Illustration of couple with long future ahead, wondering about non religious premarital counseling.

Premarital Counseling Questions:

Non-Religious Premarital Counseling

Premarital counseling is very important: it’s an investment in your marriage. Whether you do premarital counseling online, a premarital program, or a premarital class, you choose Denver premarital counseling, it’s worthwhile. It is proven to have long-term, positive effects on a relationship like increased satisfaction and enjoyment. Good premarital counseling is also associated with lower divorce rates, and can help you avoid relationship problems before they become marriage-threatening ones. 

But not all premarital counseling is the same. 

There’s non-religious premarital counseling — which is sometimes called “pre marital counselling” or “pre marriage counseling” — conducted by a marriage and family therapist using the principles of evidence-based couples counseling. And there’s also quasi “premarital counseling” often conducted by a religious official with couples seeking to get married via religious ceremony, often inside a house of worship.

Though both scenarios are typically referred to as “premarital counseling,” they are quite different experiences, and may result in vastly different outcomes.

What Is Religious-Based Premarital Counseling Like?

To this day, most people who get married do so in a religious ceremony of some sort, usually in a church, synagogue, or some other house of worship. Oftentimes, the religious official in charge of the wedding will either strongly encourage the couple to take part in premarital counseling, performed by the official, or even require it for the wedding to proceed at all.

The spiritual aspect of a union may be important to many couples, and the religious element of their wedding can certainly offer them some guidance that is closely tied to their religion’s general belief structures and teachings. 

However, as I understand it — having counseled couples who, on many occasions, sought both religious and non-religious premarital counseling — religious-based premarital counseling can be a very perfunctory exercise, particularly for couples who do not have a strong religious faith orientation.

The process is moderated by a religious official, who (at least in the case of the Catholics) usually has not and never will be in a romantic partnership themselves, and often consists of dated, standardized worksheets where the instructions to couples may be highlighted by daily collective prayer.

Praying together is great for couples who are religious and who want to do that together. But even those couples — like virtually every couple — they’re going to need robust healthy relationship skills to navigate the twists and turns, and shifting circumstances of life in the decades of marriage ahead of them. They need to have important conversations before commitment. Couples who do religious premarital counseling may not get that type of help, and it puts them at a disadvantage. All couples who seek a happy marriage, built on trust, communication and mutual admiration, among other important aspects, need to know how to create those things. They don’t just happen.

Doing perfunctory, super-basic premarital counseling that talks a lot about religion and not-so-much about relationship skills is truly a lost opportunity.

But there’s even another aspect to religious premarital counseling that is not often discussed out loud. In reality, many couples don’t really have a strong faith practice or religious orientation… but want to get married in the pretty church or synagogue. Grandma is a card-carrying Lutheran, the cathedral is photogenic and holds 400 people comfortably, so let’s do it there. And, premarital counseling with the pastor is required in order to book the venue.

In these cases, while the pastor may be enthusiastic about it (viewing this as an opportunity to bring a young family back into the fold) one or both members of the couple are not truly invested in such sessions with a religious official. They’re not asking essential premarital counseling questions and exploring the answers with openness and curiosity. They’re merely going along with tradition, and do not value the spiritual component of the wedding ceremony.

At the very least, such individuals won’t buy into the spiritual agenda of the religious official in charge of the premarital counseling. But they’ve also wasted a very valuable opportunity to learn and grow as a couple, and set their marriage up for success.

Suffering through this type of required premarital counseling does not provide meaningful growth experiences for a couple who, like all, can benefit from proactively learning how to communicate more effectively, or increase emotional intimacy, or manage inevitable conflict productively, or develop vital systems for operating a shared life together. 

Good premarital counseling is such a fantastic opportunity to learn and grow together for the true benefit of your marriage. But too many couples never get that chance. They have a couple of cringy, awkward conversations with the rabbi, and are sent off into marriage — largely unprepared. It’s a shame.

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What Is Secular Premarital Counseling Like?

Secular premarital counseling — or non-religious premarital counseling — is a very different experience. The goal of non-religious premarital counseling is not to get a young family back into the pews, it’s to help a couple strengthen their relationship and proactively prevent problems in the future by developing healthy relationship skills.

Non-religious premarital counseling can make or break a marriage. It is far more comprehensive than religious-based premarital counseling. The best premarital counseling is provided by a marriage and family therapist; a true relationship expert with years of experience in helping couples develop healthy, happy relationships.

Premarital counseling with a marriage and family therapist often begins with introductory “assessment” sessions designed to map out the strengths and growth opportunities of your relationship. You might also be asked to take a more formal premarital assessment, all of which will help identify areas of the relationship the two of you will discuss in the following sessions.

