PreMarital Counseling

March 26, 2019 Tom Hirsch Season 2019 Episode 4
PreMarital Counseling
Show Notes Transcript


Podcast Show Notes

Date: Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Episode:   004


Subtitle:      PreMarital Counseling

Length:            00:25:15

Final Show Link:

In this episode of TRADITIONS we dive into the subject of premarital counseling; what it is; why you should consider it; it’s benefits; its practitioners and costs and what to expect from it.

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 This episode’s question is:

Q.        Did you participate in premarital counseling? If so, why? If not, why not? Would you make the same decision today?

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Episode #:                                               004

Publication Date:                               March 26, 2019

Episode Length:                                   00:25:15

Host:                                                      Tom Hirsch


Show Transcript:                             

Your Comments:                             

. . . . . and welcome to Episode 4 of TRADITIONS. Today we’ll talk about something growing in popularity but suffering from fear, uncertainty and doubt:  premarital counseling.

Too many folks approach this subject with the attitude, “It’s fine for others, but I don’t need it. I know what marriage is about. I watched my parents do it for years! If someday we need help, we’ll talk to a counselor then. Besides, it’s expensive and we  have neither the time nor the money for it.”

Ironically, my pastor’s bulletin message this Sunday opened with these words:

Sometimes, when I speak with people preparing for marriage, I feel like a life insurance salesman. I tell them that you really need to have life insurance just in case something horrible happens. You wouldn’t want your wife or husband and children put out of your home and relying on charity because you didn’t provide for the worst-case scenario. Most of the time the young couple will agree with this, but sometimes I have the feeling that they’re just “yessing me” to death or agreeing with anything just “to keep the priest happy.” Once a future bride told me in no uncertain terms that she did not want to consider this. They were too young to be concerned. There would be plenty of time later to worry about a medical disaster. They were probably too emotionally young to be married.

Father Joe’s been around the block a few times!

Studies reveal that premarital counseling is an effective tool as you enter married life. Researchers have discovered that it’s a helpful way to improve communication and conflict management skills while increasing overall relationship quality and satisfaction. The studies say:

  •      Couples who underwent counseling before their wedding had a 30% higher marital success rate than those who did not.
  •     44% of couples who get married today agree to premarital counseling.
  •      The median amount of time couples spend in premarital counseling is 8 hours.

Such counseling is something you may want to consider as part of your plan to build the strong marriage and life together that you're so excited about. Think of it like this: you've just settled on your dream honeymoon location, you can see your toes in the sand of a five-star resort, but you're not going to end up there without planning and preparation to make sure everything goes right. Instead, you'll either take the time to painstakingly research places on your own or you might work with a travel professional who can help you through the process and ensure you'll have the honeymoon of your dreams.

Professional premarital counseling is a lot like planning that honeymoon with a travel agent; while you'd most likely still have a great and successful marriage on your own, if you work with a professional premarital counselor then you can ensure you're fully prepared for marriage to your partner and to tackle any lingering questions or issues you may struggle with.

If there was one word that appeared repeatedly during my research for this show it was “communication.” You’re about to enter what is perhaps the most life-changing chapter of your life. And even the most idyllic and resolute marital role-models you may have observed over time struggled through a sea of stormy weather and challenges to arrive at what you perceive as routinely placid waters. In other words, heed the time-honored warning, “Still waters run deep.”

Quoting a passage in an article by Jenn Sinrich from Wedding Wire, “Premarital counseling can help couples create a strong, happy marriage that brings happiness, health, wealth and well-being not only to the two people, but to their children, their [children’s] children, and the generations after them,” says Elizabeth Sloan, LPC, LCPC, at “Caring Couples, Happy Lives”, with offices in McLean, Virginia and Glenn Dale, Maryland. “It not only helps you get to know yourself and your partner better, it also teaches you about your similarities and differences and instructs you on how to create a roadmap for your life together.”

