Before your tie the knot, it’s important that you and your future hubby spend some time really thinking about life beyond the wedding. Engagement is not just about bouquets and wedding dresses. It’s a time to engage each other spiritually and practically, and discuss those little details that may just be tough to talk about. This is about building a foundation together that will last a lifetime. So we sought out one of the most prominent wedding officiates to get the real scoop on premarital counseling. Here are 8 important things that you should know about premarital counseling according to Jeff Maszal of Wedding Ceremonies by Jeff. He says:
Regardless of when couples start their premarital work every couple with whom I have ever worked has had at least one “aha” moment — something they found very helpful for their relationship and marriage.
First, I work with couples from all faiths/religions, race, and cultural backgrounds – this includes couples who practice no religion. There is really no different approach. The questions I ask around faith and spirituality are customized to their upbringing and current beliefs/practices. I should mention that once or twice a year I work with couples that are actually trying to find a place of worship that fits their beliefs
Second, there is no set rule for when couples should start premarital work. It is up to each couple and their budget. Though, I do recommend couples do premarital work prior to moving in together (if they have not yet moved in together). I’ve had couples contact me a year before their wedding and three months before the ceremony. Some couples start their work before getting married and finish after they’re married. However, I don’t do any sessions if the wedding is less than four weeks away. I want the couple to concentrate on the wedding –- that can be stressful enough.
Third, I use a minimum of three tools (questionnaires) when I work with couples. The three tools provide me with a three-dimensional picture of the couple and offers valuable information to help identify key areas for our conversation:
- Prepare–Enrich is the most widely used premarital tool for couples in the U.S. Couples take an online questionnaire (about 20 minutes), and I received a comprehensive report on the couple. The couple will also receive a 10-page print-out of their scores. NOTE: the Prepare-Enrich questionnaire is customized (based on my registration information) for each couple based on their faith background/beliefs. Further, each couple receives a Prepare-Enrich workbook that we use to drive our sessions and topics.
- Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI): The couple’s MBTI scores supplement the Prepare-Enrich report, giving me a better understanding of each spouse’s communication style and personality characteristics. In turn, this helps the couple understand why each spouse has certain personality traits
- Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. This is a short but popular questionnaire that helps couples identify their primary love language. It is fun, but has enough depth that it provides a lot of information to the couple. By the way, there are five love languages according to Chapman: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch.
Fourth, when I initially meet with couples, I outline the five main goals of our sessions:
- Identify each spouse’s communication style.
- Identify the relationship’s current strengths and growth opportunities.
- Identify rituals/behaviors that each spouse brings to the relationship from their family or origin.
- Discuss the common questions and the key topics that couples face in marriage using the Prepare-Enrich workbook (communication; conflict resolution techniques; children and parenting; sex and affection; financial management; leisure activities; relationship roles; spiritual beliefs; marriage expectations; and personal, professional, and family goals.
- Provide the couple an opportunity to discuss difficult topics or issues with a third-party facilitator present. Sometimes a spouse doesn’t want to bring up certain topics with a facilitator present. Or a coupe continues to fight about the same issue and they need an independent facilitator.
I also point out in the first session the need to be honest with each other.
Fifth, my sessions are usually 90 minutes in length and most couples finish the work in 4–8 sessions.
Sixth, a majority of the session questions are found in the Prepare-Enrich workbook. Each couple has a homework assignment between sessions. Based on their homework, other questions arise. However, I ask every couple to discuss:
- How they were disciplined as a child
- How their parents fought
- Family traditions during the holidays
Seventh: The most challenging part of pre-marital work for me is identifying each spouse’s communication style and then helping each spouse understand the other’s communication style. Since communication is the key to any successful relationship, I spend a lot of time helping each spouse understand the other’s communication style. There is not really one common thing that is “most challenging” for couples. Each couple has its own unique challenges during sessions.
Eighth: The most effective exercise happens in the first session when I ask each couple to identify the three areas of their relationship that are current strengths and areas that need work and then discuss why they think it is a strength or something that need work. The themes set here tend to continue throughout our sessions.
About the Contributor: Jeff Mazel founded Wedding Ceremonies by Jeff after several years working as a management consultant in the corporate world. Jeff is a regular speaker and workshop presenter at conferences and in the boardroom. A recognized expert in his field, Jeff has published several articles in trade publications and been quoted in the print media. He has appeared on several TV and radio programs including NPR and PBS. Jeff holds standing in two mainline Protestant denominations and is licensed to officiate ceremonies in the states of Virginia, Maryland, Ohio, and the District of Columbia. Jeff currently lives in Alexandria, VA.