I must admit I’ve always been on the fence about relationship counselling. I wasn’t sure how I felt about someone poking around in my personal business. And as a couple with a few years behind us, haven’t we discussed the big ticket items already? Where we want to live, work and travel, whether we want kids, how we’ll manage money and support each other’s dreams? So chatting with couples counsellor Emanuel Perdis was a bit of an eye opener.
We all have stuff we bring into a relationship. Some we’ve dealt with, some we’ve parked and some unpacks itself when we least expect it. And your partner has their stuff, some you know about and some you don’t. Then there’s your relationship and what you’re making together.
What if you could address concerns and resolve arguments before they happen? That’s where pre-marriage counselling comes in. Instead of waiting until a big bust up, when feelings are hurt and tensions are high, you could avoid it altogether – or at least know how to work through it together.
Emanuel Perdis has had many brides share their anxiety and stress with him during wedding planning, which inspired him to offer pre-marriage counselling online. Now he helps couples gain the insights and tools to manage whatever life brings and make the most important partnership of their lives even stronger.
Here he answers all of your biggest pre-marriage counselling questions, from what it is to how it works and whether you really need it.
What is pre-marriage counselling?
Pre-marriage counselling is about making sure your relationship, like a home, is built on strong foundations.
That it’s constructed mindfully from the ground up, taking into account the inherent weaknesses of the home’s site. These weak points may be past traumas, wounds or sensitivities acquired through temperament, personality or experiences.
You want to make sure you’re double bricking this home and building in those supports from early on. So when the big bad wolf huffs and puffs and tries to blow it down, it will stand.
There are a lot of pre-nuptial pressures that turn up the heat on the relationship. Couples have a lot at stake and they’re juggling so much, but they can leave it too late to get help.
Pre-marriage counselling is about nipping things in the bud before they become a bigger problem. Instead of suffering years of arguments, issues can be discussed openly and worked out early.
How do I broach the idea of pre-marriage counselling with my partner?
I would simply put it that, hey, getting married is a big commitment and there’s a lot at stake. So why don’t we try it and see if it helps?
That way, you’re not setting up too much expectation, you’re allowing them to just give counselling a go.
It also depends on what issues you may have. Maybe the wedding planning has turned one partner into a zilla and they’re kind of shocked at themselves and want to look at their patterns of how they cope with stress, concerns and worries.
Or they may want to get some help on their own first. Once the relationship with the counsellor is strengthened, the other partner joins and it becomes a resource to the marriage that they can both lean on.
That’s exactly what happened for my wife and I!
When should we start pre-marriage counselling?
I would say when you’ve paid the deposit for your venue, because it’s gotten real. You can lose that money if something happens between the two of you at the 11th hour because things haven’t been dealt with sooner.
How do we know we’ve found the right couples counsellor?
They’re qualified and experienced.
Besides the relevant qualifications, the most important factor would be experience specifically counselling couples.
It’s not an easy thing to work with two people at the same time. It’s a unique skill set and a knack that you develop.
It doesn’t really matter what kind of counselling approach they use, as long as they take you through their process so you feel comfortable with how it works.
They’re easy to talk to.
The three of you become a team working on your relationship, so it’s essential that you feel a connection with your counsellor. It’s a good idea for you both to speak with them before your first session.
Their gender isn’t always a consideration, but it can sometimes make it harder for one partner to open up, especially if there’s a sense that they’ve been made to feel wrong in the relationship.
You should each feel that they’re fair, reasonably wise and able to adjudicate. Like you’ve got somebody in your corner you can turn to that’s impartial, helpful and supportive.
They’re invested in your relationship.
While it’s possible to work on what you’re each bringing into the marriage through individual sessions, couples counselling isn’t about one partner or the other.
Ultimately the counsellor should treat your relationship as their client. Rather than taking sides, they should be seeking whatever remedies are needed from either partner to nourish it.
They’ve walked the talk.
My wife and I used to snicker at the fact that our counsellor had been married three times. Well at least he knows what goes wrong!
We’re personally going for our 25th anniversary this year, so having a relationship that’s worked but has also been through the pain points means I can bring a unique perspective.
