Smart NYC Couples Understand the Value of Premarital Counseling and Premarital Therapy
Premarital counseling is about building a relationship that’s fit for the long haul. Smart NYC couples understand that marriage is unpredictable and requires more than love and good intentions. Marriage challenges the communication and problem-solving skills of even the best of us and in New York, premarital therapy is a way to establish a platform for savvy communication even before things get tough.
There’s a good reason to believe that engaging in premarital counseling will help identify issues of concern that may need ongoing attention. Premarital counseling can help couples prevent conflict and increase the possibility for success in the long run. Unlike couples therapy, which usually takes place when there’s a problem, premarital counseling is about preventing troubles down the line. And just because we’re in counseling doesn’t mean everything has to be so serious. Couples who are able to laugh together, especially about things that are tough to talk about or embarrassing, can use that as a resource to help those conversations go better.
Premarital Counseling Gives Couples A Sense Of Their Strengths
Premarital counseling is a unique opportunity to do some important work that can help provide you and your partner with a sense of your areas of strength, as well as areas to explore and pay attention to. In our practice, we work hard to stay connected to your strengths as a couple. When we do that, this tends to be powerful and motivating. Your strengths as a couple is a thread we’ll go back to continually within the course of our time together (and encourage you to do beyond our work together).
Premarital therapy: In New York City, Not just for religious couples
Premarital counseling is traditionally a religious practice, often led by a rabbi, minister or couples therapist affiliated with the religious organization as a requirement for marriage within that faith or at that faith’s house of worship. Particularly in New York City, couples are often unaffiliated religiously or are merging two faiths. Even for secular couples, premarital counseling can help couples sort through their concerns and discover what works (and what doesn’t).
Modern Marriage Needs Modern Premarital Counseling
Marriage is an ancient institution and while, in reality, it has been redefined in countless ways, much of the ways we talk about and prepare for marriage are antiquated. Not only can marriages now be formed by couples of the same gender or who define gender in non-traditional ways, as well as couples of different races and faiths, the very nature of how marriage is defined has become much more creative. Many couples chose to partner but not get married. Some marry legally but not within the context of a religious institution or vice versa. Many don’t chose to relate to marriage as a “forever” institution while others embrace various kinds of open marriages. One or both partners may have children from a previous relationship, an adopted child or, of course, have been married previously. Not everyone who’s getting married is between the ages of 24 and 36 either.
As marriage is being redefined, so must premarital counseling: Why NYC needs progressive premarital counseling
In the last few years, with the Supreme Court effectively making gay marriage legal in all 50 states, the country is beginning to see marriage outside of its traditionally conceived, straight, same-race, gender-normative box. And yet, New Yorkers have been embracing relationships that are outside of the box for a long time. It’s time for premarital counseling in NYC to catch up.
Whether in the context of marriage per se, a domestic partnership or some other self-defined understanding of relationships, queer couples and non-gender conforming couples have been choosing to define their relationship as one grounded in a long-term commitment for decades. Their marriage doesn’t fit into a heterosexual box–there’s no reason their premarital counseling should have to.
Speaking of boxes: Interracial, bi-racial, bi-religious NYC couples shouldn’t have to compromise, either.
New York City is one of the most diverse cities in the world so it’s no surprise that so many New Yorkers choose to marry someone of a different faith, ethnicity or race. In these cases, assumptions are harder to miss, and premarital counseling inevitably needs to feature room for talking openly about the question of how marriage and family gets defined.
In Premarital Therapy, Expect Homework
If you’re like many couples we work with, you are motivated to get the most out of premarital therapy, so be ready to do homework. Weekly homework tends to be helpful as couples really want to put into practice what they are doing in therapy. The homework, as with everything we do, is always custom-tailored. In particular, we have a knack for identifying things one or both partner(s) finds uncomfortable and creating assignments to help them outside their comfort zone. Some examples might be requesting one partner stop Googling about marriage, having a couple start making space for a weekly family meeting, directing them to reorganize how they are allocating wedding responsibilities, or initiating different boundaries with a family of origin member.
