Premarital Counseling

What is premarital counseling?

You’re getting married – YAY! In the excitement of all the planning and blending of families the last thing on your mind might be to get a therapist, but chances are that if you’re on this page reading this that it probably has crossed your mind. 

If you’re here because you’ve heard of premarital counseling or it was recommended to you by a friend, family member, or even your priest and you’re not sure exactly what it is, let’s just get to some basics first. 

Let’s start with a simple definition and some fundamentals

Premarital counseling, also called premarital therapy or sometimes even pre-marriage counseling, is a series of counseling sessions where you and your partner learn skills and patterns that might exist in your relationship that will help guide you on how to have the best marriage possible. 

This may include understanding how to overcome fights you are already having, or that may come up from the pressure of planning a wedding. If you’re in the fortunate position of not having many fights, premarital counseling can be more about making sure your vision and goals are in alignment and that you are setting yourself up for success. 

Often there are questions that you don’t think to ask at the start of a marriage that can really affect things down the road. For example: if one of your parents gets sick is there an assumption that they would move in with you? Clearing things like this up early helps get on the same page and avoid explosions in your marriage down the road.

How long is premarital counseling?

Premarital counseling sessions are typically an hour long. The industry standard is for a therapy hour to be 50 minutes, but sometimes it can also take up the full hour. For me personally the deciding factor on if the session is 50 minutes or 60 minutes is whether or not there are notes to take, if a restroom break is needed, or if there’s a session coming in right after you and it’s a bit more courteous to leave a buffer of a couple minutes. I personally go the full hour myself but I’m not the norm by any means. 

You might also be wondering how many sessions does premarital counseling last and how often do you meet with your counselor. While there is no hard and fast rule I try to tell people that you want to plan on meeting weekly for at least 6 sessions (with an average of 8) to make sure you have enough time to dig into some of the nuances of what is going to make your relationship thrive.

If you are experiencing some more serious issues or arguments in your relationship, that might be indicative of things being a little more acute in your relationship and that might warrant more sessions. Every couple should be assessed on a case by case basis. I’ve had some couples who came in for just 2 or 3 sessions and were in a really good place and I’ve had some couples where they came to me 6 months prior to the wedding and they stayed with me even after walking down the aisle. 

How much does premarital counseling cost?

The cost for premarital counseling from someone who specializes in it is not cheap. While you may be able to find some therapists who are in-network it is my personal experience that therapists who specialize in couples work and have a reputation for being good at it left insurance a long time ago. Of course, you could get lucky and find a diamond in the rough in-network with your insurance who has availability and get away with a $10 – $20 copay. 

If you’re planning on seeing someone who is known for their couples work and has been doing it for a while and they aren’t paneled with your insurance (like me), the rate is going to depend somewhat on your location but from experience you’re looking at between $200 – $300 a session. My advice is to plan around $2,000 of out of pocket expenses for premarital counseling if you want to take it seriously. If you plan for it with that in mind and it ends up being less then you’ll be pleasantly surprised.  

The average cost of flowers for a wedding is $2,800 and that lasts about 4-6 hours of your life. Good premarital counseling will last you the rest of your life and costs significantly less.

When I think of the money we spent on flowers on my own wedding and the pain that could have been saved in the first couple years by some good premarital counseling, I would have personally opted for skipping the flowers in hindsight. It would have been money better spent…but don’t get me wrong. They did look great in the photos 🙂 

But it is important to have a good perspective on what you’re actually paying for when it comes to premarital counseling. It’s an investment in the rest of your life and many of the skills you learn in premarital counseling are skills you can even pass down to your children.

Insurance reimbursement and alternatives for cost-savings

Some therapists do offer a superbill for partial reimbursement of your therapy expenses, but some like me do not and it really just is a hard cost. Ask your counselor if it’s a possibility and see what they say. It never hurts to ask. 

Depending on the skills you are learning and your profession sometimes you can get an invoice to write it off as a business expense. Again, you should consult with both your tax professional as well as your counselor to consider this. 