You and your partner will be educated on how you can build and maintain strong relationship and develop skills that will help you conquer challenges sure to come about. But more importantly than getting “information” from your premarital counselor, you will have new (sometimes challenging!) conversations about aspects of your relationship you may not yet have explored together. 

Through these new experiences, you will have the opportunity to learn new things about yourself and your partner that contribute to a meaningful growth process (not to mention helping you to avoid a divorce!). Let’s face it: Nobody teaches us how to have healthy relationships. We all just wing it, and do what we know how to do. We also don’t know what we don’t know about how to have a successful marriage, so it’s impossible to prepare unless we have someone helping us anticipate the potential problems. 

Premarital counseling helps you understand what’s working, but also how you can be even better partners for each other and avoid falling into common relationship issues. By the end of it, good premarital counseling will have strengthened your relationship. You’ll have clarity about how to be emotionally supportive of each other, how to communicate with each other, how to establish agreements and healthy boundaries with each other, and you’ll get answers to your premarital counseling questions.

Very little, if any of this happens in religiously focused premarital counseling. Secular premarital counseling is far more pragmatic, meaningful and helpful to couples who are viewing it as an insurance policy for their future marriage.

I’d also like to add that high-quality secular premarital counseling or pre-engagement counseling absolutely can address aspects of your shared spirituality if you’d like it to. For many couples, a shared faith can be a point of strength, and open discussions about how to cultivate that intentionally are useful. While a professional marriage and family therapist would never come at this from a specific religious agenda, we routinely help couples discuss their faith together in order to create shared meaning and vision for their lives.

For other couples, it’s equally important to talk about matters of faith but for different reasons. For example, if one of you is religious and the other is not, or if you each practice a different faith, it will be important to have proactive conversations about it. For example, if you’re Jewish and your partner is Christian, talking about your hopes for the religious education of your children, what religious activities you’re willing to participate in and what you’re not, or what you’d like holidays to look like in your family are integral to creating harmony and avoiding issues in the future.

Is There Non-Religious Premarital Counseling Near Me?

Yes! The miracle of online premarital counseling makes it so. You can certainly look for a licensed marriage and family therapist who provides premarital counseling to meet with locally. (For example, we offer premarital counseling in Denver). But high quality premarital counseling online has made getting involved with a good premarital counseling program more accessible than ever. This is great for couples who live in rural areas, or in instances where one or both members of the couple travel often or are engaged in a long-distance relationship.

If you are seeking secular marriage advice, secular premarital counseling or non-religious marriage preparation courses, your best bet is to look for a licensed marriage and family therapist who specializes in evidence based couples counseling, and then verify to make sure that they provide premarital counseling services too. The best premarital counselors will always use an evidence based couples counseling strategies such as the Gottman Method or the Prepare Enrich program to guide your sessions.

How Much Does Secular Premarital Counseling Cost?

What a couple might pay for high-quality premarital counseling is dependent upon who you see, how many sessions you require, and the format you choose. Some couples who may have budget concerns and seek some basic skills can seek a premarital course. [Learn more about how much premarital counseling costs.]

We sometimes get calls from couples wondering if premarital counseling is covered by insurance. It is not. Health insurance only pays for medically necessary treatment of psychiatric conditions, and that is not the purpose of premarital counseling.

Smart couples understand that the cost of premarital counseling is negligible compared to the tens of thousands of dollars they’re spending on their wedding — but the most valuable investment they can make in the success of their marriage. Some wise and thoughtful people consider premarital counseling as a wedding present. (Believe it or not, you can gift premarital counseling too.)

Can I Seek Both Secular And Religious-Based Premarital Counseling?

Sure! If the spiritual element of your marriage is important to you, regardless of whether the religious institution you are partnering with requires premarital counseling or not, by all means, seek out religious-based premarital counseling sessions with your wedding official. If you have a strong shared faith, it will help you build your marriage based on those shared values, and that is wonderful.

And even with that, you may also consider doing premarital counseling with a marriage and family therapist too, just to cover your bases in the relationship skills department as well. Doing premarital counseling with a true relationship expert who can help you identify opportunities for growth is a meaningful experience that will be educational and comprehensive, and will provide you with a tool box of skills and strategies to use as you build a marriage that lasts a lifetime together.

Get Started with Premarital Counseling

If you’d like to pursue premarital counseling with one of the relationship experts at Growing Self, the first step in getting started is to request your first, free consultation. During your first meeting, whether in person or online, you can get to know your prospective premarital counselor and discuss your hopes and goals for premarital counseling. If it feels like a good fit on both sides, you can get started with genuinely meaningful, growth-oriented premarital counseling that sets your marriage up for success.

I hope that information and perspective helps you, as you’re considering your options.

Wishing you all the very best,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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