Premarital counseling: Get ready for the long haul
Above all no matter what form your marriage takes, great premarital counseling is not just about predicting and addressing issues in the present, but also discovering how you make decisions and handle conflict as a couple. It can provide guidance on questions that will need to be negotiated in the transition to becoming a married couple including economics, emotions, power, boundaries, sexuality, life cycle, whether or not to have a child, approaches to child-rearing, chores and leisure activities, your careers and work/life balance and more:
You’re forming a family (even if it’s just a family of two)
What sort of family do you want to have? What are your family values? What traditions or habits are important to each of you? If kids are coming, how much work versus family time do you want to have? Do you want to send them to public or private schools? Will you take maternity or paternity leave?
You’re merging two families (and families of friends)
Questions like whether to celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah (or both/or neither) or to live in New York City or move to the suburbs are just the beginning. Even when families get along, there are always sensitive circumstances to navigate. Who is going to take care of parents when they get older? Will you support siblings and relatives?
Family can mean a lot of things. Friends are often just as important as families to a couple. How do those relationships work in the context of the couple? How do you hold onto friendships outside the relationship and how do you set boundaries on friends and families when limits need to be set?
Premarital counseling is not just for the two individuals in a couple, but for the entire family. Weddings are often an important ritual used to ease a family’s anxiety around losing a family member, as well as a way to welcome a new one. This is hard for families! Therapy before marriage can help shift how you understand and respond to your family’s’ reactions.
Understanding where you come from: Premarital counseling looking backwards as you move forward
Marriage is about more than two individuals. So often, it’s the most powerful forces that define how we see relationships that are the hardest to see. This is especially true when it comes to both the values enforced by each partner’s parents and/or the mistakes they’ve seen their parents make that they don’t want to repeat.
Perhaps one or both partners parents had a poor relationship or got divorced, or perhaps their relationship thrived. Premarital counseling is an opportunity to examine how those experiences present themselves in the expectations and fears each partner brings to the marriage. How do we not repeat the past, or how can we build on our parents’ success while appreciating in either instances that we have the opportunity to define our relationship for ourselves. The more aware we are of the assumptions we’re bringing to marriage the more freedom we have to make real choices.
Gender roles: Premarital counseling as a chance to create new ways of performing gender in marriage
Most progressive New Yorkers are aware that marriage comes loaded with assumptions about gender. Even with same-sex or gender non-conforming partners. Are there hidden assumptions about who will take out the garbage or fix the leaky sink? How much time off will each person take with the kids?
You’re merging two financial worlds
Are you sharing a bank account or splitting expenses? Do you have assets from a previous marriage and kids? Even if the idea of a prenup seems scary, it is important to talk about “what ifs”–to bring to the surface assumptions each of you have about who’s assets belong to whom. Does that marriage have debt? What are shared/divergent priorities? If kids are on the horizon, who will take care of them and how will that affect income?
Talk about sex. Really.
Open relationship? Infidelity? What are the rules? What do each of you need to feel secure? When monogamy is agreed upon, how should you handle temptation (everyone is tempted)? What about close relationships with coworkers and friends (of the sex that each person is attracted to)? What is sexy? How has sex changed? How might it change? Do each of you want different things? Does porn have a place in the relationship? How might an unexpected pregnancy be handled?
Mastering conflict and establishing productive communication patterns
Will you go to bed angry? How will you be able to be hurt, but also do other tasks together? How do you avoid burying things? How do you get good at having conflict? How do you get help from a couples therapist, friends or family? Is it kosher to talk about conflicts with friends or with family outside the relationship? How do you communicate? How do you respond to your partner?
We have some biases, of course, about all of these questions. More communication is better and talking sooner rather than later about the hard stuff makes it less likely to grow and cause trouble later. There’s never been a healthy relationship without conflict so while avoiding it would be great, it’s better to be prepared.
Read More About Premarital Counseling At Tribeca Therapy