Planning your wedding is often described as exciting, fun, and even at times stressful.  Many brides, and more often lately, grooms, spend countless hours of time attending vendor consultations, making spreadsheets and budgeting, and of course, making decisions about the smallest of details for their wedding day.  While planning for the actual wedding is important, research, wisdom, and clinical experience has shown that it is even more important to prepare for your marriage.  This is typically done through pre-marital therapy, or if not conducted by a licensed mental health professional, what is sometimes referred to as pre-marital counseling or education.

Research from the Journal of Family Psychology suggests that couples who undergo premarital education reported significantly higher marital satisfaction and are 30% less likely to divorce. The positive effects of premarital therapy are so notable that the state of Florida offers a discount to couples applying for a marriage license who participate in a minimum of four sessions of premarital therapy.

Who Should Seek Pre-Marital Therapy?

Most individuals and couples have heard of pre-marital therapy.  However, just as therapy in general is working steadfastly to decreasing stigmatization, some people are fearful of seeking therapy due to rigid beliefs about what this “means” about them or their relationship.  Similarly, some individuals think that therapy is only important or necessitated when a person or couple is experiencing difficulties in their life or relationship.  This is false in many ways: individuals often seek therapy not because they are having any specific difficulties but rather because they are interested in self-growth and balance.  Likewise, and much more often in pre-marital therapy, couples seek pre-marital therapy to form a solid foundation for their marriage.

The simple answer to this question is that ALL couples should attend pre-marital therapy sessions.  Some couples will seek pre-marital therapy because they are having specific problems in their relationship that they want to work through prior to making the substantial commitment of marriage.  Other couples participate in pre-marital therapy because they want to better prepare for their future union and life together.

What is Pre-Marital Therapy?

Pre-marital therapy is usually brief (4-7 sessions) in nature, though depending on the couple (their problem areas or preferences for continued treatment) can last longer.

Couples participate in premarital therapy to build a solid foundation for the future by openly discussing relationship wants, preferences, hopes, concerns, and goals.

Premarital therapy is about having open and honest discussions with your partner to prepare for the marriage and for the life that is ahead.  This sometimes means discussing topics that can be conflictual or even heated.  However, relationships that endure are not without conflict, and premarital therapy can help you and your partner learn better ways to respond to and manage conflict, both through increased communication skills and an increased understanding of each other. During the course of premarital therapy, it is possible there will be disagreements, and even arguments, as you and your partner explore topics that have not yet presented themselves or those that already have and are sensitive areas in your relationship. Conflict is a natural, healthy, and important part of any relationship, and there is no better time to address such important relationship issues.

Common topics discussed in the course of premarital therapy include communication, conflict resolution, finances and career, sex, division of labor, parenting, family planning, friends and family, romance, beliefs and values, and health and habits. Premarital therapy can help undo fears about marriage, set realistic expectations for timing (e.g., children, career moves, relocating), learn or improve communication and conflict skills, and identify possible areas for future marital stress in order to create preventative plans.

What to Expect?

While the aforementioned topics are common areas of discussion in premarital therapy, no relationship is alike.  For this reason, at Tampa Therapy, the first session is spent understanding the couple in terms of their history, strengths, and concerns, and the remaining sessions are spent exploring these identified areas, with the option of continuing for additional sessions if the couple wants or needs more time. Additionally, many couples opt to schedule occasional check-in sessions to assist them in staying on track or with solving new relationship challenges after they marry.

Who Should You See?

When seeking pre-marital therapy, there are typically two routes you can pursue: you will have the option of meeting with a licensed mental health professional (e.g., a psychologist, mental health counselor, marriage and family therapist) or a clergy member.  Couples who seek out clergy leaders to conduct their pre-marital counseling sessions (again, these individuals are not licensed mental health professionals, so they are not providing therapy) typically have a close relationship with their place of worship.

Interestingly enough, some individuals (and perhaps even those reading this blog) are not aware that pre-marital therapy is available outside of a religious setting.  It is important to know that premarital therapy is available in non-religious, therapeutic settings and to make a careful decision about where and from whom you will obtain pre-marital treatment.

If one or both partners are not particularly religious, if the couple does not share the same religion (interfaith), or if the couple is same-sex, it is often better that the couple seek pre-marital treatment from a licensed mental health professional where (perhaps significantly) more open-mindedness, acceptance, and equality is present.  Also, it is incredibly important to consider that mental health professionals have specific and advanced training in providing therapy services, whereas clergy members do not.

Interfaith and Same-Sex Pre-Marital Therapy

As a psychologist, Dr. Barbash approaches all aspects of psychological treatment with an open-mind and with the goal of creating a non-judgmental and relaxed therapeutic environment.  This can differ significantly from seeking treatment in a religious setting.  Dr. Barbash is well-researched, educated, and experienced in working with interfaith couples and same-sex couples.  She is aware of the unique challenges that can occur for these individuals, and is skilled in helping all couples through their specific difficulties.

Why Turn to Tampa Therapy for Your Marriage Counseling

There are many providers of premarital treatment in the Tampa area, however, most are clergy members without the specific clinical training and experience that Dr. Barbash can provide. Additionally, Dr. Barbash provides interfaith and same-sex premarital therapy, which is often not the case with clergy counselors. Upon completion of at least four premarital sessions, Dr. Barbash can provide the certificate necessary for the state of Florida’s marriage license discount.

For all couples, it is of utmost importance that you obtain premarital therapy in a setting where you feel relaxed, welcome, and accepted.  This is a priority of Tampa Therapy.  We welcome and encourage you to give us a call today to discuss your premarital therapy needs and goals.

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