There are well-defined, time-tested benefits observed in relationships that have made the effort to hone their communication and coping skills far in advance of setting sail on a course that proves quite “uncharted” for many couples. Six of those benefits –– but certainly not ALL of them –– follow:

     1 You can get to know each other in a deeper way.

Either or both of you may have “hot buttons” that can trigger strong, emotional reactions. You’re better able to cope with these if you’ve examined your “navigational charts” in advance, know where those “emotional shoals” are, and have charted a course around them.

     2 You can learn good communication and problem-solving skills.

A common term, “conflict management,” comes into play here. All the books and professionals tell us one of the keys to a successful marriage is conflict management, not prevention. This is sometimes called, “Fair Fighting.” More on this later . . . .

     3 You can nurture your intimacy.

Intimacy and emotions are deeply interwoven. Try as you will, you can’t avoid bringing pre-existing concepts about emotions into your marriage. Finding your way around these “lightning rods” leads to a better understanding of their function and nature. 

     4 You can learn to work out your differences.

Have you found your “Perfect Match”? Great! You’re one in a million! Without a firm basis for understanding and communication you’ll find rough seas ahead.

There are hundreds of scholarly works to read and professionals to consult. But one we found eternally helpful is a simple little book written for the average man and woman titled “Men Are From Mars, Woman Are From Venus” by John Gray, Ph. D.

Having read the book from cover-to-cover several times, I’m comfortable quoting a description of Dr. Gray’s work.

The book states that most common relationship problems between men and women are a result of fundamental psychological differences between the sexes, which the author exemplifies by means of its eponymous metaphor: that men and women are from distinct planets—men from Mars and women from Venus—and that each sex is acclimated to its own planet's society and customs, but not to those of the other. One example is men's complaint that if they offer solutions to problems that women bring up in conversation [which is their innate propensity to do], the women are not necessarily interested in solving those problems, but mainly just want to talk about them. The book asserts each sex can be understood in terms of distinct ways they respond to stress and stressful situations.

          And, I might add, the distinct ways they are inclined to communicate!

      5 You can adjust your expectations.

Do you both have the same expectations of marriage? It’s doubtful! Somewhere along the line you’re going to run into situations –– call them “stressors” –– that will cause friction. These are the shoals with the potential to tear the bottom right out of your marital ship. Better to know where they are ahead of time in order to recognize them for the “aquatic landmines” that they are.

    6 You can figure out how best to handle your finances.

I’ve known couples who approach adulthood –– let alone marriage –– firmly ensconced in the belief that they will make lots of money to afford all of life’s pleasures and treasures, so financial concerns will never darken their doorstep. This is the stuff that “pre-nuptials” are made of –– that is, pre-nuptial agreements drawn up by an attorney; which turn the marriage into a “transaction.”

But we’re not here to debate the merits of pre-marital financial planning. This discussion is aimed at helping to ensure such pre-marital contracts never come into play.

Divergent attitudes about money management are often cited as one of the precursors to divorce. This is one of the “hot button issues” it’s best to know about before it rears its ugly head. Even two people coming from quite similar financial backgrounds, can find themselves at odds over the best way to manage their own financial resources. Those hailing from vastly different socio-economic strata can often be in a situation where one party timidly acquiesces to the dictates of the other. This is not a healthy partnership.

In the standard parlance of “salesmanship” - - - those are the “Features” of professional counseling. Let’s now list five of the “Benefits” as shared by couples who “have been there.”

      1 Learn how to fight fair.

As I mentioned earlier, expecting to share the remaining decades of your life with another person without ever having any differences of opinion is simply unrealistic. So many dynamics are in play that disagreements are inevitable. Counseling help us discover how to “disagree without being disagreeable.”

     2 To understand different gender-based communication styles.

We touched on this before with “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.” Our experience has been that, once you understand the distinct, gender-based communication styles you’re a long way ahead of most couples in the race to manage conflict. There is a saying in legal circles that “Possession is 9/10ths of the law.”  So, it is with interpersonal relationships; “Empathy is 9/10ths of Harmony!”

