Get on track before you head down the isle.
If you are engaged and planning on getting married, you may have thought about premarital counseling. Premarital therapy isn’t for everyone -- some couples have a solid foundation and effective communication to create a strong bond. However, my view of premarital counseling is that it can be helpful in some way for most couples planning on saying “I do.” Just as you wouldn’t fly a plane without flying lessons, premarital counseling acts like a safety course, teaching you how to handle terbulance and all the working parts of your relationship. Premarital counseling sessions are about helping couples learn the rules of communication, explore marriage expectations, and discuss strategy plans for the unexpected future. Most premarital therapy is used as a preventative tool -- think of it as a way to get your relationship solid before walking into the married world.
What to look for to determine if you need premarital counseling:
In addition to getting premarital counseling as a way to build a strong foundation, if you recognize any of the following issues in your relationship, couples counseling is a good idea before tying the knot.
You are a thriving couple that is determined to have “happily ever after”
You and your partner simply want to be prepared for your marriage and to build a solid foundation for your relationship. Thriving and proactive couples often seek out premarital counseling to improve what they already have. Most couples I see in this case, are happy together, excited for their future, and are determined to have a “happily ever after.”
Your partner suggests couples counseling
If your partner suggests counseling, this is a sign that things haven’t quite been corrected in the relationship. People don’t suggest working with a professional when the relationship has a solid connection. It is very common that one partner cries out for help and the other person completely misses the critical issue until years later once the relationship has become entirely unraveled. Take the suggestion of counseling seriously when your partner brings it up — it’s better to address your issues BEFORE you get married, so don’t simply blow off the suggestion of premarital counseling.
The relationship is sexless
One of the signs that a relationship is dwindling is a lack of intimacy in the bedroom. In a secure relationships, both emotional closeness and sexual closeness keep things balanced. Intimacy can go in waves through the years, but if there is an ongoing drought that lasts months or years, this is a sign to seek professional help. If you are planning on waiting for sex until you are married, premarital counseling can be a safe place to talk about your expectations when you do get married and start having sex.
You become burnt-out
Going from completely engaged and seeking closeness to a completely “burnt-out” position is a danger zone. When this happens, you haven’t given up on the relationship, yet you are unwilling to expose any vulnerable needs or to rely on your partner. This is a sign that things have been changing and you could be going down a dangerous road, headed towards complete disconnection. This is a critical time for couples to seek counseling and get both people to engage in the relationship, especially since you are about to get married!
There’s been infidelity
This may be a no brainer for some people, but affairs are signs that premarital counseling is needed. Whether the affair was just revealed, or you are active in the affair, it is critical to understand why this happened in the first place and heal any emotional injuries. Many couples think that they can simply lock up the past, say “I am sorry,” and move on. In reality, affairs are very fragile situations where the repair work is critical and must handled in a healing way. Every second counts when rebuilding trust and regaining the security in a relationship. Moving on doesn’t mean shutting the door to pain, but it also doesn’t mean you relive the pain over and over. Seeking counseling helps couples handle the fears and emotions that arise in the present and take action to create a long term resolution.
You’re seeking comfort from others
When either you or your partner quickly go to friends or family before turning to the relationship, you should seek counseling. When we no longer turn to one another to resolve issues and instead turn to others for support, a wedge is created in the relationship. Sometimes it becomes easier and easier to turn to others and this can quickly snow ball into a drawn out relationship that dissolves over time. You need to learn to work together so that when you are officially a married couple, you can truly work together as a team instead of starting out on the wrong foot.
You’re fantasizing or beginning to have feelings for others
Thoughts can be thoughts and simply just that. But other times a fantasy leads us to an exciting place where it would be easy to cross the line if the opportunity arises. It is vital to get at the heart of why you get so excited when your co-worker sends you a text, or a friend calls you. If your relationship was solid and secure you wouldn’t consider being with someone else. Something significant is going on, and things are lacking in your current relationship. Start couples counseling to figure out what you aren’t getting in the relationship and give your partner an opportunity to get it right with you before it is too late.
The fighting is bad
When fights continue to go to bad places, either verbally or physically, couples counseling is essential. The more attacks you take at one another, the more you drive each other way and develop a bad habit when it comes to communication. Any time the relationship becomes degrading or hurtful, it is time to seek some expert advice on how to stop the damage and to the relationship.
If you recognize any of these problems in your relationship before you get married, you NEED to get back on track before going through with the wedding. If there are serious cracks in the foundation of your relationship now, they won’t get magically fixed by walking down the aisle. Seek out premarital counseling so you can learn better communication and built trust and a secure bond in the relationship now. Think of premarital counseling as an investment in your marriage.
About Jennine Estes, MFT
Think of me as your relationship consultant, I'm your neutral third party that can help you untangle the emotions and help you figure out what's really going on. I am a Marriage and Family Therapist in San Diego, CA. Certified in Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples. Supervisor. I write relationship and self growth advice for my column Relationships in the Raw. Creator of #BeingLOVEDIs campaign. MFC#47653