Premarital Counseling

Posted on March 5, 2012


Cost of wedding: $26,000                                                                                                                                         Improving marital satisfaction: Priceless

An important and often overlooked activity that should be included in wedding preparation is effective premarital counseling for the engaged couple.  When one is caught up in the excitement of having found one’s life partner, it can seem obvious that the relationship will always be close and loving.  In this area, an ounce of prevention may be worth a pound of cure (as Grandma would say), or in other words, it is great to look at the strengths and growth areas of the relationship and learn the skills that lead to relationship success while things are happy and good.

One of the best researched and validated programs for marriage preparation and enrichment is PREPARE/ENRICH.  PREPARE/ENRICH provides couples with a comprehensive customized report that assesses relationships health on ten core scales (e.g. communication, conflict resolution, financial management, sexuality and affection, and relationship roles) based upon each partner’s answers on an online assessment.  These core scales allow couples to identify strengths in their relationship along with areas for growth.  With the assistance of a trained facilitator (generally a marriage and family therapist), couples learn skills that help them maximize on strengths and improve in growth areas to achieve greater relationship satisfaction.  Additionally, the customized report looks at relationship dynamics in areas of assertiveness, self confidence, avoidance, and partner dominance.  Couples learn skills for problem resolution and improved communication.  Stanley, Amato, Johnson & Markman (2006) found that premarital preparation reduced the divorce rate by 30%.  Knutson & Olson (2003) found that couples who participated in the PREPARE premarital program “significantly increased their couple satisfaction.”  Further, couples who experienced premarital counseling were more likely to seek out counseling in the future in case of marital distress further improving their chances of marital success.

The national average cost of a wedding is over $26,000 (Wedding Report Inc, 2005-2011).  I searched for any data that might relate wedding cost to marital satisfaction and found none.  The average cost of divorce is estimated at about $20,000 (Ceatus Media Group LLC, 2010).  In a future post, I will point out how the latter number is greatly understated.  The point of this post is that setting aside the emotional impact of marital satisfaction or lack thereof (which is substantial), marriage is a large investment.  Based upon national statistics for divorce, the chance of divorce is a coin toss.  As one with master’s degrees in both Marital and Family Therapy and Business Administration, I tend to look at both the emotional effectiveness and cost effectiveness of counseling.  This post is leaning toward the latter (i.e. the cost/benefit analysis).

With the PREPARE/ENRICH program, a couple completes the online assessment and then spends 6-8 sessions with a trained facilitator (usually a therapist) to review strengths and growth areas, discuss partner marriage expectations, and work on the relationship skills that lead to marital success.  The probable cost including all of the sessions is less than $1000.  Let’s see, $1,000 to protect a $26,000 investment and reduce the likelihood of a subsequent $20,000 expense by 30%.  By the numbers alone, that’s a bargain.

Up next: What if health insurance providers randomly offered couples marital therapy?


Ceatus Media Group LLC (2010). Divorce costs.  Retrieved from on February 10, 2012.

Knutson, L. & Olson, D. H. (2003). Effectiveness of PREPARE Program with premarital couples in a community setting. Marriage & Family, 6, 4, 529-546.

Olson, D.H., Larson, P.J., Olson, A.K. (2009) PREPARE/ENRICH Program: Customized Version. Minneapolis, Minnesota, Life Innovations, Inc.

Stanley, S.M., Amato, P.R., Johnson, C.A., & Markman, H.J. (2006). Premarital education, marital quality, and marital stability: Findings from a large, random household survey. Journal of Family Psychology, 20, 1, 117-126.

The Wedding Report, Inc. (2005-2011).  Cost of wedding.  Retrieved from on February 10, 2012.

“I work with individuals, couples, and families to help develop secure connections
and craft manageable solutions.”

More information is available on my website  I am also available for speaking engagements, seminars, and retreats

Scott Wood is a registered marriage and family therapist intern (IMF67385) and is supervised by Dr. Melinda Reinicke, Psychologist (Psy11011).