Many couples choose to do premarital counseling before their wedding, especially if they are religious. My then-boyfriend Dan and I did something a little different. We took a premarital counseling course before Dan even proposed.
Why I Wanted Pre-Engagement Counseling
Dan and I both figured out early in our relationship that we wanted to get married, but we maintained a pragmatic approach to the process. I read an article suggesting couples attend premarital counseling prior to their formal engagement. This writer presented two primary benefits to pre-engagement counseling.
- During the wedding planning process, the couple focuses primarily on the wedding. Even if they have the best of intentions with premarital counseling, they might not give it their full attention.
- Sometimes premarital counseling brings up incompatible differences that the couple didn't previously realize. While calling off an engagement is better than a divorce, it is easier for a couple to break up if they are not engaged.
I agreed with the article, so I brought this idea up with Dan. He then came up with the perfect egalitarian solution to our eventual engagement. We agreed that when I felt ready, I would ask him to start premarital counseling with me. Then, after we finished, and he felt ready, he would ask me to marry him.
How I Pre-Proposed to My Husband
I created a PowerPoint presentation.
Yes, a PowerPoint presentation on why I thought we were ready to start premarital counseling, along with my suggestions of how we should get counseling.
This is what happens when two nerds fall in love, just for the record.
After my presentation, Dan agreed he was ready to start premarital counseling!
Dan did independent research on premarital counseling options, and he agreed with my conclusion of Marriage 101.
Why We Chose Marriage 101
Dan and I planned on getting married out-of-state, and neither of us was connected to a local church. That limited our options for religious premarital counselors. I was also unimpressed by the selection of local secular counselors and therapists offered premarital counseling.
Luckily I discovered a comprehensive online option for premarital counseling called Marriage 101. I figured it would work just as well for pre-engagement counseling!
Marriage 101 essentially offers different tools and kits for partners to use prior to marriage. We opted for the Complete Couples Package, but you can go through the options and buy just individual components. This came with:
- 8 online sessions
- a comprehensive quiz that analyzes strengths and weaknesses in a relationship
- multiple relationship books
- a family background worksheet
- two workbooks
Dan and I spent a few months going through Marriage 101 together. We started by taking the Couple Checkup, which basically asked each of us to describe our relationship experiences and expectations. We answered those questions separately, and then the Checkup paired them up. Our results were discussion questions for us to go through based on any discrepancies between our answers.
During the weekends, we watched the online sessions, filled out the accompanying workbooks, and discussed what we learned. Independently, we both read one of the relationship books plus the finances book.
We both dropped the ball on the family background worksheets. Oops. But they were very comprehensive.
Marriage 101 is definitely more religiously conservative than a Christian feminist and an atheist would desire. But aside from the bits that earnestly and awkwardly proclaimed Jesus would be the third person in the marital bed, the advice from Marriage 101 was sound.
I was particularly impressed that a conservative Christian perspective on sex would acknowledge that in a (heterosexual) marriage, the man doesn't necessarily have a higher libido than the woman. While talking about the different sex needs of men and women, they also acknowledged that for simplicity, they assigned one set of preferences to men and the other to women, based on their survey results of married men and women, but that each couple needs to asses for themselves who has which sex needs.
Bonus: We got married in Texas, which normally requires a 72-hour waiting period to receive a marriage license. With an approved premarital counseling course, that time is waived. At the time of our marriage, Marriage 101 was the only approved online premarital counseling. Since Dan and I are not from Texas, not having to wait 72 hours helped us out so much!
The Benefits of Pre-Engagement Counseling
Dan and I started discussing the "big stuff" pretty quickly in our relationship. He confided his financial situation and philosophy to me after about six months, and I reciprocated. We discussed kids, places to live, travel ideas, family wishes/obligations, and so much more all in our first year dating.
Pre-engagement counseling really made us dig into the big topics, though. There's so much more to discuss than whether or not a couple wants kids, for example. If you do, how soon do you want them? How many? Will one parent stay home, and if so, which parent? While many decisions can't be made until a couple actually has a kid, there's a lot to determine before any baby-making happens.
It was also good for us to talk in-depth about how our families raises us, and the way our experiences shaped our expectations for marriage. Dan and I both come from white middle-class Christian families, but we still had very different experiences growing up.
Those are just a few examples of the deliberate conversations sparked by the video sessions, books, and other tools provided by Marriage 101.
When we finished our pre-engagement counseling, I felt very confident about getting engaged and then getting married.
Dan and I both wanted a short engagement. So pre-engagement counseling made sense for us. We spent several months focusing primarily on building a foundation for our marriage. I loved that we had that time for just the two of us to prepare for marriage, without wedding planning getting in the way.
A year and a half into our marriage, I'm still grateful for the time we spent planning a lifetime together.