Pre-Marital Counseling Questions
Why do Premarital Counseling?
For anyone who is planning to get married, pre-marital counseling will set you up for success in your life with your new spouse. Taking the time to invest in your relationship with your soon husband/wife shows that you not only care about the marriage as a top priority, but that you want to set out a road map or blue print to set your selves up for success. This type of “preventative care” will tackle the potential issues that will arise during your new lives together. Meeting with a third party professional such as a marriage counselor or a pastor can help you strengthen your communication as a couple, come up with plans of action of life changing stages of life, and agree to certain aspects of handling your new life together such as relationships with the in-laws or parenting potential children. Pre-marital counseling will give you a clearer picture of your new lives together as a married couple.
As a married man and a professional in the field with a background in marriage and family therapy, I can personally attest to the significance and benefit that pre-martial counseling brings. It is common that couples come into marital therapy after a crisis has happened and the marriage is hanging on by a thread. These crises don’t happen overnight but over long periods of time due to miscommunication, assumption of the other spouse, contempt, and disagreement over significant issues which all can lead to devastating action. What I mean by devastating actions are affairs, abuse, lying/deception, and money fights and money problems. Pre-marital counseling can help prevent all of these tragedies from happening. A couple planning to get married should complete pre-marital counseling in its entirety, and that would involve crucial questions to answer together and on which to agree. Whether conducting or participating in pre-marital counseling, there are some vital questions to ask, answer, and discuss together.
Pre-marital counseling will set you up for success
Is either one of you spiritual or religious? Do you either practice the same religion, different religions, or not have any religious or spiritual beliefs at all? This question is vital to answer as it is one of top reasons for marital conflict or divorce. There will be specific areas to discuss in premarital counseling, especially if you are religious. If, for example, you believe in Christianity, how strong are your beliefs and how strongly do you stick by them? You may be a Christian and believe in God and believe that He is Jesus and you are good with just that. On the other hand, you may have very specific and strong beliefs in the Christian faith such as stances on whether Women should be pastors or not in a church, whether the bread and juice in Communion literally become Jesus’ body and bread as is the custom of Transubstantiation through the Catholic church, what your belief about what the Bible says about homosexuality and same sex marriage, etc. Your religion or spiritual belief may cause you to have very strong stand points on important issues, and those are worth discussing and answering during pre-martial counseling.
How would you feel for example if you are Jewish and your fiancée is Buddhist? Would either of you want the other to convert to your faith? If so, what would that conversation look like and how would that go? What if one of you is religious and the other are not? How might those differences in beliefs affect you for the rest of your lives as you live together? Religion and faith is very important to many people about to pledge to be married to someone for the rest of their lives. Different religious faith requires those to have certain life styles such as rituals and diet. These lifestyles of one partner who practices a faith may have a certain effect on the other partner who may not be practicing that same faith. I do not mean to pick on any certain religion or leave out any certain faith, but I just want to make the point of asking these questions to a couple that is about to wed. Many of these thoughts I have laid out may not have been discussed between the couple and should be addressed when going through pre-marital counseling.
"If you want your children to turn out well, spend twice as much time with them, and half as much money." -Abigail Van Buren
Children?/How to parent
First of all, do you even want kids?! This is a huge decision to make that is life changing and should not be taken lightly. You do not want an “oops” pregnancy where one of you may be happy and the other is devastated. It is surprising that many couples have not even told each other their thoughts whether they want to have children or not. To better set yourself up for success, not only talk about if you want to have children but how many and even if you want to adopt. Some people want to have “a farm” of kids, some like one or two. Husbands many times like to have “their boys” and wives want “a little girl” often, too. Once this decision is firmly established between both of you, you can move on to how you will raise the little humans into functioning adults.
How are you going to work together to parent your children effectively? This question could take up an entire session of pre-marital therapy. What kind of parenting style will you both take on to raise your children? First of all, it is imperative that you both are on the same page for the sake of consistency and congruency when parenting your child or children. The consistency is vital so your kids know the rules of the house, what they can or cannot do, what the positive or negative consequences may be for their actions, and what their routines are. For example, if your child asks “Can I have popcorn for dinner?” and Dad says “sure!” and Mom says “No!” there is going to be a problem. When your child(ren) see that both Mom AND Dad are doing and saying the same thing, there will likely be more order and common understanding in your house.
Have you both discussed your long term career plans together?
