Congratulations! You’ve found the man you want to spend forever with, and you’re both ready to take the next step and get married. There’s just one little snag: You want to suggest marriage preparation classes and/or counseling, but you’re not sure how to bring it up to your fiancé without scaring him.
Marriage preparation is a great way to build a shared vision of what you want your marriage to be, but it is often surrounded by misunderstandings. To some, for example, it can seem like an unnecessary step or a hassle. Your partner may also feel like counseling or marriage courses are only for couples whose relationship is in trouble. But this couldn’t be further from the truth!
It’s worth it to have a conversation with your guy about counseling or marriage prep, but the tricky part is making a good case for why. When you present the idea of marriage prep to your fiancé, try some of the suggestions below to help him see the value in pre-marriage prep.
Step 1: Know the Research
Before you even bring up the idea of the two of you attending marriage prep, it’s helpful for you to understand why marriage prep is even a good idea. Whether you are considering working with a counselor or a marriage prep course, the research is very positive when it comes to the benefits. In general, the research shows that participants in marriage prep programs experience about a 30 percent improvement in their relationship quality and interpersonal skills when compared to couples who did not participate in a marriage prep program. Another study found that across race, income, and education levels, those who participated in a marriage prep program reported higher levels of satisfaction and commitment in their marriage, lower levels of conflict, and reduced odds of divorce.
One study cited by the American Psychological Association found that couples who participated in PREP (a specific marriage prep program) were less likely to get divorced and had significantly higher levels of marital satisfaction. Another study found that couples who participated in the PREP program had less negative interaction and more positive interaction, lower rates of aggression, lower rates of breakup or divorce, and higher levels of relationship satisfaction that lasted up to five years following the training.
Rather than discovering them as they come up in your marriage, knowing your strengths and weaknesses ahead of time can help you play to your strengths and avoid any pitfalls. Many marriage prep programs include an assessment such as FOCCUS, PREPARE, or RELATE, which are a quick and easy way to get an idea of what your strengths and weaknesses are as a couple.
Step 2: Make a Case
(a) Help him see the value.
Once you’ve educated yourself on the value of marriage prep classes, it’s time to help your guy see the value as well. When he hears the phrase “marriage prep,” he might associate it with lots of talk about feelings or he may think that going to marriage prep means there is something wrong with your relationship. When my friend Katie presented the idea to her fiancé she said she tried to emphasize the fact that the true purpose was for them to get to know each other better and for their own growth as a couple.
Pre-marriage prep is a research-supported way to increase the likelihood of having a successful and happy marriage. Not only that, marriage prep courses or counseling can provide you both with concrete skills you can use to build your relationship.
(b) Take advantage of the break from wedding planning.
For engaged couples, marriage prep is an opportunity to take a break from the hectic wedding planning whirlwind and focus on preparing for life after the wedding. The most common topics that couples argue about, according to relationship expert Dr. John Gottman, are work stress, in-laws, money, intimacy, housework, and a new baby. When I asked my friend Katie what topics she and her fiancé talked about in their marriage prep, she described it as an “opportunity to discuss real issues that can become critical in a marriage, such as holidays, finances, conflict resolution styles, etc. and smaller things such as annoyances/pet peeves, household chores, etc.” Katie suggests emphasizing that going through marriage prep is “just an extra opportunity for us to get to know each other, spend quality time together, and prepare ourselves for marriage, and talk about as much as possible beforehand so that there wouldn’t be any ‘surprises’ later down the road.” So think of marriage prep as something that gives you the much-needed space to discuss the issues that most commonly affect relationships.
(c) Explain the logistics.
The last thing you want is for your guy to feel tricked when heading into a pre-marriage course or counseling, so it’s important to be really clear about what this commitment will entail. When Katie brought up to her fiancé that they needed to go through marriage prep to get married in her church, she told me that she explained what marriage prep involved (taking an assessment, meeting with a clergyman for feedback, and attending a weekend workshop) and the purpose behind it. If you are worried he isn’t going to like the time commitment, the amount of homework, or the topics being discussed, it’s best not to try and gloss over there details. If your guy agrees to marriage prep with you, you want him to be all in.
Marriage prep doesn’t have to be an intimidating experience or a waste of time. In fact, it just might be one of the smartest things you can do to invest in the success of your relationship.
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Photo Credit: Elissa Voss