The SF Marriage and Couple Center offers Pre-Marital Therapy for those couples who want to talk about difficult topics pre-marriage. We offer pre-marriage short term and long term counseling services in Oakland and San Francisco.

The SF Marriage and Couple Center offers Pre-Marital Therapy for those couples who want to talk about difficult topics pre-marriage. We offer pre-marriage short term and long term counseling services in Oakland and San Francisco.

How Pre-Marital Counseling Can Deepen Your Relationship

Marriage may be one of the greatest and most impactful commitments we make in our life. Western society commonly fosters a sense of idealism around finding “the one.” Images of bliss in the relationship carrying on from beginning to end, a lifetime partnership of adoration and interconnection...

However, the reality is that sustaining and nourishing a marriage takes a lot of work. If we want to come as close as we can to the ideal of a “perfect marriage,” there are steps that can be taken to create safe and respectful patterns of communication and interaction. Pre-Marital counseling can serve as a ritual to engage deeply in your relationship, witness vulnerabilities, challenges and soft spots, and from there, develop compassion for one another.

How do you know if Pre-Marital Counseling is right for you? If you're engaged and soon to be married, even if your relationship seems that it is in perfect shape, it can be helpful to take some time to learn how to listen to each other, address values, and your shared (or differing) visions for the relationship. If you're engaged and things are feeling rather rocky, then that might be a sign that a third party could be especially effective in helping you sort out challenges.

At the San Francisco Marriage & Couples Center, our therapists offer a 7-session program for Pre-Marital Counseling. For the first two sessions, we focus on getting to know who you are as a couples and developing a sense of trust in the room. This might entail holding space for both of you to share your histories of attachment and communication with your own family members, and how these histories make you both similar and different.

Usually by the end of the first session, your negative and positive cycles of communication will start to reveal themselves. From here, we recommend checking out Hold Me Tight by Sue Johnson, an excellent supplement to therapy that can help you gain clarity around dialogues of blame, distancing, or protesting that occur between you. Your therapist will help you by pointing out these dynamics and facilitating conversations that shift blame or misunderstanding into acceptance and compassion.

Continuing this exploration of communication cycles continues into the second session, while also addressing your vision and sense of connection within the relationship. Why are you in this relationship? What is great about your partner? What are your edges in co-existing with your partner? Questions such as these bring a deeper sense of purpose and intention into a relationship this is meaningful to you. We may explore ideas of where you see yourselves in five or ten years, which may bring up questions around values and difference.

Sessions three and four focus predominantly on how you handle conflict with each other. Harking back to my earlier point of this vision of a “perfect relationship,” we must remember that embracing conflict is an essential part of fostering trust and communication in relationship. However, conflict is a delicate matter, and our therapists hold a gentle space for you both to explore your relationships to anger, avoidance, and the management of conflict.

It can be impossible to hold valuable conversations coming from places of rage, blame, and dishonesty, so we will work together to ensure you have a safe space to find new ways of relating with each other. It's important to develop these tools early on in a relationship, so as to not struggle down the line, where stonewalling, criticism, defense & contempt can take the reins and make your relationship feel like a burden.

Our fifth and sixth sessions focus primarily on your values in the relationship. Where do you each stand in regards to raising children, developing a career, religion/spirituality, sex & money? These conversations can be some of the most raw & difficult to have, because they are core, important realities that couples face on a daily basis. Once you find a way to address them with transparency and compassion, these conversations create a solid foundation for your relationship that can last a lifetime.

Finally, our seventh session serves as an integration of what you've learned from our previous sessions. What was most meaningful to you? How will you employ these new behaviors on an ongoing basis? Throughout our work together, experiential exercises and in-the-moment communication work will help ground your new knowledge in a practical way.

It's beautiful to witness the process of a couple moving from engagement to marriage. Pre-Marital counseling can help ground your relationship with a sense of a new beginning. New communication tools, deeper understanding of each others' histories & trauma, and heightened compassion for one another will guide you smoothly on your path to a successful marriage. 

Photo by JD Mason // @jmason //

Gregory Tilden, AMFT, is an Associate Therapist at the San Francisco Marriage & Couples Center. Gregory provides couples and individual therapy at our Duboce Triangle and Oakland locations.