Ballpark Estimate: $100 per session
In fairytales, the prince and princess usually exchange vows and live happily ever after. But of course you know that real life never works out as smoothly as fiction. Therefore, even the most compatible couples can expect to face some relationship challenges throughout the course of their marriage. That’s why undergoing premarital counseling before you exchange vows can be essential.
Basics of Premarital Counseling
Premarital counseling is just what it sounds like: it’s counseling that couples undergo before their wedding to help them identify and build on their strengths and also address areas of potential conflict. Some therapists specialize in working with engaged couples and families, while others offer this service as part of their broader focus. In addition, some religious leaders also offer, or even require, couples to undergo counseling to prepare for the changes that will come about after the marriage ceremony.
Changing Lifestyles Equals Added Stress
If you think your relationship is going well and you wonder why you and your fiancé need any help from a therapist, you’ll need to remember that life today is more complicated than ever before for families. Further, the role that each person in the relationship holds has never been less clear-cut. It’s quite typical now for both partners to be juggling careers and also trying to manage the cleaning, laundry, cooking and child-rearing responsibilities, creating much tension and stress that needs to be dealt with effectively. One of the best ways to handle these issues is to talk about them up front and set up some guidelines that can help you prepare to navigate through the rough spots in the future.
How to Prepare
In order to get the most out of your premarital sessions, before you go it can be beneficial to give some serious thought to where you see yourself down the road both individually and as a couple. By being able to define your priorities and goals, this can be a good starting point for discussing some of the situations you’ll be dealing with as a couple during the course of your relationship. It can also be crucial to talk about your finances and how you plan to handle them as a couple. Do you plan to pool your money or keep separate accounts? What is your plan to save for retirement, vacations and children? By deciding these issues up front with the help of a professional, you can come up with some common ways to handle these and other issues smoothly.
The Need to Communicate Well
Talking about your communication styles can also be very important. Part of the success of your marriage will be inherent on being able to effectively express your feelings and needs to your spouse and feel you’ve been heard. You will also need to be a good listener in return.
In addition, you’ll both need to come up with an effective way to resolve conflicts as they arise and keep frustrations from building up on either side.
Family Planning 101
Another big topic is family planning. For instance, how many children do you picture yourself having? What is the timing you envision? What type of parenting style do you respect? How do you feel about working mothers and daycare? It’s not too soon to begin the conversation as to how you would divvy the parenting responsibilities. You’ll also want to talk about your religious beliefs and determine how you might handle any differences that exist when you raise a family.
How to Find
You can look for therapists and clergymen who offer private sessions for couples, or opt for ones who provide group seminars. In general, a session will last about an hour to talk about pertinent issues, such as financial planning, communication styles, family dynamics, spirituality, sexual issues, values and goals.
If your officiant offers premarital counseling, this is usually the easiest way to take advantage of this option. If not, he may be able to recommend some well-respected therapists in your area. Otherwise, you can do a search online, check with the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) or check with your state licensing board for a list of credentialed marriage and family therapists or counselors. Other helpful searchable directories include The Family and Marriage Counseling Directory, The National Registry of Marriage Friendly Therapists and Find Counseling. You can also visit The National Healthy Marriage Resource Center for more information and statistics about healthy marriages.
What to Look For
When you consider different premarital counselors, the experts suggest that you go for the one whose style feels like a good fit for you and your fiancé. Remember that you’ll both need to talk about some very personal issues and you want to do so in a safe setting with someone whom you trust to help you both come up with effective coping strategies. For instance, it’s good to find a counselor who will help you come up with an inventory of your strengths and weaknesses, give you guidance on the areas you need to address prior to your marriage, help you work on conflict resolution strategies and teach you effective communication and listening strategies.
It’s also worth noting that you may get different benefits from difference types of counselors. This can effect your decision about whether to go with a lay professional or a religious advisor. Just keep in mind that in some cases, it can be beneficial to go both routes. You might have a few meetings with a clergy person, which may be a requirement to be married in some churches (such as Pre-Cana classes, which are usually a prerequisite for a Roman Catholic Church wedding) and can also help you address issues of faith and values, and then also decide to undergo some premarital therapy with a licensed counselor on more specific areas of potential conflict.
What It Costs
What you will spend on premarital counseling depends on the type of counselor and setting you select. Receiving counseling in a religious setting can sometimes be less expensive, costing between about $50 and $100. (Couples who don’t belong to the church typically pay more than members.) Therapists usually charge more, with rates ranging between $75 and $125 or more an hour. But on average, most couples pay about $100 for an hour-long premarital session.
Keep in mind that some therapists or clergy may offer a package deal that includes multiple sessions at a slightly discounted price. The number of visits you’ll need will usually be between three and seven sessions. Just keep in mind that some couples will need to spend more time than this to work on overcoming more significant differences.
Most couples spend $100 an hour on individualized premarital counseling, so for three to seven sessions, you will need to budget between $300 and $700 for this expense.
Group premarital classes are usually less expensive than individual classes. Many groups cover a variety of issues in a one-day seminar, while others may split up the topics over several sessions. The number of participants in the class can effect what you’ll pay. To give you a general idea of what to expect, you might pay between$200 and $400 for a group experience.
Some therapists also require couples to invest in some extras to help them get more from the counseling sessions. You may need to pay for an inventory/assessment to prepare for the counseling, which can cost between $25 and $50. You may also need to purchase some books and worksheets, which can be another $50 or so.
Keep in mind that your health insurance usually won’t cover premarital counseling, since this usually isn’t required because of any mental health issues. However, many states will give couples a discount when they apply for their marriage license if they can prove they’ve completed a premarital course. Some therapists will also often services on a sliding scale if you can prove that you can’t afford their regular rate.
If you’re considering skipping premarital counseling because you don’t want to invest the time or money in this area, keep in mind that if your marriage ends up in divorce cost, this will end up costing you much, much more — in legal costs and also in stress and heartache.