Most Marriage & Family Therapists (MFTs) and psychotherapists who deal with couples’ counselling often come aboard once there’s a problem within the relationship that requires addressing. Couples heading into commitments and marriages will more often seek premarital counselling from their chosen officiants or more familiar spiritual caregivers, but MFTS are increasingly privileged to have the chance to work with clients embarking on these kinds of commitment processes. It’s a great deal of fun, most of the time, to sit with clients who are puzzling through interesting questions that explore themselves or their partners, topics or areas of interest on which they may never have had the inspiration to reflect before. Sometimes these discussions lead to increased understanding and closeness; sometimes they lead to uncovering differences of opinion or values that generate discomfort, and it’s our job to help our clients navigate both types of experience.
The types of questions that form the core of premarital counselling vary; there are some good resources in general you can Google if you’re looking to start some of these conversations yourself. A very recent article from the New York Times provides a really nice set of topics to explore that’s worth sharing. It covers uncomfortable topics around the values for sharing debt, the impact of experiences with exes, autonomy and shared interests, parental relationship models, sex and pornography, and more. Relationships in the 21st century are a little different than they were in out parents’ and grandparents’ generations, when gender models and relationship values were often VERY different, and “obedience” was still an expected part of marriage vows. The value for communication through the process of shared discovery is vastly more important now, recognized as a critical factor in the success or failure of relationships more and more every day. “Improving communications” is probably one of the most common issues couples in crisis report as a goal for relationship counselling.
If more couples would seek premarital counselling — individually or with their partners, in private sessions or group workshops — perhaps we might arm them with better tools for navigating the evolutionary landscape of their partnership over time. Advanced preparation might decrease the number of couples arriving at therapists’ office already in the fire of conflict, and that would be A-OK by most therapists.