Yesterday evening Logan and I went to our first pre-marital counseling session! You might have seen our Instastories about it (if not and you’re interested, it’s on our saved stories under engagement).
As we were chatting about it afterwards, I thought it might be a good idea to do a blog post after each session to document this process for ourselves but also give y’all a peek into what pre-marital counseling is like!
Of course it probably won’t look the same with every therapist/counselor, but at least it can give you a sense of what to expect, if you’re thinking of doing it now or down the line.
Why We Are Doing Pre-Marital Counseling.
Pre-marital counseling is something I’ve long wanted to do, even before I became a psychotherapist. It’s no secret that marriage is hard work, and at some point in our life together, Logan and I will face major challenges. That’s just reality. Anyone who thinks that their marriage won’t have any big bumps is fooling themselves.
While I believe Logan and I are a great match, there’s always room for improvement. We aren’t perfect and our relationship isn’t perfect. We both know and believe this and felt it was important to make the time to discuss both strengths and areas of improvement in our relationship.
This is something that we try to do regularly in our relationships (and did briefly discuss during our goals talk earlier this year), but we felt that our upcoming marriage warranted a more intentional conversation about the foundation of our relationship.
If this is something you’re interested in but don’t want to do therapy/counseling, an MFT grad school friend of mine did this workbook with her now-husband in lieu of counseling since they weren’t living in the same city during their engagement.
It’s written by a Christian author, but my friend said that you can easily skip the chapters that have a religious focus and there are still so many great topics of conversation and things to consider.
How We Picked Our Counselor.
As you might know if you’re a regular reader of our blog, we are getting married in Bali in October. While it’s possible to have a ceremony that would be recognized as legal in the U.S., it’s not the easiest process. So, we decided to have a very brief ceremony here in San Diego before we head to Bali just to make it legal. 🙂
Since we are Christian and aren’t having a church wedding in Bali, I wanted to have our ceremony here in a church, and Logan agreed.
I was raised in a Lutheran church (though I did attend a Catholic church sometimes too; my mom is Lutheran and my dad is Catholic) and am a member of a Lutheran church here in San Diego.
Logan was raised in various Christian churches and was attending a non-denominational church when we met. We agreed to attend that church together and I stopped going to the Lutheran church.
When we decided to pursue pre-marital counseling and find a place for our ceremony, we first checked with the church we attend now. It was an option, but the counseling isn’t done by a pastor or a licensed professional, and the church is more of an auditorium instead of an actual church.
I envisioned a church setting for our short ceremony, so Logan agreed to consider the pastor at my former church. We went to a service last month and chatted with Pastor Jim afterwards. Logan felt comfortable with him from the brief conversation we had, and we agreed to move forward with him as both our pre-marital counselor and the person who will marry us.
What We Talked About.
Prior to our first session, we each separately took an online assessment which asked questions about our relationship, our upbringings, and our personalities. Logan and I both enjoyed the assessment and found it really interesting.
Then we had our first session…
Since Pastor Jim doesn’t know Logan, he started off with general questions to learn a little about his background.
Then he asked us to share how we met and if we’ve experienced any major challenges during our relationship thus far, including if we’ve ever broken up.
Pastor Jim also clarified that the purpose of pre-marital counseling is not to see if we should get married or not. He literally said: You are getting married. This is only to help you to identify strengths and weaknesses in your relationship with the goal of having the strongest marriage possible.
I love that so much.
Then we did two exercises.
The first asked us to identify three strengths and three weaknesses of our relationship. We did this separately and then shared with each other (and Pastor Jim). It was really interesting to see what we both think are the best parts of our relationship and what we can improve.
The second was what’s called a speaker-listener exercise. Pastor Jim asked us to write down three things we want each other to do more of. This was hard for me at first! Logan and I are pretty good at vocalizing our needs, but again there’s always room for improvement.
Once we had written them down, we were asked to speak them to each other with the phrasing, “I’d like you to do ____ more.” The listener wasn’t supposed to respond or rebut in any way, but only repeat back what they heard. “I hear you saying that you’d like me to do ___ more.” And then the speaker would confirm that’s what they said or clarify more if the listener didn’t get it quite right.
I’ve done this exercise with clients before, so it was really interesting for me to actually be part of the couple doing it! I think it can be hard because it goes against human nature to be listening to understand instead of thinking of a response or rebuttal.
Logan and I were both so glad that we did it though because it highlights how important it is to make sure you really understand what your partner is asking of you.
Pretty much always when I see a couple for therapy they say there are communication problems. I think this is because there’s so much room for miscommunication in relationships because we may hear things a certain way or interpret a request in a way that wasn’t how the speaker intended.
Pastor Jim gave us a homework assignment of doing the exercise again before we meet again.
What We Liked About It.
I liked that it was a designated time and place to talk about how to make our relationship better. As I wrote above, we try to do this day-to-day, but this felt different. It felt more intentional and more serious, but without pressure.
Sometimes when a couple has “talks” at home, it connotes something negative about the relationship. For some reason, it can be hard to have conversations for the purpose of making an already great relationship even better.
Logan liked having a third party there to guide the conversation. He said it was helpful to have someone who was prompting us with discussion questions so it didn’t feel like we were forcing a conversation at home.
Logan also said the questions really make him think because it wasn’t just surface-level stuff. And he said was a “safe space to talk about the things that are important to us.”
That’s it for our first session! Hope you guys enjoyed this, and it was helpful! Let us know if there’s anything else you’d like to know in the comments. 🙂
Our next session is on March 30, which also happens to be Logan’s 30th birthday, so stay tuned!
Featured photo by Bria Peterson Photography