What is Premarital Counseling?


Engaged couples were some of my favorite customers when I was drawing caricatures at fairs and festivals.

In 2006 a high school student interviewed me for a paper she was writing about my services as a premarital counselor. Here are my answers.

 1. How long have you been working in the counseling field and specifically working with couples in premarital counseling?

33 years (23 in churches, 10 as full time marriage and family therapist/conflict mediator).

 2. Can you provide (a few) important specifics about your program? e.g. length of the program or requirements before marriage?

Participation is voluntary so there are no set requirements. Couples typically meet for 6 sessions during which time we look at the results of the on line inventory they took individually (Prepare-Enrich). Some couples come 3 times, others find it so helpful they come ten or more times. Some make it a 6 month ritual to come in after getting married for a tune up. Blending lives is challenging and we’re happy to offer all the help couples need.

Another thing that distinguishes our program is that it’s built on several unique features—the things I’ve learned from couples for 3 decades, the things I’ve learned being married for 30 years, and the things I’ve learned from cutting edge research from people like Gottman, Wyle, Christiansen/Jacobson (among others).

3. Have you found any need to change your premarital counseling methods or workshops over the years and if so how have you adapted them?

Great question  Yes. When I started I rarely counseled cohabiting couples. Now non sexually active couples are the exception. I rarely did blended families. Now that’s a huge percentage of our work (second/third marriages).  I started in a church context where spirituality was taken for granted. Now I don’t assume any religious background.

4. How do you incorporate Christian beliefs and Biblical principles into premarital counseling?

Another great question. The inventory we use cited above evaluates 11 areas of a couple’s strengths and growth areas, spirituality being one of them.  Couples with significant differences in this area (as in all areas) find it helpful to discuss those differences and brainstorm ways to either reduce the differences or learn to live with them.  I respect those with little or no faith background.  If couples ask how my wife and I made it 30 years I then describe the spiritual basis of our lives/family.

5. Have you ever experienced or given premarital counseling not from a Christian perspective?

I am a champion of marital monogamy, fidelity, and equality which are spin offs of my Christian faith. So in that sense, all my counseling is inspired by or informed by historic Christian values.  I have had Hindu, atheist, fundamentalist, RCC, and Protestant clients….they hire me to coach them on how be happily married for a long time so they learn from me the principles/strategies that increase the odds of a long term marriage, although they may not realize those principles are inspired by the Christian faith.  I’m not “preachy,” if that makes any sense.

6. Given that Catholic churches and some protestant ministers require premarital counseling, how do you think participation would be effected it was not required?

I think it’s a good thing that many churches require premarital counseling before performing a ceremony. Statistics suggest those who spend a bunch of hours prior to the ceremony talking about the challenges of marriage fare better than those who do Vegas style weddings. I’m not sure my clientele would decrease since if couples look hard enough they could find someone to do the ceremony without requiring premarital counseling. This is an investment many couples are eager to make.

7. Do you feel that premarital counseling of some form should be required before any marriage (including secular non-religious marriages)?

The oft cited anecdote is: it’s easier to get married than it is to get a driver’s license……and the ramifications of healthy/unhealthy marriages are far more life changing than driving a car. So, yes, given the social/emotional wear and tear of divorce, I’m a strong advocate for requirements.

7a. if so, how do you think it would be appropriate to communicate this requirement to those who are not seeking a religious ceremony?

I’d pitch such requirements to a secular audience the same way doctors pitch diet and exercise. Regardless of your spiritual orientation, avoiding junk food is good for you. Likewise, stable, monogamous marriages are good for couples. I also do divorce mediation,  helping couples work out property division and parenting plans. It’s agony to see the anger, bitterness, and acrimony. Visiting a divorce court would create a great incentive for doing all one can prior to getting married to avoid a dissolution.

8. Most of the literature states that premarital counseling overall helps with better communication and more positive relations in marriage, would you agree or disagree with these findings?

I agree totally.

9. Do you think premarital counseling lowers the risk of divorce or distress in marriage?

Premarital counseling lowers the risk of divorce but NOT (in my opinion) marital distress. Distress will happen. People change, the glow of romance fades, stress happens (job loss, money problems, kids, illness, irritations). The things that draw one person to another often end up driving that person crazy. “I used to love his spontaneity, now his haphazard life drives me crazy.” “I used to love her ambition and hard working character; now she can’t rest and I’m pooped.” Premarital counseling won’t prevent these things from happening but will give tools to couples to know what to do when (not if) they occur.

