ask kristen


“Dear Kristen, my fiancé and I are getting married next year. Do you have any advice on selecting a pre-marital counselor?” -Don

Yes, in fact. I do. A good premarital counselor can help prepare you for marriage, but establishing a relationship with a trusted professional can also serve you after you are married.

Many people look at premartial counseling as a hoop that is required in order to get married (especially since a lot of pastors require proof of completion before they will officiate the wedding.) But it’s wise to make good use of that time, to talk about expectations, to sift through you differences, and to troubleshoot any current negative patterns.

My number one piece of advice is to choose a premarital counselor who is a licensed marriage and family therapist or counselor.

These titles vary by state, but you want someone with at least a Master’s level of education in relational counseling, with experience working with couples. It’s a common practice that pastors will offer their premarital counseling services as a requirement, and while I’m sure there are some pastors who are proficient in relational counseling, many are not.

With the exception of pastors who have obtained a degree in counselor, few pastors have had much training beyond a short class on counseling in seminary, and they have even less experience since most of their job does not involve doing couples counseling. My experience is that most pastors tend to rely on workbooks and advice-giving that barely scratch the surface in terms of delving into the issues of a couple’s relationship, especially in regards to family of origin and other psychodynamic issues.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s great if you want to meet with your pastor to talk about your spiritual relationship and fine-tune the faith-based aspects of your impending marriage. But premarital counseling should go beyond that. Premarital counseling should be a time where you are digging deep into what you bring to the table: how your family has shaped you, how your personality influences you, and what your expectations are from a spouse. It shouldn’t be a comfortable bible-study environment where you simply work through a pre-set workbook. It should feel like work . . . and it may be the most important work you do in your marriage, and it should be individually catered to your situation by an experienced relationship professional.

Speaking of work and your marriage, I highly recommenced that all couples set up some “tune-up” appointments with their premarital counseling at regular intervals after saying “I do.” Premarital counseling is great for preparing, but ultimately it’s all hypothetical. How much more helpful would it be to have those conversations after you’ve entered your marriage? Seeking marital counseling doesn’t have to be just for crisis situations. In fact, I would say that couples who are proactive with counseling tend to prevent catastrophes in their marriage.

In terms of how to find the right counselor, first, I would ask friends for referrals. If you have any friends in therapy or who have done premarital counseling with someone they liked, as for the therapists contact information. In this tech day and age, Yelp can also be a good resource, since you can also read reviews from other clients. You can also ask your church if they have a referral list of therapists they trust. In addition, Psychology Today has a comprehensive list of therapists.

- Kristen


DEAR KRISTEN: How do I choose a premarital counselor?

3 Responses to “DEAR KRISTEN: How do I choose a premarital counselor?”

  1. Natasha January 14, 2014 at 5:30 am #

    My (now) fiance and I chose to visit a premarital counselor before we got engaged. We both saw the value of having a objective third party person take a close look at our relationship and discuss areas for growth and help us to dig deep into some potentially challenging issues. We are planning on doing another session before our wedding (to talk through questions about sex and intimacy) and hopefully some sessions after we’ve been married for a few months (and years, and decades…we’re big believers in therapy).

    I would strongly recommend doing premarital counseling before (but close to) engagement – in that fuzzy, frustrating pre-engaged time. While you’re engaged, especially with a short engagement, your attention is on wedding planning and it can be really difficult to give attention to resolving issues and getting to know your partner more fully with the help of the therapist. It is also hard (logistically and emotionally) to delay a wedding if significant issues come up – all these things are less stressful if counseling is done before a wedding date is set.

  2. brenda January 14, 2014 at 9:03 am #

    I would so love to see someone that is giving advice also recommend and have even gone so far as to state how important the counseling one receives from the pastoral visits that Dave Ramsey’s Financial University be completed before any marriage ceremony can take place. with long established evidence that finances produce more challenges than anything else, why is this so glossed over in the premarital planning.??

  3. KC January 14, 2014 at 5:10 pm #

    We did three (three!) batches of premarital counseling, and they were three very different experiences. I would note that some therapists seem to just want to make everyone feel validated, and that is not actually all that helpful for digging up relationship problems before they become Big Problems. Find someone who is willing to tell you what they’re seeing and not just nod and smile and repeat what you’re saying.

    We found that the standard-issue multiple-choice quizzes (where each person fills them out independently and then they compare answers and categorize differences) were useful jumping-off points to highlight areas that we hadn’t discussed (or where we’d been talking past each other, using the same language to mean two totally different things – “rarely” can mean once a month or once every 5 years…).

    The most helpful counseling was from a pastor with probably 30 years of experience and with several years of experience with my husband (and some experience with me), so he knew where we were “starting”, so to speak, and who we were, and he also wasn’t afraid of offending us. The least helpful counseling was from someone who did not know us as well. It was much more bland, and we asked “so, have you ever recommended that someone *not* get married, based on their premarital counseling” and they answered something to the effect of “I did when I was just starting out, but I stopped doing that, since they always just got married anyway, and it just made them mad”. Not helpful. If a professional sees red flags premaritally, you want them to tell you; it might just mean a delay while you work that issue out, or they may be misunderstanding something, but you want to know these things!

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