By: Tressa Holson
You are engaged. Now comes the time of planning. You have a wedding to plan, and more importantly a marriage to prepare for. Many couples can easily get caught up in the stress, detail, joy, and chaos of planning a wedding and neglect the opportunity to further examine one another’s beliefs, expectations, and realities regarding what marriage will actually look like.
This time of engagement can be full of joy and excitement in anticipation for your big day, while simultaneously be a large point of stress and conflict as you plan. With all of the organization, planning, and time spent on details for the wedding, it can be easy to slip into a pattern of decreased intentionality in pursuing intimacy.
Pre-marital counseling can help with this. The purpose is to improve your relationship to be stronger, increase intimacy, as well as to shine light on topics or issues that you, as a couple, can benefit from with intentional conversations.
Pre-Marriage Counseling Topics to Increase Intimacy
There are several pre-marriage counseling topics that will help increase intimacy in the relationship and assist in becoming more prepared for what marriage has in store. Here are four of them:
Couples may struggle with communication and therefore experience a sense of added anxiety about seeking counseling for fear of what they may have to talk about. But what a perfect place to begin working on open communication with your partner.
Pre-marital counseling can provide a safe space for couples to explore together not only specific topics you may not have dug into yet, but also to examine your communication styles and way of interacting with one another. Generally, we all have a way of communicating that makes sense to us and was developed through the family dynamics in which we have been raised, in combination with our individual personalities.
It can be quite easy for us to assume that our style of communication is the normal and standard way to think through and engage with others. What a fair amount of couples discover is that they are essentially speaking different languages in their communication to one another. Therefore, they are not accurately understanding, or even misinterpreting, what their partner is saying because of the way that they are interpreting what or how something is said.
Learning to practice speaking the same kind of language can take time and intentionality. Sitting down and exploring what each partner means when they use certain phrases can be illuminating for the relationship.
Couples often think that their significant other should be able to essentially read their mind or “just know what I am feeling” because of how close or how well they know one another. This sadly will just never be the case. We can figure out patterns or get better at guessing. But essentially, no matter how long or how well we know someone, it is just impossible to truly know what your partner is thinking or feeling unless we are explicitly told. Otherwise we tend to make an incorrect assumption.
This can then lead to conflict or hurt feelings when a partner feels misunderstood or “like you don’t get me.” Even as you grow together and know one another’s idiosyncrasies, give grace to one another for not being able to read minds. It may sound silly when put that way, but when intimacy is growing and you feel deeply known by someone, it hurts when they don’t pick up on something you meant or felt.
Develop healthy habits of communication from the beginning. Let your partner know what you mean and how you are feeling. Get into the habit of communicating openly about where you are at and not assuming that your partner should just know your inner world.
Having these habits established early on and with less emotionally charged topics can help when conflicts or hurts do arise and you must communicate. Speak life to one another and learn to identify when you are beginning to slide from clear communication into assumption. Grant grace and encourage one another, as lifelong communication habits can be difficult to change or adjust.
Although the topic of sexuality can often be viewed as taboo, especially in Christian culture, it is an important topic to cover. Sexuality is more than just sex. Sex is a powerful instrument in connecting with your partner in physical and emotional intimacy. It can be easy for a couple to just skim over the topic and assume that their sexual relationship within the marriage will be fine and develop effortlessly, so they just don’t talk about it. Don’t let this be the case.
Pre-marital counseling is a great place to examine and discuss some of the expectations, concerns, and questions that each partner may be holding inside. Creating an open atmosphere to explore what some of the notions about sex as well as where they came from (i.e. family, friends, education) that each partner brings into the relationship can lead to conversations about what expectations there are for intimacy.
If you are already sexually active, discuss what concerns or thoughts you may have about how marriage may change your sex life. How will you keep things exciting and regularly intimate for both partners once you are married? If, as a couple, you are waiting until your wedding night, discuss any concerns or curiosities that may have crossed your mind.
As you feel comfortable in your boundaries, begin to practice being intentional about making time to discuss physical intimacy and what it looks like in the progression that is coming with marriage.
There are also the practical matters within the subject of sexuality to consider as well. For instance, have you thought about birth control and what role or significance that has in your relationship? Another consideration is privacy. The reality of going from living alone or with a roommate to living with a spouse can be a big adjustment for couples who have not cohabitated.