     3 Perhaps you’ll discover some personal, deep-rooted issues.

“Better the devil you know, than the devil you don’t know!”  It seems like this is a day for idioms, doesn’t it? But the subject lends itself to expression in metaphors. All too often the foundation for our reaction to a given set of circumstances is rooted way back in our developmental years; a time in our life for which we, perhaps, have only a shadowy recollection. In marriage, we must learn to adapt to life with another person. Before you can cope with how you react you must understand why you react. Professional counseling is designed to draw us out to examine these triggers.

     4 Counseling will force you to talk about things that make you feel uncomfortable.

Often our reaction to circumstances is a result of finding ourselves way outside our “comfort zone.” Learning to recognize these moments and knowing how to verbalize them in a non-threatening manner puts us well on our way to success. Another idiom – “Practice makes perfect!” – suggests learning to cope with small discomforts today provides a foundation for working our way through the more challenging trials when they arise.

    5 Finally, you’ll gain a better grasp on reality versus expectations.

There are some real “eye-openers” in every marriage. Acknowledge them and practice examining them with the love of your life. Here are some of the “biggies”:

  • Faith
  • Finances
  • Sex 
  • Communication
  • Children & Parenting
  • In-Laws
  • Marriage Roles
  • Friends & Neighbors
  • Decision Making
  • Conflict Management
  • Leisure Time Activities 

The list goes on and on and on. A worthy exercise involves quiet time with your partner to list and explore as many of these as possible. Don’t be afraid to seek wise counsel when developing the list. Experienced counselors have heard it all. They’re prepared to guide you through what might be considered potentially turbulent waters.

Now that we’ve made a case for the wisdom of pre-marital counseling, let’s talk about selecting a counselor and what it takes to be qualified as a counselor.

If you’re planning a church wedding in any of the organized denominations, you can usually count on some manner of counseling requirement costing anywhere from nothing at all up to about $125 per session depending upon your affiliation with the congregation. You can also look forward to very few or a whole lot of sessions depending upon the issues coming to light that require attention.

As for the marriage license, in my home state of Florida both parties must be prepared to give their Social Security number and must appear in the Clerk's Office to sign the application. The license fee is $93.50 and there’s a three-day waiting period for in-state residents; no waiting period for non-residents.

To get a Florida marriage license you need three things:

  •    A picture ID –– such as a driver's license, state ID card, or valid passport;
  •    Both parties will also have to provide their Social Security numbers,
  •    Payment of the license fees: $93.50
  •   The State will reduce this to $61 if you’ve completed counseling.
  •    Be prepared to prove it!

Full details of getting a Florida marriage license can be found in the transcript of this episode on our web site: 

A couple questions that often arise before church-affiliated weddings are:

Can a pastor do marriage counseling?

Short answer:  Yes.    However, pastors may or may not have much formal training in psychological counseling, including marriage and family counseling. 

 Can a pastor charge for counseling?

Again - - -Yes!    They may charge a fee and their advice can be as valuable as any. But states don’t regulate that type of counseling and, as a result, there are many life-coaches, career counselors and other uncertified “advice-givers.” ... All pastors offer some type of counseling, but not all are credentialed professional counselors.

It’s not just anyone who can hang out a shingle and start meeting with engaged couples. There are, typically, five distinct and demanding steps to qualification that can extend over a period of about ten years of study and preparation.

  • ·         Step 1: Obtain a Bachelor's Degree. ... 

                     In most cases = Four Years

  • ·         Step 2: Earn a Master's Degree in Marriage Counseling. ... 

                   Usually Three Years

  • ·         Step 3: Gain Clinical Experience as a Marriage Counselor. ... 

                 Three to Five Years (Internship)

  • ·         Step 4: Become a Licensed Marriage Counselor. ... 


  • ·         Step 5: Complete Continuing Education.

                On-going . . . . .

Counseling can take several different forms:

  •       Religious premarital counseling
  •      Online premarital counseling courses
  •       One-on-one professional counseling
  •       Group courses and discussion groups
  •      Compatibility tests or questionnaires

To get an idea of what such tests and questionnaires contain, go on-line and search for the keywords “premarital questionnaire.”

If you want to get the most out of your counseling experience, listen to this advice gathered from a host of professional counselors.

