In premarital counseling sessions questions on general issues are likely to be posed to couples, perhaps with the aid of an online questionnaire. The basic aim is to help two people look deeply into how they relate to each other and to explore their respective views on issues that will be important to them, both in the short and long term. The latter aspect has several sides – my approach to a subject; my partner’s approach to a subject according to me; my partner’s approach to the subject according to them. And vice versa. Questionnaires are handy for this process of exploration, and will cover subjects such as work and finances, personal expectations and sexual relations. Ideally, there will be a harmony between partners on most issues, but if there isn’t (and nothing in the world is perfect) it doesn’t mean that all is lost: healthy discussion before the marriage could pre-empt a lot of problems.
Premarital counseling is also useful to prepare a couple for the changes that will come with their new status. This is often especially the case for committed conservative Christians whose beliefs about how couples should relate before marriage – most notably abstaining from sex – mean that they are about to encounter an entirely new kind of relationship. And whether a couple are regular churchgoers or not, many pastors and priests will expect them to attend a series of premarital discussion sessions if they are planning to get married in their church.
Premarital counseling is also a place for considering the possibility of changes which were expected but which don’t come: the ‘honeymoon blues’ which may accompany the sudden release from the highly stressful occupation of wedding planning and the realization that everything is not suddenly magically happy ever after… that the real joy and excitement of life has to be found within its ordinariness. As is the case with many emotional hurdles, understanding what is happening before it happens can defang it to some degree.
If you want to explore the ideas behind premarital counseling in the privacy of your own home there are a number of books on the subject, such as the British-published ‘Before you say “I do”: how to be happily married forever’ by Elizabeth Martyn. There are also internet resources: the UK Relate counseling site which has relevant information for couples both sides of the Atlantic.