1. Religious Versus Nonreligious
Do you want to do counseling through a religious institution or would you prefer counseling that is not pushing any religious agenda?
Religious counseling tends to have the focus on how your relationship together is affected by your relationship with God and how you improve as a wife/husband in the eyes of God. Note that counseling outside of a religious institution may still be religion-based so be sure to ask the counselor before making this choice if you are not interested in a religious overtone.
While it can be harder to find, there are many premarital counselors who have no religious agenda. Their methods may vary greatly as there are many ways to approach counseling. Ask questions about how they run their sessions and what they focus on to see if it feels right for you.
2. Avoid using your officiant
If you are not going the religious route, then be very wary of officiants offering premarital counseling. Unless they have specific training, their “counseling” is going to just be them sharing their advice. While you may wish to seek their advice as they may have years of experience in a happy marriage, don’t mistake this for proper premarital counseling.
Advice can be wonderful but your relationship is unique and your needs are individualized.
3. Considering A Marriage Therapist
Many couples are against seeking premarital counseling with a licensed marriage therapist. They often fear it will create conflict where there is none or worry about the stigma attached. While both are valid concerns, if this is the only nonreligious option in your area, consider meeting with them once to get a feel for your comfort as these fears are often unfounded.
Find Someone You Feel Comfortable With
Most importantly is finding a counselor with whom you feel you can be open and honest without feeling judged or belittled. Counselors should be third party unbiased individuals whose only goal is to assist you and the love of your life in creating a plan for your future.
If you feel uncomfortable about any aspect (i.e. talking to your religious leader about your concerns about your sex life) then seek an alternative option.
Consider Premarital Coaching (as opposed to counseling)
A new growing option is premarital coaching which is both non-religious and not conflict-based. Premarital coaching does not offer any advice but instead guides the couple through several questions/hypotheticals/scenarios to help the couple express their expectations for the marriage. These expectations are what build either a solid foundation or, left unspoken, a shaky one.
Premarital coaches are not marriage therapists thus avoiding the stigma and concerns about creating problems that aren’t there. However, they should still be well qualified in communication and counseling should the need arise so ask for qualifications.
Whether you decide to try a marriage therapist, go through your religious institution, or work with a premarital coach, don’t bypass the importance of putting the effort into planning for your marriage and not just your wedding. A long beautiful marriage will complete the memory of your beautiful wedding day.
Rachel Lamson, Premarital Coach, For Keeps LLC