Is Premarital Counseling the Newest Wedding Planning Trend?

Is Premarital Counseling the Newest Wedding Planning Trend?

There’s a standard series of activities that couples typically embark upon before their wedding day. They might throw an engagement party, tour venues, go cake tasting, attend a bachelor or bachelorette party, and maybe even take dance lessons. But a less expected pre-wedding activity that’s become a popular step for over a third of Gen-Z and millennial couples? Premarital counseling. While it might not be as fun as other prenuptial excursions, there’s a growing camp that believes visits to a therapist or a trusted religious figure to discuss the nuances, strengths, and weaknesses of your relationship is an essential step before tying the knot.

“Historically, we’ve seen patterns of couples seeking out therapy or premarital counseling only when there’s looming issues,” shares The Knot deputy editor Esther Lee. “However, for many in the Gen Z and millennial generations, they now view seeking out any form of counseling or therapy as a proactive way of coping and improving the quality of their relationships and overall lives.” Based on the recently published The Knot 2023 Real Weddings Study, a whopping 45 percent of Gen Z and 31 percent of millennial couples attended premarital counseling last year.

Benu Lahiry, LMFT and chief clinical officer at modern-day relationship wellness company Ours, shares that while views on premarital counseling have recently changed, the structure of sessions has as well. “It was often viewed as a mandatory step within certain religious institutions, contributing to a reputation of the process being inaccessible, rigid, and formal,” she says. “Today’s premarital counseling transcends the one-size-fits-all model—evolving into a personalized and relevant journey for couples, creating a solid foundation for a successful and fulfilling marriage. Couples are increasingly acknowledging that a successful and enduring marriage is not devoid of obstacles but, rather, is built upon navigating and overcoming them. The openness to the complexities of marital life celebrates a more realistic and resilient view of what constitutes a thriving partnership.”

So, what exactly does premarital counseling entail? “It is often a series of conversations facilitated by professionals to help a couple ensure that their values and vision for marriage align,” says TacklingTorah Rabbi and CEO, Rabbi Elyssa Cherney. “As couples envision what a long-term relationship will look like, it is helpful to seek the support and guidance of professionals to strengthen the couple’s communication skills. This will help them start with a solid foundation to build on in achieving their shared dreams. Couples will explore how their past upbringing brought them to where they are today and what their hopes for the future they create together will look like.”

While common topics include home life, finances, family planning, conflict resolution, and intimacy, Lahiry notes that many discussions also touch on larger themes of race, class, gender, and power. “In essence, premarital counseling in today’s context delves into the complexities of modern life,” she says. “But what feels new is in how we’re having these conversations. There is more intention and awareness of how we are influenced by the greater national conversation. The success of a partnership goes beyond the conventional pillars and includes a nuanced understanding of how external factors shape the internal dynamics of a relationship.”

While many turn to premarital counseling to sort out any problems that may arise in the future of their marriage, Lee shares it can also be helpful throughout the engagement period. “While wedding planning is exciting, it can also be stressful for many couples,” she notes. “Premarital counseling can help them not only work on their own feelings of potential stress and being overwhelmed, but keep their relationship bond strong as they plan this big life moment together.”

Opening up communication through counseling is not only a popular idea to strengthen a marriage, but also a proven one. “In 2001, a Denver-based researcher named Scott Stanley found that ‘premarital education’ lowered the divorce rate between couples by 31 percent,” says Lee. “Research also shows that most divorces occur within the first seven years of marriage. Participating in premarital counseling can allow couples to get ahead of these statistics and have the tools to work on their relationship before reaching that point.”

Finding the right premarital counseling depends on the couple’s desires and goals. Lee advises researching certified relationship therapists or premarital education programs at institutions to find a solution that fits your needs. “Often in religious circumstances, couples may ask their officiant to host their counseling sessions,” she says. “Couples can look to The Knot Vendor Marketplace to find and connect with officiants in their area who also serve as premarital counselors.” Platforms like Ours allow couples to easily access professional counseling virtually. The company also recently partnered with registry site Joy, so couples can register to have sessions covered as gifts from friends and family, including counseling that can take place before marriage or after you tie the knot.

The timeline for beginning premarital counseling is also flexible based on the couple. While most turn to counseling after a proposal, the pros say it can also be incredibly helpful to determine if an engagement is an appropriate next step. As for the number of sessions, Rabbi Cherney notes she commonly does a three-session program for couples, while Lahiry says three to six sessions are common at Ours. “As a rule of thumb, attending premarital counseling should ideally align with when a couple feels ready to embark on these essential conversations,” she says.