8 Critical Lessons the Best Premarital Counseling Programs Provide

I’ve said this so much, but it bears repeating:

“Relationship skills do not come naturally. We are not born with the relationship skills we need. They must be taught and practiced, just as language, cooking or math skills must be taught and practiced.”

Wouldn’t preparing your first Thanksgiving dinner be much more enjoyable if you had taken the time to read recipes, understand your kitchen appliances and even watch another more experienced cook get that gravy going (while getting stuffing with no guidance or practice, that’s just how many young couples venture into marriage today. Their fights are the trial and error approach, but each conflict has the potential to shake the bond they’ve built. They’re exploring what the other partner will respond to or even tolerate . . . often in ways they don’t even understand themselves! Unfortunately, bewildering conflicts can inflict long-standing damage, eroding the relationship. Education and practice can impede relationship heartache and even reduce the divorce rate by 31%.[1]The best pre-marital counseling, also known as marriage and relationship education, should include lessons on:

1. Communication, Communication, Communication!

Good, healthy communication is the cornerstone to a healthy relationship and most marriages fail because of poor communication skills. We are not born with stellar communication skills and most people never learn them. What most don’t realize is that effective communication skills have been studied and catalogued, tested, and tried extensively. Therefore, they can be taught, practiced and mastered. Good communication leads couples to one of the most important aspects of emotional connection and safety between couples: vulnerability. Couples must feel safe enough to let down their guard and be vulnerable in order to discuss fears, desires, beliefs, values, and dreams. You would be surprised at the number of couples who make it to 50 years of marriage without ever being emotionally vulnerable to each other. Premarital communication work empowers couples to discuss marriage stressors before they cause harm to the relationship. Intentional dialogue and conflict resolution skills learned during the premarital course gives the marriage stability, cohesiveness and trust when difficult times set in. By learning to be proactive rather than reactive, couples learn practical ways to talk out problems—safely—before it’s too late.

2. Conflict Resolution

Few of us have learned how to resolve conflict in a calm and loving way. When conflict in our family of origin is only resolved through stressful, loud and frightening interaction, children learn to imitate that style or avoid conflict all together. Neither style underlies a genuine, safe and nurturing marriage. Every couple has conflict. The best pre-marital counseling programs helps couples understand conflict as an opportunity to grow individually and move beyond personality boundaries. Pre-marital counseling also enlightens couples about the inevitable “power struggle stage” in marriage, normalizing it so it doesn’t cause too much distress.

3. Problematic Family of Origin Issues

We come together from different families of origin. We have learned and have been imprinted, for better and for worse, by these early experiences of connection or lack of connection with our primary caregivers. During premarital education programs childhood wounds are discussed and couples learn how they play out in a primary relationship. Most couples find this process fascinating, even liberating. In workshop setting, individuals gain great support from others who have experienced similar family of origin stressors. There is great comfort in knowing we are not alone. More, partners of the one revealing a childhood wound also gain by learning others have similar experiences.

4. Creating a Relationship Vision

Marriage is a long-term investment together. The relationship that you yearn for doesn’t just happen. It must be co-created with your partner over time. Few couples ever sit down and fully discuss their vision for the relationship. It’s important to put heads together and look at how you would like the future to look. What does a perfect relationship look like to you? What is your vision for the relationship? Do you both want children? If so, how many? What about travel, money, volunteerism, personal growth?

5. Clarification of Roles and Duties

It’s common for married couples to never discuss who will be doing what in the marriage. This can apply to jobs, finances, chores, sexual intimacy and more. Having an open and honest discussion about what each of you expect from the other in a variety of areas leads to fewer surprises and upsets down the road. Premarital work can help get any potential issues out in the open so couples are not shocked by them months into the marriage.

6. Clarification of Financial Values

Each of the couples brings a financial history and even ingrained habits to the marriage. Ongoing financial discord can actually destroy a marriage. Getting on the same page as far as spending is another component of honest communication during premarital work.

7. Intimacy and Sex

Open dialogue regarding the complexities of sustaining desire in long-term relationships is essential. How do you keep the romance alive? Intimacy is often defined differently from person to person. Understanding these issues are critical to the long-term success of the marriage.