What will this look like for you as a couple? Where and when will moments of privacy be preferred? Also, contrary to what Hollywood would lead us to believe, marriage can be difficult and the reality of hectic schedules can destroy the opportunity for a frequent, romantically spontaneous, stress-free love life. Being intentional in carving out time for physical intimacy is often necessary.
This can be an interesting topic because it is a desire for many to be truly known by your partner. Yet, the process of being known can sometimes be a bit scary. However, to be known, to be closer, to increase intimacy, you must be vulnerable. You must let your partner in.
A great topic to begin doing this is exploring one another’s inner world. A person’s inner world is comprised of their hopes, dreams, likes, dislikes, fears, and everything else that speaks to their preferences or desires.
Drs. John and Julie Gottman call the process of learning about your partner’s inner world as building “love maps.” Research done by Dr. John Gottman indicates that couples that have detailed love maps have stronger and more intimate relationships compared to couples who have less developed/detailed love maps.
Building love maps is a constant and evolving process. Just as a city changes with time, construction, and growth, so do our inner worlds. Being intentional about finding out the desires, dreams, fears, etc., of your partner builds your love map of their inner world and increases intimacy by purposely putting time and value into getting to know your partner.
This is best done at a time when both partners feel safe and comfortable sharing (not in the middle of a fight or argument) and both partners are in a headspace to really take in what the other is sharing. This can even be a fun activity or date night game. You can take turns asking questions and sharing about past memories, present struggles and joys, as well as hopes and fears about the future.
Our inner worlds are complex and take time to explore and reveal. Moreover, life can change and shape the details of our inner worlds. In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr. Gottman states that “if you don’t start off with a deep knowledge of each other, it’s easy for your marriage to lose its way when your lives shift so suddenly and dramatically.” This is why building love maps is a good habit to establish early in the relationship because you will constantly have opportunity to learn something new about your partner and add to their love map.
This point can seem counter-intuitive at first. Many couples have the idea that if they eliminate conflict, then they would be closer and without problems. This simply isn’t so. Conflict is not a bad word and shouldn’t be some horrible thing that you and your partner avoid. In fact, with healthy conflict, there is a key opportunity for intimacy.
Conflict is inevitable, but the vital point in being able to reach intimacy through this is in the way that the conflict is dealt with. Learning and practicing having healthy conflict management skills provides you the opportunity as a couple to resolve an issue, avoid emotionally hurting one another, and give way to know and understand your partner at a deeper level.
Learning to approach a conflictual topic without your dukes up or looking for a fight is a valuable investment for your relationship. Conflict and arguments are going to happen in a relationship, but knowing that they do not have to be ugly and avoided can give hope and confidence to each partner.
Being open to take a look at what current conflict management skills you possess as a partner as well as how that plays out as a couple can be a good first step. This will assist you in identifying what possible destructive patterns are taking place that may be escalating and exasperating conflicts instead of settling an issue. Once identified, you and your partner can begin putting in the work of changing those patterns of communication to lead to resolving and creating opportunities for growth and intimacy.
Christian Pre-marital Counseling Perspective
A Christian counselor can assist in facilitating these conversation topics so that you are able to get started in putting in the effort of working toward greater intimacy as a couple.
Depending on the topic or style of pre-marital counseling, a counselor may provide you with materials, offer some education, or utilize exercises in order to best help you learn more about you and your partner’s strengths and areas of growth. Both are present in a relationship and learning about them earlier rather than later can help in the development of intimacy.
A main objective in pre-marital counseling is for the counselor to assist in revealing and examining pre-conceived expectations that each partner brings into the relationship. Through this process, couples can have the privilege of getting to know one another in a new way. When the door to intimacy is opened through vulnerability, it is a beautiful opportunity for growth.
God desires us to experience openness that He intended for us through intimacy and the process of two becoming one develops over a lifetime together. The enduring struggle to submit to one another, to Jesus, and to the transformative process that He intended for us to become more and more as His likeness and glory, is part of His purpose in marriage.
It’s important to remember that with all of the pre-marriage counseling topics listed above, none will be flawlessly implemented as a couple moving toward marriage. Pre-marital counseling can help to shine a light on some topic areas that may help for a smoother transition, in that you will have a greater awareness and gain some understanding and tools to assist you. But know that it takes time. It is common to take a year or longer to find your flow and harmony as a married couple.