  •      Understand that it will be challenging.

              Most counseling is.  If it isn’t, you’re likely in the wrong hands.

  •      Don’t try to downplay your thoughts and opinions

             The whole point of the exercise is to face potential challenges head-on before they become issues.

  •      This is NOT a competition. Don’t keep score. There can be no “winner” or “loser.” What you’re doing is for the good of your partnership. You “win” or “lose” together.
  •      Counseling is strictly a private matter, keep it that way. 

Don’t discuss anything with anyone but your partner outside the confines of the counselling room. You’re paying for professional expertise. Respect the credentials of your counselor and the privacy of your relationship; don’t dilute the effort by seeking amateur third-party opinions.

To quote Doctor Seth Meyers, a clinical psychologist with the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health.

The point is simple: Pre-marital counseling is the smartest decision that any couple can make, and you don't need to be religious to try it. No matter how cohesive a couple may be, problems and differences will inevitably arise, so pre-marital counseling really functions like the best insurance policy a couple could ever purchase.

At the other end of the country, Doctor James Walkup of New York City, Midtown Manhattan and Westchester counsels people from all over the country. His patients often fly in to meet specifically with him or sometimes consult with him over the phone. He’s written extensively on the subject and authored an article titled  12 Topics You MUST Discuss Before Getting Married that is also excerpted for you in the episode transcript of this show referenced earlier, along with links to all the research material gathered for today’s show.

That’s TRADITIONS for today. I hope you enjoyed listening as much as I did bringing it all together for you. Perhaps I’ve sparked some thoughts and suggestions in your mind that you’d like to share. Email your comments to and click the SUBSCRIBE button to make sure all future episodes are sent your way immediately upon release.

TRADITIONS Episode 004:   Resources



How to Get a Marriage License in Florida

 | Code Section | Chapter Section 741 and sections that follow.
| Where to Obtain a License | County Clerk's Office
| Age Requirements | 18 years old, otherwise, 16 or 17 with both parents present, the minor's birth certificate, and a parental consent form. If an applicant is under 16 years of age, he or she must swear an oath they are expecting a child (written statement from a licensed physician) or already have one (provide a birth certificate).
| Residency Requirement | None
| Identification Requirements | One valid form of ID such as driver's license, certified copy of your birth certificate, U.S. passport, military ID card, and your Social Security number.
| Same Sex Marriage | Legal since January 6, 2015
| Blood Test | None
| Waiting Period | 72 hours after applying for the license, unless one or both parties are out-of-state residents.
| How Long is the License Valid? | 60 days from date of issuance. If you miss the deadline, you must reapply.
| Marriage License Cost | The total cost for a license (including county and state fees) is $93.50. However, couples who have attended an approved premarital preparation class pay only $61.00.

12 Topics You MUST Discuss Before Getting Married

1. Meaning of Your Marriage Commitment

A. Describe what commitment means to you as you make plans to walk down the aisle?
 B. Of all the persons in your life that you have met and could have married, why are you choosing your partner?
 C. What attracted you to your partner initially and what do you believe your partner will help you become?


2. Your Life Long Goals

A. What do you hope to achieve in the near future and the distant future regarding your career?
 B. How do you plan to care for your community alone or separately?
 C. Do you hope to leave a legacy after you die?

3. Your Mutual Expectations

A. What do you expect from a marital partner regarding emotional support during exciting times, sad times, periods of illness and job loss?
 B. Will you set aside one night just to be together alone to catch up with each other and have fun?
 C. What size house is important and in what kind of neighborhood do you hope to live in both now and in the future?
 D. Are you both clear how much alone time the other needs?
 E. How long does your partner need to spend with friends separately and together?
 F. Do you agree with how much time is appropriate to give to work?
 G. Do you both expect to support the family financially and will that be different when kids arrive?
 H. Are you both comfortable with the salary differential between you?
 I. How will you deal with times when one or both of you has reached a midlife career point, and you need to change some aspects of your life?