What you both do for a living should have already been discussed, if you do work, before coming into premarital counseling. Are you both in the same career field, do you like your jobs, or do you want to change or move up in your job? Short and long term career plans should be discussed in pre-marital counseling so you both have a pathway to follow together. If one of you wants to eventually not work and be a homemaker/entrepreneur/student that would be something important to talk to your fiancée about. If you have a job that would cause you to travel a lot like being in the military, corporate, or sales, these potential changes are vital to discuss as well because that could affect your fiancée’s career plans or goals.
Have you both discussed your long term career plans together? Do you both want to stay in the same company/job or even career field? If so, do you have an idea of how long you would like to work for, or around what age you would like to retire? I ask these questions because one spouse may have a career plan ideal that may be different from the other. Many would like to work until the traditional age of 65 and then fully retire, some may want to work until 65 and then have a small part time job after their career retirement, and some want to retire early and travel the world. Depending on what your ideal is, it may hurt or help your overall career plan, so it is helpful to plan accordingly. Career plans are a major life decision to make, and to help ensure a successful future for you and your future spouse, agreeing to your plans together will help you get there that much more.
Do you have an idea of what your career path is?
Where to live
You both already may live together, or are planning to move into the same home soon. What is that going to look like for you? Have you spent weekends together before? Do you know what each other’s living habits are like? It may be a big surprise that he snores like a lion roars, she takes hour long showers, or he stinks up the bathroom so bad you have to leave the house. These “surprises” would be helpful to come to the surface, so you have a heads up. Do you all want to live in an apartment to start? Are you going to stay with one of your parents, there can be pros and cons to that living situation. Let’s say for example, you are engaged to marry and live separately. If you live long distance, such as in a different state or over an hour away from each other, how will you decide where to live? If you live in the same town, will you stay near by or leave? There are many scenarios to think of as far as where you are going to live.
If you love your city and want to stay, then great; start looking for your home together. Perhaps you want to get out of the city, or move to a new one. If you live in San Francisco and the cost of living is too high, you may want to move out of the city to save on cost of living. Deciding where to live together may not be as easy as you think. If you live separately now, make a decision together where you are going to live once you get married.
What are your living plans?
Another common reason for conflict in marriage or divorce is each other’s parents and your relationships with them. Many times in the “honeymoon phase” of the relationship, you try to suck up and have as good of a relationship as possible with your girlfriend’s/boyfriend’s parents. If you like your future in laws- awesome! However this does not always happen and they are going to be your in laws for the rest of your life so it will do you good to have a plan of action in dealing with your in laws for the sake of your own marriage.
Fights about each other’s parents are far too common: “Your mom is crazy!” “Your Dad is lazy!” Frustrations over each other’s parent(s) can be lashed out at your spouse, and the arguments are never ending. For example, a husband may complain to his wife about his mother, and the wife will become defensive of her mother and argue with her husband about her. The argument will turn to the wife complaining about something about the husband’s parents, and in turn he will defend his parents. It’s an endless cycle that causes disconnection in the relationship and marriage. So what can you do?
It is important to discuss in the premarital counseling your views of each other’s parents, and be open and vulnerable. If you do not like your fiancee’s mother or father, lay it all out there. It is better for your spouse to know then not know. Know that you cannot change the person, but you can change your actions and the situation at hand. For the sake of your relationship with your spouse and marriage, do not complain about their parent(s). Make a promise to each other that you will not complain about each other’s parents, no matter how you feel about them. The nice thing is, you don’t have to live with them. You can create healthy boundaries of how often you see your parents or in laws. Lay out this agenda together in pre marital counseling to keep a solid relationship with your spouse and a healthy relationship with each other’s parents.
How is your relationship with your in-laws/future in-laws?
We discussed career plans, and now from that, what are your money plans or goals? Do both of you want to work to make that money? If you have children, will one of you stay home with the child, hire someone to take care of them, or have family or friends take care of the child? Either way, it will cost time and money. Think about if you see yourselves moving up in your career to make more, or if you want to change careers in order to make more money. Also, discuss with each other about any debt you are bringing into the marriage. When two become one in marriage, you share everything; and that includes your finances. If there is anything like student loans, car payments, old credit card bills, etc., that should be discussed about how you want to tackle that. Money fights and money problems are one of the leading causes of divorce, and you are going to want to agree on how you will manage your money together.
It is often true that in a marriage, one of you is a “saver” and one is a “spender”. You may have a little bit of both, but typically one person has one of the roles. Figure this out quickly and have a plan together on how you will work this out together in your lives. To save yourselves from racking up too much debt or going bankrupt, have a written budget. To start out in your lives together, write out your expenses, your monthly bills. Also, write out your combined monthly income. See how much is left at the end of the month when your bills are subtracted from your monthly income. You definitely do not want to be in the red, if you are then some changes will need to be made. A budget can be the new “B” swear word, but it gives you permission to spend and gives you a visual of what your monthly expenses will be. Don't ignore income and bills and sweep it under the rug, work on this together so you can have a secure and hopefully comfortable future together.
