Marriage Prep: What to Expect from Pre-Marital Work

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By Jonathan D. Sherman, LMFT 

What better wedding gift to give each other than to commit to enhancing your marriage by learning skills that will continue throughout the years to reinforce your love for each other? Couples want to give the best gifts: the gifts of knowledge, commitment, appreciation, communication and time together. However, as many a parent and grandparent are aware, many newly married couples do not have the skills and tools to take the love that initially led to their decision to marry into the long-haul daily practice of creating, maintaining and improving a lasting marriage.

Thus, numerous people have asked for what they could expect from a pre-marital workshop or pre-marital counseling sessions. Those who have been reading this column for some time know that I am not a big fan of “fluff” approaches that sound good but lack any real substance. Instead I am interested in solid information and what simply just works. Thus, I base my counseling and workshops off of the best research- and evidence-based practices available. While there are several good approaches available, I base mine off of the PREPARE/ENRICH model, which has been extensively developed and researched over the last 30 years by David Olson, Ph.D. and his colleagues. They have set the “gold-standard” for pre-marital work.

Many qualified counselors and clergy in our Utah County community have been trained in the PREPARE/ENRICH model. The PREPARE/ENRICH model systematically covers the following eight topics:

1. Exploring Relationship Strength and Growth Areas: This session is devoted to providing couples with feedback from their Inventories. Using the Couple Report, couples are walked through the feedback process, giving them the opportunity to identify Relationship Strength and Growth Areas and to plan for future growth.

2: Developing Assertiveness & Deep Listening Skills Couples are taught how to improve their assertiveness and active/deep listening skills. These skills are the foundation for building and maintaining a good relationship.

3: Strengthening Communication skills. Communication is the lifeblood of a relationship. This session is designed to help couples increase their awareness concerning patterns of communication that presently exist in their relationship and to introduce skills that are useful for enhancing their ability to communicate.

4: Resolve Conflicts using the Ten Steps Procedure Learning to effectively handle conflict and the anger it produces is an essential skill for relationship growth. In this session, the focus is on accepting conflict as a natural part of relationships and learning ways to manage it in a constructive manner.

5: Explore Relationship and Family-of-Origin issues using the Couple & Family Map. One of the most vital influences in the early years of marriage is each partner's family of origin. This session focuses on understanding the impact of each partner's family-of-origin on their present relationship. The Map is introduced as a tool to help couples evaluate the effect of those families on their relationship.

6: Develop a Workable Budget and Financial Plan. A significant issue for a high percentage of married couples surrounds their ability to manage financial resources. This session explores the various meanings which money can have in relationships and investigates ways to effectively handle finances as a couple.

7: Demystifying Marital Intimacy and Sexuality. Developing and maintaining intimacy is a primary goal for most couples. This session focuses on the importance of affirmation and affection in marriage. It is designed to help couples find a variety of ways to create intimacy, including through their sexual relationship.

8: Develop Personal, Couple and Family goals. Change is inevitable but growth is intentional. This session focuses on the importance of partners taking responsibility for growth in their relationship and helps them formulate a plan for continued progress. Couples focus on their personal, couple and family goals and develop an action plan using the CHANGE Model. (Source: PREPARE/ENRICH Counselor’s Manual).

There you have it. Whether the counselor or clergyperson you or your loved one chooses to work with uses the PREPARE/ENRICH model or some other, most pre-marital work should address these areas. 

Start your marriage right! Join me Saturdays, May 1st and May 8th, 2004 for the fun, upbeat and informative “Pre-Marital Workshop: Prepare for your marriage, not just your wedding.” Learn how to be more mindful and attentive of your relationship from day one to your 50th anniversary together. This workshop is perfect for recently married couples, too. Please visit or contact me at, or 801.787.8014 for more information and to register.

Jonathan Sherman is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and Relationship Consultant specializing in creating "greatness in relationships." He is experienced in assisting people learn to improve their marriages, their parenting and themselves through skill development, life coaching, overcoming depression and anxiety, stress and anger management, and addiction recovery. He teaches extensively on a wide range of relationship topics. He is the founder of and The Relationship Wellness Series™. You may reach him at 801.787.8014 or