Does Premarital Counseling Belong on Your Wedding Checklist?

on Blog June 16, 2015 By Lori Hollander LCSW-C, BCD

Planning the wedding felt overwhelming for Megan. With her family living far away and her fiancé uninterested in the details, she was essentially left alone to plan the most important day of her life.When her best friend Steph became engaged, Megan was ecstatic. They could plan together. She was no longer out there by herself. They shared wedding lists, checked out venues, and shopped for bridal gowns.

One day, Steph looked uneasy. The conversation went like this:

Steph (to Megan): “I need to tell you something. There’s one thing on my list I haven’t shared with you.”

Megan: “Really? What is it?”

Steph: “Brian and I are going for premarital counseling.”

Megan: “Wow, what for? Is something wrong?”

Steph: “That’s exactly why I didn’t want to share it with anyone. People think if you are going to premarital counseling, something must be wrong. But that’s not the case.”

Find a Therapist for Relationships

Megan: “I thought premarital counseling was only for couples with serious problems or couples who were questioning getting married.”

Steph: “That’s what most people think, but that’s not true. There are studies showing that couples who have premarital counseling or education improve their odds of being happy and staying together by 30%.”

Megan: “Really? I didn’t know that.”

Steph: “Brian and I want to be as prepared as possible for marriage, since we both come from families of divorce. I did some research on how to succeed in marriage and found a lot of great information. We’re determined to make our relationship work.”

Megan: “Sounds like a great idea. What are you learning?”

Steph: “Wow, there is so much. We’re learning how to communicate effectively, especially how to manage conflict. We discussed our family histories and how our emotional baggage could get in the way if we’re not careful. And we are talking about our expectations up front regarding money, careers, parenting, in-laws, religion, and anything else we can anticipate. Next session, we’ll focus on our styles of love and how to create more sexual intimacy. Can’t wait for that!”

Megan: “It sounds amazing. Maybe we should go.”

Steph: “I’d recommend it to everyone. We’re already feeling more confident about our future and building a strong foundation.”

An Investment in Your Future Together

“I wish I had known … that being in love is not an adequate foundation for building a successful marriage.” —Dr. Gary Chapman

After 25 years in practice specializing in relationships and marriage, I am still exhilarated when couples come to see me before the wedding. The average couple waits six years after problems have begun to walk through my door. By that point, typically there have been years of damage to the marriage or a major crisis, such as an affair. So when I see a couple with the desire to start “right” from the beginning, it’s a breath of fresh air.

Our culture romanticizes love and marriage. Many people approach their marriages as if “happily ever after” happens without consciously working on the relationship. No one tells us that the feelings of love and passion that come naturally in the beginning must be consciously and consistently nurtured, lest they die a slow death.

I often see partners who wake up one day and realize they don’t feel they’re “in love.” They haven’t had sex in months; they’ve become roommates, doing the business of their family, all the while neglecting the couple connection.

Thanks to 42 years of research on marriage by Dr. John Gottman, we know what makes marriages last:

  • Effectively communicating during conflict
  • Repairing the connection after an upset
  • Making room to be influenced by our partners
  • Honoring each other’s feelings
  • Keeping a ratio of at least five positive interactions to every one negative interaction

Learning the skills to communicate, manage conflict, negotiate, collaborate, and problem-solve, and being mindful of feeding emotional and sexual intimacy over time, is vital for a marriage to be happy and successful. We have the data and the knowledge to increase the success of marital unions. We just need to get the word out to couples before they wed, allowing them to use the skills they learn to grow and thrive together.

Many hours, days, and months are spent planning for the wedding. By adding premarital counseling to your wedding list, you’re planning for your marriage.


    1. Carroll, J. S., and Doherty, W. J. (2003). Evaluating the Effectiveness of Premarital Prevention Programs: A Meta-Analytic Review of Outcome Research. Family Relations, 52(2), 105-118.
    2. Gottman, J. M., and Gottman, J. S. (1999). The marriage survival kit: a research-based marital therapy. In Berger, R., and Hannah, M. T. (Eds.), Preventive approaches in couples therapy. (pp. 304-330). Philadelphia: Brunner/Mazel.
    3. Gottman, J. M., and Silver, N. (2015). The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. New York: Harmony Books.



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