Couples are just trying to get it right. Stay connected. Approach their relationship with effort and intention. Create the conversations. Build and maintain a happy relationship.
But we all know that happily ever after doesn’t happen for everyone.
As a marriage therapist, I see a lot of couples. A lot. A lot of heartbreak. A lot of sadness. Often – eventually – a lot of happiness and smiles. I see them thinking, feeling that “yes, we are going to make it.” Those are the moments that as a therapist I hang on to. Embrace. Run towards.
Although many of the couples I work with are married, some are not. Those couples see me for premarital counseling. Those same couples want to do what it takes to ensure that before they take the proverbial ‘walk down the aisle’, they are on the same page and those small pesky issues don’t become bigger issues that wreak havoc and end their relationship.
Regardless of your opinion about marital/premarital counseling, I am not here to change your mind.
What I do want to say is that there is significant long term benefit for couples to take the time to engage in these necessary conversations before they get married rather than waiting (like MANY do) until they are married, years pass, and discord and strife takes over a once happy couple…
1.) Money. We all have a relationship with money. What’s yours? How do you view money? Are you a spender or a saver? If you have disposable income, how do you spend it? Do you think you should have separate or joint accounts, or both? Does one of you make more money than the other? If so, how will you share the expenses? What about big purchases? Do you have a budget? How are/will the costs of the home being paid? What about going out? Who takes on that expense? Do you get a bonus at work? What will you do with that money? Talking about money can be a step towards preventing financial infidelity.
2.) Sex. Yep. We HAVE to talk about sex. Sex is an integral and health component of a relationship. Its the barometer of the relationship. Did you talk about sex in your household growing up? Was it taboo? Does religion play a part in your sexual life? What does sex mean to you? How often do you like to have sex? Do you have expectations about sex? Do you both feel comfortable and safe talking your needs with each other? Why or why not? How does your partner respond when you talk about your sexual needs? Is he/she offended? Does he/she feel threatened?
3.) Extended family. What are the differences in your family of origin? Do your families get along? How significant are the differences? How similar are they? For example, do you come from a family of yellers? Was it hard to express yourself? Did people talk over you? (This often goes to communication styles) What are your family traditions? Do you have any? Will there be a conflict between the traditions – especially around holiday time?
4.) Values. Do you have similar or different values? Honesty? Integrity? Family? Work? Religion? Lifestyle? Are you on the same page? Do you argue about them now? If there are differences, are they difficult to resolve? How important are your values? Is there room for compromise?
5.) Lifestyle. What is your lifestyle like? What are the similarities vs. the differences? How big are they? Is one active and one a couch potato? How do you view your down time? What about your use of social media? What are the boundaries? How do you spend your time away from work? What are the expectations regarding time together vs time apart?
6.) Communication styles. Are you a distancer or a pursuer? Do you lean in towards conflict (this is not about being confrontative – big difference) or go running for the hills and avoid conflict. John Gottman believes that the tendency of men to withdraw and women to pursue is wired into our physiology and reflects a basic gender difference and notes that this pattern is extremely common and is a major contributor to marital breakdown. Problems with communication is the number one complaint expressed by couples.
7.) Work demands/balance. How important is your work to you? Are you able to balance both work and home demands? How do you do it? Do you worry that once married, this will change? Does your partner understand/support your work – especially if its overly demanding on your time? Do you discuss the importance of time apart vs time together? Does that worry you? Do you have your own friends and interests outside of the relationship?
8.) Children. Do you want children? How many? What are your parenting styles? Are they similar? How will you reconcile the differences in how you were raised and how you wish to parent if this exists? Do you plan to parent how your parents raised you? What would having a family look like? Who will stay home? Will you both need to work? What about time away from the children? What are your thoughts about how you will go about nurturing the relationship once children arrive on the scene.
Obviously, this listed isn’t inclusive, but it does give you a start.
Are you ready to walk down the aisle, but still feel that you have unresolved issues? Do these questions make you ponder your relationship and whether or not you are making the right decision?
Answering yes to any of those questions might indicate that premarital counseling should be considered.
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