DIY Premarital Counseling: Is It Possible?

Sure, you’ve heard a few folks recommend it. Your parents swear it. Your officiant urges you to purchase a few sessions every time you speak to her. But is premarital counseling really necessary?

After all, you’ve got a wedding to pay for, and you didn’t exactly leave a ton of room in the budget for sitting on a couch next to a person with a clipboard, discussing the exact level of your commitment to one another.

So you’re tempted to fall back on that classic affordable wedding approach: do-it-yourself. But is DIY premarital counseling really a good idea?

Sometimes You Just Can’t DIY Everything

Some wedding officiants offer a mandatory pre-wedding counseling session or two before they will perform the marriage ceremony. (This is most common with religious ceremonies.) If you want a wedding ceremony from an officiant in this category, you’ll have to also go through the counseling session–and include its cost in your payment or donation.

Before you start moaning about loss of time and money, however, look at the bright side. The reason many officiants are so gung-ho about marriage counseling is because they’ve been through this many, many times before–and they’ve seen it work.

It’s not a bad idea to sit down with your intended and make sure you’re on the same page as far as commitment, spirituality, finances, disagreement style, and all of the other little (okay, gigantic) things that make a marriage work.

Even if you come away thinking, “What a waste of time!” you’ll have the security of knowing that you and your spouse-to-be were already on the same page before committing to the most important union of your life.

Sometimes You Can And Here’s How

If you and your sweetheart are already very open with each other about your feelings, and if you can talk about emotions easily, you may be ready to attempt DIY premarital counseling. It helps if both of you have been to other types of counseling sessions in the past, so you have a frame of reference.

Remember to treat your DIY session seriously–this is not something to attempt while rushing to make coffee and get dressed for work. Set aside a time and quiet place where you will not be interrupted by anything for at least an hour. Turn your phones off, put past arguments aside, and get ready to really listen to each other.

Before you begin your session, it helps to have a road map. Agree ahead of time on the important topics to discuss. This will guide your session to the areas you both feel are the most important–spirituality, family life, financial responsibility, and so on. That’s one of the major advantages of DIY counseling, after all; you get to custom-tailor your discussion to the parts that matter most.

The exact questions are up to you, but here are some examples: How much of a say do our in-laws get in our lives? How do we want to raise children (or do we want children at all)? Should one of us have more authority over certain aspects of our daily life? What does an ideal sex life look like? Who will handle the financial decisions? How active will we be in our religious community?

Don’t forget to address methods for disagreement. After all, it’s easy to get along well when you agree with your spouse; the trick to a healthy marriage is getting along well even when you disagree.

Pay attention to methods like describing problems rather than criticizing each other, not letting defensiveness get in the way of improvement, and focusing on getting it right rather than being right. Laying out ground rules for disagreement now will give you something constructive to do when the heat of the moment comes.

Write down your answers and thoughts to each question privately, and don’t shy away from areas that feel a little embarrassing or uncomfortable–that’s actually a sign that you need to discuss them with the person who’s about to become your life partner.

When you each bring your written responses to the session, they will form the starting point for a valuable discussion. Encourage emotional vulnerability and leave blame at the door–this is a time for tackling the tough issues together, as a team.

With A Little Help from Your Friends

If laying out your entire relationship up front seems a little daunting, don’t worry. It’s a huge task and many couples aren’t up for doing it alone. (After all, good communication is one of the things premarital counseling can help you improve.) You don’t have to go into debt because you can’t afford a professional counselor, though.

Think about some of the older, more experienced couples you know who seem to have a happy marriage. Chances are, if you ask them whether they’d like to share some of their wisdom and advice with you, they’ll be flattered.

Even something as informal as an afternoon discussion over tea could leave you with an insight that stays with you until it’s your turn to advise an eager couple hoping to embark on a marriage as happy as yours.

Further resources to help

If you’re considering pre-marital counseling, here are some resources that can help:

  1. American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT): The AAMFT is a professional association that offers a directory of licensed marriage and family therapists. You can search for therapists in your area who specialize in pre-marital counseling.
  2. Gottman Institute: The Gottman Institute is a research-based organization that focuses on improving relationships. They offer pre-marital counseling resources, including a book and an online assessment tool that can help identify areas of strength and areas for growth in your relationship.
  3. Prepare/Enrich: Prepare/Enrich is a pre-marital counseling program that has been used by millions of couples worldwide. It offers an assessment tool that identifies areas of strength and areas for growth in your relationship, as well as customized exercises and activities to help you build a strong foundation for your marriage.
  4. Local counseling centers: Many local counseling centers offer pre-marital counseling services. You can search for counseling centers in your area and ask if they offer pre-marital counseling or if they can refer you to a therapist who does.
  5. Your religious institution: If you are affiliated with a religious institution, they may offer pre-marital counseling services. You can check with your religious leader or ask for recommendations from other members of your community.

When choosing a pre-marital counseling resource, it’s important to find one that meets your specific needs and preferences. Be sure to do your research, ask questions, and compare options before making a decision.

Pre-marital counseling can be a valuable investment in your relationship, and can help you build a strong and healthy foundation for your marriage.