Couples are just trying to get it right. They want to stay connected, approach their relationship with effort and intention, create conversations, and build and maintain a happy relationship.

But we all know that happily ever after doesn’t happen for everyone.

As a marriage/relationship therapist, I not only see married couples, but couples who are engaged or coupled up – those who are in a relationship but have yet to take the next step. Either way, they want couples/premarital counseling to address their issues and ensure a strong and healthy relationship.

Unmarried couples seek out couples counseling for two predominant reasons. One, they have a few issues they cannot resolve and before they get married, they want to work through them. Two, they are in a good place and despite some minor differences they want to insure that their marriage starts out strong.  They want to know and feel that before they take the proverbial ‘walk down the aisle’, they are on the same page and their pesky little issues don’t become bigger issues that wreak havoc and end their marriage or relationship.

Yet, despite the benefits of premarital counseling, many couples are busy planning their wedding and premarital counseling is the very last thing on their mind – even if there are problems. Issues are often ignored and they figure, ‘we will work them out later.’ They don’t want their happiness diluted through couples counseling! And let’s not forget, there are many couples who do not have issues (that are causing problems) and are simply in a great place!

So, I  am not here to change your mind but to simply share some of the important and necessary conversations that couples should have  before they say ‘I Do’, rather than waiting (like MANY do) until they are married, years pass, and discord and strife takes over a once happy couple.

1.) 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. He notes that this pattern is extremely common and is a major contributor to marital breakdown. Communication problems are the number one complaint expressed by couples.

2.) Sex. Yep, we HAVE to talk about sex. It’s an integral component of a relationship and its health. It’s 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.) 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?

4.) 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 with them? Did people talk over you? What are your family traditions? Do you have any? Will there be a conflict between the traditions – especially around holiday time?

5.) 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? 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 will the costs of the home be 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.

6.) Lifestyle. What is your lifestyle like? What are the similarities and differences – and 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?

7.) 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?

8.) 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 and support your work, especially if it’s 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?

Obviously, this listed isn’t all-inclusive, but if anything, it gives you – the couple – 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 these questions may indicate that premarital counseling might be a good direction for you.

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