i must separate him and my elder sister i then collected the contact of this spell caster from my friend Mary she told me his name is spiritual Priest Ajigar and his email is priestajigarspells@live.com i contacted him and narrated the whole story to him he consulted and found out that my sister visited a spell caster that casted a spell that made him love her i then ask him what to do he told me that this spell needed to be broken so that my husband can leave her alone and come back to me the spell was broken and within three days he began to hate her that he even beat her up before he said to her that it is over between him and her right now my husband is with me again and take good care of me like he have never done before i thank my friend Mary but i own all thanks to priest Ajigar for bringing back my husband and i therefore for advice that if you notice any strange behavior in your marriage or your boy friend or girlfriend is cheating you contact Priest Ajigar to know the root of it he will surely help you out and give an everlasting solution to it.

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  • Me

    PMC is very important, i broke up with my ex-fiance after our PMC. There, i saw many reasons why we shouldn’t continue with the marriage and i am happy i did. I am willing to go for PMC over again

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    The Counsellor North London helps to unravel then cut back their power over our current lives.Often these defences were place in situ to guard United States from emotional pain after we were younger and currently area units are not serving their purpose and are inflicting a lot of hurt than sensible.

  • crish

    Pre marriage counseling is good idea. To PMC people can clear both confusion that revolve in your mind.

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  • Christine Bravo

    Its true that marriage takes commitment, trust, and the willingness to look more closely at your own process rather than that of your partner. Great article it highlighted the importance of premarital marriage counselling for couples.

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