Preparing for marriage

Should all couples getting married have premarital education?

Marriage preparation is linked to fewer problems later on

Many church weddings require couples to go through some form of premarital counselling. This can range from an in depth course that lasts several months, to just a day reflecting on the significance of marriage and exploring the relationship.

There are many benefits that help couples prepare for the future. By focussing on individual expectations and potential problem areas early on couples can see beyond the wedding itself and learn to communicate big issues more effectively.

However church weddings have become less popular over the past few decades as civil ceremonies have taken over as the most common type of marriage ceremony in the UK.

In 2009, 67% of marriages took place in a registry office or other approved location. Meaning many more people are getting married without the counselling that a church wedding offers.

So should all couples getting married take part in some form of premarital education?

There is evidence that premarital training can lower the risks of later marital problems and separation.

The CoupleConnection lists a range of organisations that have marriage preparation courses. There has been a significant raft of research into these courses. A review by Stanley (2001) debates the question and highlights four key potential benefits:

  • There is evidence that premarital training can lower the risks of later marital problems and separation. Research shows that couples who take counselling are more likely to be satisfied in their relationship and to stay together.
  • Premarital education emphasises the message that marriage is important and worth the commitment. Couples are made to concentrate on the seriousness of the step they are about to take, bringing home to them that they are entering into a long term investment.
  • A counselling course can serve to slow couples down, setting a wedding date later than they otherwise might have done. This principle is based on evidence that couples who marry after only a short dating period are more likely to divorce. As such, a course that lasts a few months might help couples deliberate on their relationship more and uncover any potential weaknesses.
  • By having therapy, couples learn early on that talking about their relationship with others can be of benefit. Stanley cites research that shows that marriages that deteriorate do so in the first 5 – 10 years. Couples stand a better chance of resolving their problems if they seek help earlier rather than later.

A number of charities and organisations provide premarital courses for engaged couples. See the CoupleConnection page on marriage preparation for a list of these services.

OnePlusOne has published a series of resources called ‘Making a Commitment’ aimed at helping couples prepare for next big steps such as buying a house, moving in together or marriage on These research based advice pages encourage couples to examine their own relationships, share their future goals and expectations and make plans for resolving relationship conflict.

Further reading

Stanley SM. Making a case for premarital education. Family Relations 2001; 50: 272-280