If finances are an issue for you, don’t give up hope. There are other avenues available to get some premarital guidance out there. Money should never be the deciding factor in getting help.

Another option might be to go to your community religious leader. Pastors, rabbis, Imams, etc. often offer classes or counseling as a community service for little to no cost. It helps if they have some training and experience in the matter and not all do, but it’s worth looking into. 

And some religious organizations even offer group classes to teach skills to many engaged couples at the same time and that is often offered at a very affordable rate. Of course these options are not a one to one substitution for someone specializing in the field who gives you private attention but if it’s your only option it’s still better than nothing.

Of course, a final option is the plethora of books available on relationships. My favorite is The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work which is one of the core pillars of Dr. Gottman’s work, but there are others that are great as well. Doing a search on Amazon and reading the reviews tends to give you a good sense of what people resonate with from my experience. 

pre-marriage counseling

Can premarital counseling be done online? 

Of course. If there is one silver lining to COVID (and that’s still a hard thing to say) it would be that mental health services became somewhat normalized and receiving care virtually became viable at a large scale for the first time. Everyone has gotten somewhat accustomed to zoom and over 50% of my practice is still done virtually. 

There’s absolutely no reason that premarital counseling has to be done in person. If it is your preference then by all means you should seek out someone local to you (I have an office in Calabasas and in Sherman Oaks currently), but if you’re on the fence about it, I would encourage trying virtual counseling – it’s more effective than people realize. 

Can me and my partner connect from different places?

Yup. Another huge advantage of doing things virtually is that you can be on opposite sides of the world and still have an incredibly productive session. I would encourage you to just be sure that if you’re in different time zones to double and triple check the times before booking anything to make sure you don’t run into a scheduling mishap. 

What if only one partner wants premarital counseling?

If one of you is resistant to counseling it’s important to understand why. Is it a financial issue? Is it because there is trauma that the person is nervous about dealing with? Is it because they fundamentally don’t believe in therapy in general? Having both people committed to the process is somewhat of a prerequisite to get the most out of it, but with some compassion and genuine curiosity you can get a better sense of why they are so resistant. 

Interesting story: I once had someone resistant to premarital counseling because I’m a male counselor and his previous marriage ended with his wife running off with his couples therapist! 

What to expect in your premarital counseling sessions

Usually the first session is a time where your counselor can get to know a little bit about your relationship, where you struggle, where you thrive, and even some of your own personal history on the way you were raised. 

The follow up sessions that come after that should go over specific skills that address areas of concern you have while also diving deep into topics and questions that are things people either shy away from or forget to ask. 

When we’re in love we often wear blinders and having someone who can remind you to ask certain questions about finances, political views, spiritual beliefs, sexual outlook can really help get to the bottom of other issues that would otherwise stay hidden under the surface until they reared their ugly head years down the line.

What is discussed during pre-marriage counseling?

Anything and everything should be on the table. There really should be nothing that is taboo to bring up with your counselor. But a list of typical topics that are discussed are:

  • what makes marriage work (according to research)
  • Routines and Rituals to keep your marriage strong
  • The kind of affection you want to receive
  • Your vision for the future
  • Your attachment style
  • Kids and your parenting styles
  • sex
  • toxic behaviors to avoid
  • money
  • religion
  • boundaries
  • values
  • politics
  • personal hopes and dreams
  • Expectations for how to deal with in-laws

What about Success Rates? Does premarital counseling reduce divorce rates?

Yes. There are different studies that have tracked stability in marriage between couples who do and don’t go to premarital counseling and the general consensus is that couples who do go to a certain minimum amount of premarital counseling have a 70% less likelihood of divorce. 

Will premarital counseling stir things up unnecessarily?

The short answer is no. Premarital counseling won’t stir up things just because it’s part of some kind of protocol. If there are issues in your relationship that will eventually lead to major conflicts it might bring those issues to the surface but there is no better time to discuss those points of contention than before your marriage with a neutral third party present to soften the seeming severity of the issue. 