Along with money goals, you should also ask about your goals as a married couple or family in the future. If you are going through pre-martial counseling now you are talking about marriage and getting married. Getting married is one day, what about the rest of your life? What are your goals together? Hopefully you don’t just want to “exist” together: go to work, come home, make dinner, clean up, watch TV and go to bed. It is understandable that you have responsibilities in your lives together, but what are those “big things” you want to do together in your life? It’s always fun to plan and look forward to something together.
Perhaps you both like to travel and have goals of making big trips in your lives together. Specifically, you may want to go on big cruises, or mission trips to third world countries. For example, as a couple or family you may want to buy a family boat and go on fishing trips together; learn how to ski/snowboard as a family and do weekend slope trips; buy, fix up, and flip homes if you’re handy; or be involved in a community like a church. Talk about these together, these goals don’t have to be terribly expensive, but dream together. Couples and families that do more together tend to be more bonded and have stronger relationships.
What do you like to do together for fun?
This topic is similar to having goals as a couple, but what you like to do together for fun may be more day to day type activities. Discuss together what you like to do for fun; this might be part of what attracted you two together in the first place. Doing fun things together can help keep the relationship fun, strong, and well attached. When you are having experiences together rather than buying “things”, you enjoy being with each other more and have a stronger bond. If you play video or computer games together, that is fun when you are together. On the other hand, if you are just staring into screens together dis-engaged, that is not something you are doing together. Going out to dinner, sitting by the water, talking, playing cards, and riding bikes; those are all simple, inexpensive fun experiences to have together.
What do you like to do together? Listed above are just examples, and there are thousands more. A question included in with this one is how you keep the “spark” alive between you two? Doing fun things as discussed is one way, but what other ideas could you think of to keep the relationship fun? Coming up with ideas that are out of the ordinary could help keep the relationship fresh or new. Maybe try new things together, like take a cooking class, go camping if you haven’t done that very much, watch someone’s pet, or something new that neither of you have done together before. See how you both handle a new experience together. Learn a new language together, try a new foreign dish for dinner, have sex in a weird (different) way in a new place, or do a “fashion” show while trying on new clothes. There are day to day duties, but you don’t have to be mundane and grow complacent together. You had fun together when you first met, keep the fun and spark alive!
What do you like to do for fun with your signifiant other?
What are your arguments about?
Any couple that says “we don’t argue” is either a liar or you haven’t been in a relationship for very long. Arguments often have a negative connotation to it, like it’s automatically horrible and will instantly end your relationship. The truth is that you will have arguments, and they will often be about the same topics. The key here is to identify what the arguments are about and what starts them. Arguments are often about money, in laws, friends, family, and giving attention to each other. What triggers your fiancee and makes them upset? What do you do or say that makes them upset or hurt? Find those out and identify them; admit them to each other. These type of conversations could go like: “When you say/do that, it hurts me or makes me upset”. When you identify feelings and how your fiancee affects you, that can help your partner realize their influence on you.
There is a cycle to this, and it can be extremely beneficial to identify and stop it. When you can see it and talk out the cycle together, you can learn to “fight fair”, which is a second part to this question. The cycle goes like this:
A thought enters your mind, that thought leads to a feeling, and the feeling causes you to act out, yell, for example. The yelling triggers your partner, causing them to think “why are they yelling?” which leads to the feelings of hurt or helplessness, and in turn causes them react back to you, which is to yell more. This cycle goes around and around and hurts the relationship. So, the second part to this questions is: “How do you think you can best “fight fair”?” Fight fair by catching that initial feeling that your spouse is communicating to you. You both influence one another, and there will always be some type of cycle. So, fight fair by hearing your partner’s feeling and process that. Something made them feel the way they are, and they are communicating that hurt or anger through yelling. Hear your partner’s concern and ask what you did to make them feel that way. What is going on for your partner to make them feel hurt and yell? Hear them out. It is our initial reaction a lot of times to become defensive, angry, and yell. If we are selfless for a moment and see how we can prevent our spouse from becoming angry, we can stop arguments and the cycle that it creates to damage further the relationship.
What are your arguments about with your significant other?
Marriage is full of life long work and love!
Live long, loving lives together full of experiences. Ask the tough questions and be open and vulnerable with each other. You will soon become one person, and as such you will grow more and better together. There are high rates of divorce now-a-days, but preparing well for your lives together can you not be one of those statistics.