Written by: Rebecca Murray, MA., MFT, Founder & Director: Montreal Therapy Centre
Research tells us that 50% of couples divorce. The percent of people in Canada alone that reported they were divorced or separated in 2011 was 11.5% (1). Compounding this is the trend that many couples remain together despite feeling dissatisfied in their relationship. Generally speaking, couples do not get formal training to prepare for their lives together. This is when premarital counselling can help to facilitate the transition from “I” to “we”.
Marital Distress vs. Harmony
Marital distress is identified as one of the common risk factors linked with a range of psychological problems in both adults and in children. This form of distress is linked to depression, anxiety, and childhood conduct disorders. On the other end of the spectrum, satisfaction in one’s marriage is identified as a protective factor against a variety of human dysfunctions (2). One can then argue that being in a satisfying, committed relationship is good for one’s health
Benefits of Premarital Counselling
Studies show that engaged couples who participate in premarital programs have significantly better scores in several important domains. These domains include relationship adjustment, empathetic understanding, communication skills, positive reinforcement, problem-solving skills, and intimacy. The effects of marital preparation programs have been shown to last beyond the completion of the programs, measured at evaluations six months after marriage (3).
The following are 4 important benefits of premarital counselling:
- Address conflict negotiation and problem-solving skills: Even solid couples in good relationships may disagree on important issues and have fights. It is important to develop good conflict management skills to avoid escalating when you hit a point of contention. This allows you to have a productive discussion with your partner and find resolutions, or perhaps, agree to disagree on certain issues.
- Provide a safe space to express opinions openly: Counselling can help avoid labeling differences in a negative way. Sometimes couples are reluctant to share differing opinions for fear of criticism or judgement. One partner may even worry that if they express differences in world views he or she could be putting the relationship at risk. It is not only your similarities which make you a good couple, but differences can add another level of richness to your relationship. It is important to learn ways to express differences and to be able to accept your partner’s differing views.
- Practice good communication skills in the presence of a trained professional: Despite your best intentions, you may not always be at the top of your game when communicating with your partner. We all develop communication patterns within our family of origin. Sometimes, these patterns can lead to difficulties around communicating emotions, listening in ways that allow the partner to feel heard, or staying present while one partner is feeling sad or angry. Therapists experienced in working with couples can help to build your skills in this realm so that you and your partner can have more constructive conversations.
- Explore questions about their priorities, values, and life goals constructively: We often get wrapped up in day-to-day affairs and stop making space to explore deeper questions. Premarital therapy can provide an opportunity to stop and reflect on who you are, what you need, and what is most important to you. As a couple, you can spend some time reflecting on the type of union you’d like to create and clarify some of your life goals. These can be very exciting, stimulating and inspiring conversations as you look forward to your life together.
Embarking on a life together is the beginning of a rich, wonderful, and sometimes challenging journey. Premarital counselling may help you to strengthen your relationship while avoiding some common pitfalls.
- Milan, A. (2013). Marital Status Overview: 2011, http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/91-209-x/2013001/article/11788-eng.htm
- Coie, J.D., Watt, N.G., West, S.G., Hawkins, J.D., Asarnow, J.R., Markman, H.J., Ramey, S.L., Long, B (1993). The science of prevention. A conceptual framework and some
- Renick, M.J. (1992). The Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program (PREP): An empirically based preventative intervention program for couples. Family Relations, 41, 141-47.