If you’re worried about certain issues being brought up that might cause a lot of tension in the relationship, something you might consider is talking to the counselor one on one prior to your session to let him or her know your concerns. 

Will I be forced to share things I don’t want to share?

My personal hope is that you don’t feel forced to do anything you don’t want to do as an adult in life ever. If you are being pushed to the point where you feel boxed into a corner and are upset with your therapist you should bring that up prior to sharing what you don’t want to share. 

If you feel like there are issues you don’t want to bring up at all, again, I would recommend requesting a few minutes alone with the counselor to discuss that issue prior to going into session as a couple. Depending on what the issues are, why you don’t want to share them, and who the counselor is will have a huge impact on what your next steps are going to be.

premarital counseling los angeles

Do we really need to pay someone to learn how to be in a relationship? Shouldn’t that just come naturally?

This is a very common sentiment that I hear from people outside of my practice. I run into people all the time who say “we get along just fine, why come to counseling?” Now for the people who have three kids and have been together for 20 years I would completely agree. I’m 100% on board with a tried and true relationship that works for both people being left alone. 

Such relationships usually involve two people who have really done the work to understand the natural highs and lows of a marriage. I’m reminded of the couples I’ve visited in elder care facilities who have spent several decades together and still seem to find joy eating soup together. But that same sentiment does not hold true for new couples about to embark on the lifelong journey we call marriage.

The harsh truth about new couples is that I have never, ever met anyone who knows how to keep a marriage together at the start of the relationship

In every area of our lives outside of romance we assume that there is a learning curve. We seek out teachers and mentors to learn skills and even hobbies. We consult youtube to gain information, go through trial and error, take notes on what does and doesn’t work and understand that hard things take time to learn and the quickest way to shorten that learning curve is to get expert guidance.

Unfortunately, when it comes to romance and living a fruitful life with your romantic partner, many people assume you should just naturally be born with an innate ability to be the world’s perfect husband or wife. For people in my profession that notion is laughable. 

One look at divorce statistics tells you that people are not born with any kind of natural ability to work through marital issues without guidance. If everything is going great in your relationship now that’s wonderful and you really might only need a couple of sessions to get some tips and work through some more extensive questions and hypotheticals together, but to assume that the honeymoon phase will last forever is a grave mistake that will be painful in the years to come.

I’ve already told all four of my children that before they get married we’re going to sit down and go through a series of very serious discussions on how to get the most out of your marriage. At the time of this writing my youngest daughter is six and full of love and joy. In my mind it’s mandatory even for her to go through premarital education before becoming a wife.

What is the difference between premarital and marital counseling?

Generally premarital counseling has a different goal than marital counseling. The goal of marital counseling is to deal with issues that have arisen in the course of your relationship while premarital counseling’s goal is to foresee possible problems and get them under control before they spiral into large issues in your marriage. 

A great way to think of the two is by comparing it to the medical world. Think of marital counseling as seeing a surgeon when you need urgent attention. Premarital counseling is going to a specialist for preventive medicine where you learn the ins and outs of how to be healthy. That may include an exercise regiment, advice and coaching on nutrition and lifestyle, or understanding some predispositions you have because of your genetics. 

Similarly, in premarital counseling you might understand what kind of affection you need to make an effort to show your partner on a daily or weekly basis, advice and coaching on handling conflicts that arise both big and small, and understanding abandonment issues or attachment styles that have developed over your upbringing.

Does what we talk about in session remain confidential?

Absolutely. Like all therapy or counseling, premarital counseling is confidential. Sometimes I take notes during our sessions but those are never shared with anyone for any reason without your express permission. The only reason I take notes is to keep myself focused on issues as they arise so I don’t interrupt you if you’re going over several various issues, and also to consult with from session to session so we don’t waste time repeating things.

If, however, a patient ever requests that I don’t take notes I’m more than happy to oblige that request as well. Premarital counseling, like any counseling, does not work if there isn’t trust that you can be open and transparent with the person who is there to help you. 

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