One of the primary messages of premarital counseling is, “When the poop hits the fan, don’t panic. It happens to all of us.” In that sense, premarital counselors normalize the challenges. Most couples have an idealistic and distorted view of how blissful life will be but when his hobbies irritate her or her family irritates him they accept it as normal and it reduces the temptation to bail. As you know, the statistics are abysmal for long term relationships.

10. (Personal Experience) Did you go through premarital counseling before you got married?


10a. if so, do the values and practices from premarital counseling still exist in your life today?

Yes. Even though we had premarital counseling in 1976 (during the Carter administration!) the ideas we learned there have served us well through job changes, financial stress, kids, illness, irritations, etc. By the way, did you write these Qs? If so, good job! You’re on your way to being an excellent researcher. Hope this helped. If I can be of further assistance, please ask.



Conquering Boredom

Boredom occurs when our personal skills exceed life’s challenges. Moving from the contentment zone to the boredom zone occurs when we feel under-challenged and overly prepared to meet easy, simple, and not very demanding demands. When this happens we feel useless, unchallenged, and bored. Tackling some new difficulty gets us out of the boredom zone.

When you first learned tic-tac-toe it was probably fun. But once you mastered that game, you moved on to checkers. But when you exhausted your skills at that game you moved on to chess or baseball or motorcycles or video games. Why? Because life without challenges is boring! The way to overcome boredom is to increase the challenges in your life.

Moving from the boredom zone to the contentment zone involves taking on some new project, goal, mind or body exercising difficulty. The interesting thing about this plan is that the process of tackling new challenges is a cause of much happiness. There is something very satisfying about facing and successfully meeting a difficult challenge.

Is mowing the lawn boring? Challenge yourself to do it faster. Are weekends boring? Take on a new hobby. Get a pet, travel, learn a new skill, volunteer to help others, get out of your boring comfort zone. Your mind is like a muscle; it needs exercise.

Being stuck in the Boredom Zone is no fun. One way to reduce boredom is to reduce the number of skills we have: moving backwards by becoming incompetent, under achieving, whiney, negative, faking a disability, and/or lazy. But who wants to waste a perfectly good brain and body?

Take on a new complex project and give yourself the motivation to learn the skills necessary to live life to the max. What new (healthy and legal!) challenges would you like to tackle? The human brain is wired to learn, develop, grow, and help your body meet challenges at home, work, school, neighborhoods! Boredom can be overcome. You can do it!

What Are Your Unpaid Jobs?

The Farknagle family doesn’t know what their jobs are,
if they’re doing them well, or how to achieve success.

Each of us have relational tasks in life that must get done. We don’t earn a paycheck for them but they must get done. How many of the following briefly stated “job descriptions” do you have? Which have you completed? Which are you doing now? Which are yet to come?

Adolescent and teen years

Develop mature relationships with self, opposite gender, and all ages

Accept one’s body and treat it nice

Desire, accept, and achieve socially responsible behavior

Achieve emotional, financial, and vocational independence from parents

Acquire set of values, ethics, and spiritual principles that guide behavior



Bring out the best in your partner

Learn and grow together


Prepare emotionally for uniting with a life partner

Prepare financially for home ownership and shared purchases

Prepare relationally for the joys and challenges of marriage


Adjust to being both a connected and differentiated partner

Blend schedules, routines, and preferences

Acclimate to a new role, new identity, and new consultant (your partner!)

Marriage partner

Share a bathroom

Share a budget

Share a bed

Parent of pre-adolescent

Help children become responsible teens (see above)

Work with hormones, brain/body chemistry, peer groups, school issues

Establish age appropriate consequences

Parent of adolescent

Help teens prepare for adulthood

Adjust rules, freedoms, curfews, driving privileges, dating

Re-establish age appropriate consequences

Parent of perpetual adolescent

Help adult kids launch into full adulthood

Know when to enable, have soft love, and support your grown child

Know when to stop enabling, have tough love, and quit supporting your grown child

Single again (divorce, disease, death)

Adjust to new realities, emotions, and social roles

Find significance without a partner

Distinguish loneliness from aloneness

Family member in difficult relationships

Make peace



Communicate effectively

Set boundaries

Decision maker navigating your future

Manage difficult emotions (anger, sadness, anxiety, grief, fear)

Make choices

Juggle competing desires

How are you doing in your unpaid job? 

Erik’s been helping folks succeed in their “jobs” for over three decades. He offers hundreds of free “white papers” along with his books, booklets, and therapeutic data wheels which combine the best clinical practices with spiritual disciplines, art, humor, and easy to read descriptions. Check out www.askerikjohnson.com. He’s also available for personal coaching/counseling and formal conflict/dispute mediation.