I think lived experience brings a lot of value to couples counselling.
How does an online couples counselling session work?
The value of counselling lies in the connection, relationship and process, so online sessions work no differently and are just as effective as face to face.
If you’re feeling a little bit raw, there can be an advantage to not having a counsellor in your face.
The added flexibility and convenience is also helpful for busy couples as their schedules don’t impede the commitment to counselling.
What can be discussed in a pre-marriage counselling session?
I like to always start with what keeps rearing its head as an unresolved or repeat argument.
If they haven’t experienced that, I take my couples through a stress test of common scenarios and see what they’ve discussed, agreed upon or arrived at. That always tends to shake the tree and bring a number of fruits to the ground.
And last but not least, I help them see what their strengths and weaknesses are, what to beware of and what resources they can use to counter that.
Do we need pre-marriage counselling if we feel like our relationship is fine?
I’m sceptical of relationships that haven’t had many arguments. Because I feel like they’ve either had the blessing of fair weather or the couple may be conflict avoidant.
There’s nothing wrong with calm seas, but then you don’t know what the storms hold for you. Life circumstances like an engagement, a change of job, a child or moving house stress test the relationship and help it grow and adjust.
You also can’t have two individuals who operate as whole people with their own wishes, tastes, preferences, needs and interests agree on everything. So the question is, “Why haven’t there been arguments?”
It’s often someone giving in and giving up and that’s going to catch up with you at some point.
Having had couples counselling with my wife, I know the immense value it’s had in making our life together happy but also making us happy as individuals.
Do we need to come with a question or problem to our couples counselling session?
No, because one of the first things I always ask is, “What has happened in your lives the last few weeks?”.
Because that proves to be a microcosm of the relationship. There’s so much to unpack from any recent disagreements as you can see the stress points and seeds for future arguments.
Are we talking about one partner’s perfectionism? Are we talking about another’s insecurity?
There’s a lot of things that little spats reveal once you put the magnifying glass on, like issues of self-worth, dominance and power patterns.
So the small fights in between sessions prove to be most helpful because they provide really fertile opportunities to fix things.
How many pre-marriage counselling sessions do we need to commit to?
I usually work in blocks of six to eight sessions at a time.
If a couple is troubled with particular issues, we’ll do weekly sessions. Otherwise we’ll do fortnightly and review at the end of the block.
If they need another few sessions before the wedding, we can add that in. And then we’ll usually do a post-honeymoon catch up to see if there’s anything they’d like to work on.
You then join the ranks of their speed dial for when they hit a bump or a snag, because you’ve built that relationship and they trust you.
How can pre-marriage counselling benefit our relationship?
Pre-marriage counselling means your relationship is supported, strengthened, mindfully protected and cared for.
You’ll feel heard.
It can be helpful to have yourself translated to your partner so they can understand you better, especially if you’re finding it hard to communicate effectively with one another.
The mediating influence of a counsellor can be really therapeutic if you feel like you’re speaking different languages.
You’ll feel connected.
We have so much technological distraction in our palms and pockets that can negatively affect the way we engage with one another.
Making it a habit through counselling to connect on an emotional level and nurture that intimacy will benefit you now and in the future.
You’ll feel confident.
I think it takes a couple of decades to really know each other.
But if you invest time in those early days to have deep conversations and explore hypothetical scenarios, it can build your confidence in your ability to navigate the trials of life together.
Having a clean bill of relationship health can be really affirming.
Why are you passionate about counselling couples?
As a counsellor, you’re able to influence so many people generationally.
Not only are you helping the couple navigate the choppy waters that come with any relationship, but their friends and family have something to look towards as a model of a healthier relationship. Their kids get the benefits of having happier parents.
I’ve seen the effects on adults of growing up with parents who didn’t have healthy relationship patterns and behaviours and what it’s done to them and how it’s impacted them.
That’s why I feel couples counselling is really amazing because I can help the greatest amount of people for the longest period of time.
Thanks to Emanuel Perdis for answering all of our pre-marriage counselling questions! You can book an online session (with a money back guarantee) here.