At long last you have found the person of your dreams, you are deeply in love, and you have set the date for a wedding. What a strange time to be thinking about seeing a therapist! Aren’t therapists the ones you turn to when your heart has been broken and it seems like your life is falling apart? And yet, many churches and wedding officiants now require a certain number of sessions with a marriage counselor before they will proceed with carrying out a wedding. The idea has been established that seeing a therapist prior to a marriage can bestow some sort of due diligence or guarantee that the relationship will work out better than it would have otherwise. Maybe it will put the brakes on a shaky plan that never should have developed into a marriage proposal.
What are the chances that premarital counseling makes any difference to a couple at all? Is it worth spending good money to go see a therapist just because you are about to legally and morally cement a connection to your partner? As a marriage and family therapist for over 20 years, my answer is: It depends. Here are my top 10 conditions that suggest it might be a waste of your resources:
10. Your potential mother-in-law insists on coming along to make sure you are good to her little darling, and you can’t see any downside to this idea.
9. Your partner wants to bring the dog along, since Spot — who will be the ring bearer on the big day — will be sharing the marital bed, and surely the therapist needs to get the full picture.
8. Your partner has already seen ten therapists for individual therapy, and half of them said not to marry you.
7. You met your future bride or groom last week.
6. One of your parents is the marriage and family therapist you plan to see.
5. The referral is to a person who changes the subject when you ask about what license they hold to be doing marriage and family therapy work.
4. You seem to get a headache every time your sweetheart calls or texts.
3. Your partner has agreed to come to the counseling sessions, but has already told you he or she plans to let you do all the talking and resents the session as a waste of time.
2. You haven’t quite ended a previous relationship, but you keep meaning to get around to that.
1. You hope the counselor will convince you that you actually do love your partner, because you are pretty sure you don’t.
On the other hand, here are some conditions that bode well for pre-marital counseling:
1. This was your idea, not something forced onto you by an outside authority.
2. You and your partner have a history of being able to look at an uncomfortable difference between you without it becoming grounds for another world war.
3. You are more interested in being married than you are in being right.
4. You think of couple counseling as a place where you can get help in changing yourself somehow for the sake of a better relationship, as opposed to going with the hope of fixing what’s wrong with your partner.
5. You can admit what you are scared about, what annoys you about your partner, and what it is that you know you tend to do that could make things hard for the other person.
6. You have a sense of humor about yourself, and a nice capacity to laugh at yourself when that is what is called for.
7. You like the idea of asking someone else to help you look at the strengths and weaknesses of your relationship.
8. You trust that all relationships have bumps in the road, so you want to get some tips on how to recognize conflicts early on and respond in helpful ways.
9. You have some curiosity about how growing up in your own family shaped the way you turned out. You’d like your marriage to reflect the things you like about your family of origin, and you’d like to get past the old baggage.
10. You want some guidance in how to hear what your partner says about you as useful information to consider, as opposed to either pure wisdom to adopt or grounds for self-contempt.