There are many benefits to couples participating in counseling prior to getting married even if there are no red flags or concerns within the relationship. Pre-marital counseling provides couples with an opportunity to identify, discuss, and negotiate important topics and aspects of a relationship so that the couples are better equipped to manage differences or conflict that may arise after they say ‘I do’. Here are 10 topics that couples should talk about:
1. Expectations of Yourself and Your Partner Regarding Roles and Responsibilities
Every couple is different when it comes to how they prefer to run and manage their household and gender roles. Marriage can be viewed as a partnership between two people and deciding who is going to carry out specific roles and responsibilities is key to making the partnership run smoothly. Couples are encouraged to consider if one or both partners will work or whether one partner will stay home as well as what specific tasks each partner will be responsible for (household chores, finances, cooking, etc.).
Finances are one of the most common areas of conflict for couples. Pre-marital counseling can help couples learn to prevent or manage issues related to conflict by considering and talking about the following: how are finances going to be managed (will one partner take control of paying the bills or both?). Will partners combine finances into one joint bank account or maintain separate accounts? How is debt prior to the relationship/marriage going to be handled once married? What financial goals, both short- and long-term, does each partner have?
3. Family Planning
Couples should talk about each partner’s goals for what their idea of creating a family means. Does this include having children? If so, how many children does each partner want? If the couple wants children, how will infertility be handled if it becomes relevant? If the couple does not want to have children, what other meaning of family can be established?
4. Boundaries with others outside of your relationship
Another common area of conflict for couples is disagreements about how relationships with other people are managed. This can include friendships or extra-marital relationships and if not managed effectively, a couple’s relationship can be negatively impacted by one partner feeling betrayed. Therefore it is recommended that couples consider what each partner feels is appropriate and inappropriate regarding how they participate in other relationships. Couples need to consider whether it is appropriate to maintain relationships with opposite gendered individuals; how much time each partner should be able to spend with other people; and how couples will manage extra-marital affairs if any should occur.
Intimacy is an avenue for couples to connect however oftentimes partners carry different meanings to what this means. Intimacy can entail physical affection and closeness, emotional intimacy, or physical intimacy; therefore it is important for couples to discuss how intimacy will play a role in the relationship. Are there expectations for intimate moments (how often, the type of intimacy, etc.)? How will intimacy play a role in managing or resolving conflict?
6. Short- and long-term goals
As individuals, we all carry hopes and dreams for ourselves however once we enter into committed relationships we need to consider whether our goals are compatible with our partner and his or her goals. Some areas couples are encouraged to consider are goals related to career, finances, family planning, hobbies/activities, retirement, and leaving behind a legacy. Being in agreement about both individual and couple goals can help promote couples to work together to achieve their goals, which can promote an increase in relationship satisfaction.
Depending on our upbringings, experiences, and preferences, we each possess belief systems about faith, spirituality, or other aspects outside of ourselves that can serve as sources of comfort and support. Spirituality can play a part in relationships to various degrees therefore it is important for couples to share each other’s thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and lifestyle preferences. If partners within a couple do not share similar beliefs, they need to be able to talk about how they can manage their differences in order to prevent it from negatively impacting their relationship.
8. Conflict management
It is inevitable that couples are going to engage in disagreements and conflict however it is how a couple manages their conflict that can determine level of relationship satisfaction and feelings of connection. Couples are encouraged to talk about each partner’s preferences for dealing with conflict as well as how they witnessed conflict being managed in their families of origin. This can be an opportunity for couples to address their communication styles as well as develop effective coping and conflict management skills.
9. Parents and in-laws
Parents and extended family members can play significant roles in our lives and oftentimes influence our intimate partner relationships. It is common for couples to experience challenges with decisions about how family relationships will be managed once they combine their individual lives into a partnership. Couples are encouraged to consider how they will manage their time with parents/in-laws; what boundaries need to be established with parents/in-laws; and how any potential conflict with parents/in-laws will be managed when it arises.
10. Meaning of your marriage commitment
One of the most crucial topics couples are encouraged to spend time talking about is what it means to each partner to be getting married. Is it a life-long commitment or something that works for now? What are each partner’s beliefs about separation or divorce? Couples should share with one another what it is about each partner that attracted them to one another and reasons they want to maintain a relationship with this person. Does the meaning of the relationship change once a couple gets married?
These are just a few aspects of a relationship that couples are encouraged to spend time thinking and talking about prior to making a commitment in order to prevent any surprises down the road. Many couples find that through the process of addressing these areas, they learn to identify, acknowledge, and negotiate differences that bring them closer together and promote a stronger bond. If you are engaged or are in a relationship and are contemplating taking the next step in your relationship, consider participating in pre-marital counseling.