Florida lawmakers are considering legislation that will require all engaged couples to complete premarital counseling. While the state legislature debates the pros and cons of such a program, they recognize the difference it makes when couples learn the skills necessary to help their marriages succeed.
The Sunshine State is one of many states that have created premarital counseling guidelines or have considered applying such standards. Political leaders in these states say they’re looking for ways to lower divorce rates and help couples work through difficult issues. And, as it turns out, premarital counseling has been proven to make a positive difference.
Premarital counseling helps prevent divorce
In 2003, the state of Oklahoma asked individuals if they had received premarital counseling or marriage training. Their survey found divorce rates dropped 31% among couples who had gone through a counseling program. More recent studies confirm the trend, showing that couples who take part in premarital counseling tend to report higher marital satisfaction. Dr. David H. Olson and Amy K. Olson, authors of Empowering Couples, state that couples who seek eight to 10 hours of quality premarital education are 80% more likely to stay together. However, they say, only 30-40% of engaged couples will seek help and advice.
Why don’t couples seek premarital counseling?
Wedding planning vs. marriage planning. Erin Smalley is a strategic marriage spokesperson for Focus on the Family’s marriage ministry. She believes that couples sometimes get so caught up in planning a wedding they forget to plan their marriage. “Although the wedding day is special, the entire event is over in a few short hours. Then the marriage covenant that was made will be lived out as a result of that special day. It’s far too easy to get engulfed in wedding details that you lose sight of the lifetime you’ll be spending together.”
The God factor. Couples who are part of a church often turn to their minister or pastoral staff for premarital advice. Until the early 1970s, the church was one of few organizations offering counsel and training. Those people outside the church — about 70% of couples — missed the opportunity. Today, several non-religious counselors offer premarital counseling; however, the church remains the primary advocate of the practice.
How premarital counseling helps
Why is premarital counseling important? Psychology Today shares five key issues counselors discuss with couples:
- Communication and conflict management skills.
- Core values and differences.
- Communication styles and needs.
- Sense of shared meaning.
By sharing skills and insights in these areas, counselors help couples gain a realistic view of marriage and each other.
Meanwhile in Florida
Whether Florida lawmakers approve a premarital counseling program, they have been successful in reminding couples of the importance of planning a successful marriage. And throughout their discussions, they have also pointed to the church as a leader in building strong, healthy marriages that last a lifetime. Now it’s up to the church and its members to invite engaged couples in, share God’s design for a lasting marriage and welcome couples to join a caring family of believers who will nurture and encourage them each step of the way.