4. Your Living Arrangements

A. How do you plan to live together?
 B. Where will you live after the arrival of children?
 C. How do you determine if a new career path or job is reason enough to move?
 D. Do you hope to live in the same house or area for a long time?
 E. Will you need to be close to your parents either as you get together now or as they get older?

5. Will you have children and if so how many?

A. When do you plan to start a family?
 B. How far apart would you want your kids to be in age?
 C. Would abortion ever be acceptable before or after that?
 D. What kinds of philosophies did your parents have about child raising and do you agree or disagree?
 E. How do each of you intend to shape your children’s values
 F. What kinds of punishment are appropriate or not appropriate?
 G. What kinds of expectations do you each have about money spent on toys, clothes, etc.

6. Money

A. Will you have separate or joint checking accounts or both?
 B. If you do have different accounts, who will be responsible for which expenses?
 C. Who will pay the bills?
 D. Do you agree to have full financial disclosure about each of your personal financial situation at all times?
 E. How will strong disagreements about spending money be resolved?
 F. Is there any debt that either partner has incurred before the marriage (ex. college or graduate school loans or credit card debt).
 G. What amount of available money does each of you need to have to feel comfortable?
 H. Will there be a savings plan for the first house?
 I. Do you plan to keep trading houses as you can afford it?
 J. How much credit card debt or home equity loan debt is acceptable?
 K. Agreement about taking care of the financial needs of parents if likely?
 L. Do you plan to send your kids to private or parochial school?
 M. What will be the plans for children’s college education?
 N. When do you hope to begin saving for retirement?
 O. Will you use a financial planner?
 P. Who will complete the taxes?

7. Parents and In-laws

A. How much time does each of you need to spend with your parents and how much do you expect your partner to join you?
 B. How do you plan to spend the holidays?
 C. What will be the holiday expectations of each of your parents and how will you deal with those expectations?
 D. What kind of support do you expect from your partner when the parents are putting pressure on you?
 E. Is it OK for either of you to talk with parents about the problems of the relationship?
 F. What kind of relationship do you expect your kids to have with your parents?
 G. Do you anticipate that you will ever want a parent to live with the two of you when you grow old?

8. Gender Role Expectations

A. What did your parents model for you concerning who did what in the family?
 B. Did you feel that was fair and do you expect something different?
 C. Does each of you have some preferences that might be unrelated to gender?
 D. How will you deal with household or yard maintenance? How will you divvy up these responsibilities or hire someone?
 E. Do both of you expect to work if you have children?
 F. When the children get sick, how do you decide who stays home with them?

9. Do you agree on issues around erotic moments together?

A. How often do you want to enjoy an intimate evening with each other?
 B. How do you intend to resolve differences in sexual preferences?
 C. Can you work out an agreement about how to deal with differences in the frequency of sexual desire?
 D. Are there certain things that are clearly off limits?
 E. Do you agree to talk about your sexual concerns at a time when you both are feeling creative and relaxed and not during sex?

 10. How will you resolve heated conflicts?

A.  What can you learn about how your partner likes to deal with conflict based on their experience in their family of origin?
 B. What feels comfortable to each of you, as your partner gets upset?
 C. Can either of you ask for a timeout to calm down and be creative in your problem-solving?
 D. What rituals will you develop to reach out to each other after a big fight?

11. Spiritual Life

A. What does spirituality mean to each of you?
 B. What kind of participation do you expect in each other in some form of spiritual community?
 C. How will you share what means something to you with them?
 D. Will your children be expected to attend any regular services or religious education?
 E. Will the children go through certain rituals such as baptism, christening, first communion, confirmation, bar or bat mitzvah?

12. Agreement about extramarital relationships/affairs

A. Do you want to establish from the beginning that affairs are not an option?
 B. Do you agree that affairs of the heart are equal to sexual infidelity?
 C. Will you talk to your partner about someone that you feel drawn to as a colleague or erotically since this can build the bond between you and your partner rather than the outside person?
 D. Will you commit to never talking to a person of the opposite sex (except a therapist or clergy) about your relationship with your partner since this builds a bond outside of your relationship?