Pre-Marriage Classes submitted by Russ and Mary Marcus
With marriage preparation classes ranging in length from 2 – 15 hours and from free to $500.00, it is difficult to know which one to choose.
For some of you it will be an easy decision. If you have to take the course to get married and that is the only reason, then by all means go with the cheapest and the shortest. If however, you want to take a course to stay married, then you need to be more particular about which one you decide to attend. There are many factors to consider to make sure that you are getting a course that you will be comfortable with and learn the most from.
1. Who is teaching the course? What are their qualifications? Are they married?
Unfortunately, not all facilitators have the qualifications that are needed to run a course. This includes many ministers as well. Often, courses are run by volunteers who have no other qualifications except that they are married. While being married is certainly a step in the right direction (it is difficult to teach something that you have never done), these people often lack the background to be able to give the whole picture. The best facilitators tend to be the ones who have the proper education, as well as a counselling background (preferably as marriage counsellors or in a similar field) and can teach from experience. Also keep in mind that some people only do this once or twice a year, which makes it difficult to keep on top of things. You are usually better to go with someone who does this several times a year. Bottom Line: Don’t be afraid to ask what kind of background the leaders have.
2. Why is there such a broad range of fees out there?
Church programs are usually the cheapest, especially if you are a member of that congregation or parish. If they charge, it is usually only for the expenses incurred for the program. Also, the minister is already being paid by the church and therefore pre-marriage counselling is part of his/her job should he/she be qualified and willing to do this (many churches send their engaged couples to other places). For venues other than a church, pre-marriage counselling is one of the services they offer and is therefore a part of their business. Since these independent businesses get their referrals from word of mouth, churches, and recommendations, they should be trying to do as many little things as they can to guarantee future business. They also have many expenses that churches don’t have (rent, malpractice insurance, etc.). There are always people who will take advantage of you and charge you a great deal of money. However, anyone who has the qualifications, provides at least 8 hours of programming and is charging $250.00 or less is probably worth looking into. Another point to consider is that some groups will lower their price if the couples are in financial need. Bottom Line: Cheapest does not mean best.
3. Religious or not?
Obviously church programs are going to have at least some religious focus and it will probably be the religion of that particular church. This can be good if both of you are of the same religion and that particular faith is important to you. Just be aware that some programs may place such a heavy emphasis upon religion that they do not have enough time to cover some of the other important topics. However, if you are not the same religion or religion is not important to you, then perhaps a church program is not for you. All programs should have a spirituality focus of some kind, though, simply because the majority of people are getting married in a church. Also religion can come into play (even if you are not religious now), when there are children in the picture, as many parents want their child to attend church or Sunday school. There are also many courses that offer an ecumenical approach (many religions in the same group). In these programs, no specific religion is talked about, but there is still a spirituality segment. Bottom Line: Depending on what part religion plays in your lives, choose whatever you are comfortable with.
4. What topics should be covered?
This really varies from program to program. However, there are certainly basic topics that need to be addressed. Family background, communication, personality types, conflict resolution, spirituality, finances, expectations, sexuality and children should all be addressed in some way. It is important that the couple feels comfortable with the facilitators who are addressing these topics. Someone who knows you very well, for example your minister, may be uncomfortable discussing a topic like sexuality with a couple. To flip the coin, you may be just as uncomfortable discussing it with them. Bottom Line: Make sure the topics you want covered will be covered.
5. Big groups, small groups or one on one?
Large groups (15-30 couples) are great for those of you who don’t want to be noticed and want to stay in the shadows, as the facilitators have a difficult time getting to know the whole group in a very short period of time. Many people, though, find it hard to be in that large of a group because the facilitators don’t get to know them as well. Going back to the cost factor, however, large groups can charge less per couple and still make more than a business that offers a smaller, more intimate group. For example, one workshop that has 15 couples and charges $100.00 will make 2 and 1/2 times the money of a group with 4 couples charging $150.00 ($1500.00 as compared to $600.00). This is also why these classes tend to be longer, as it takes longer to do everything with a large group (breaks, handouts, etc.) One-on-one is certainly good, although it will tend to cost more. These classes can be geared to a couple’s specific needs. The drawback however, is that there is no interaction with other couples who are going through similar things. Small groups (2 – 4 couples) give the couples a chance to mingle with others, and also allows the leaders to get to know the couples better. This allows for individual attention (should the need arise) and a bond usually forms between the couples. While leaders could do bigger groups and make more money, those who choose the small group usually do so because they feel it’s better for everyone involved. Bottom Line: Pick a group size that feels right for you and don’t let cost be the deciding factor.
6. Where do they get the material that they teach? Is it updated regularly?
Materials can be obtained from many sources and should be a mixture of proven research, experience and up-to-date commentary. Often groups teach from one source, for example, teaching that men and women are from different planets. While this classification applies to some people, not all men are one way and all women another way. There are many different factors besides gender that make us who we are. A good pre-marriage course will use up-to-date research and statistics and will be able to tell you exactly where they got the information they are sharing. They should also be current on who the marriage experts are and what they believe. Bottom Line: Facilitators and their program should be current and well informed.
7. Do they provide references or do evaluations?
Any good pre-marriage course should be able to provide references or evaluations that show what other people think of their work. A reputable program will want to know what you thought of the program in general, as well as comments on specific areas. Anyone who tells you that their program is the best that it can be and it has served them well for many years, needs to do some revamping. The best programs not only want to know what people think, but will act on those suggestions to make their program the best it can be. Bottom Line: Ask if they have references or evaluations available. The best ones will say yes without hesitation (and that’s as good a reference as actually looking at them). The ones that give you an awkward pause are the ones you need to be wary of.
8. Have other people used them? What are their comments about the program?
Probably your best way to choose a course is to find out what workshops other people have taken and what their opinion was. People are usually very honest when it comes to this kind of thing including if it was worth the money paid, as they know that whatever they say will not only impact on the course, but on the couples they recommend it to as well. If they tell you that it’s a good course, then their reputation is on the line. If there are negative comments, make sure they are saying them for the right reason. For example if they did not like anything about the course, the leaders, the snacks etc., there could be another reason besides the possibility it was a bad course. Perhaps they had no choice but to take the course and couldn’t wait until it was over because they didn’t plan on learning anything anyway. However if you hear bad things about a workshop from many people, then you need to re-think whether you wish to attend. Bottom Line: Find out from other people what they thought.
9. How long have they been in business?
Everyone had to start somewhere, so this point is certainly not the one to base your decision on. Most places which teach pre-marriage have probably been doing it for several years. If however, there is a new place that is offering this service, you will need to refer back to the other points made in this article. For example, you should consider such things as the qualifications of the leaders, topics covered, how recent are their materials, and the group size they offer. Often the places that are just starting out have the biggest dreams and will take as many couples as possible in a session. Also, because they are new, they may offer a discount to get you into the course and hope that others will follow. Bottom Line: If a course is new, you need to weigh all your options.
10. Do they promise a perfect marriage? What is their commitment to you after the course?
Anyone who tells you that by taking their course, you will have a perfect marriage is an out and out liar. Life is full of ups and downs and so are marriages. It is a fact of life. If however, the leaders tell you that by taking this course and using the tools that they offer, you can make your marriage better, then believe them. This only works though, if you both are willing to work at the marriage and incorporate the tools into your daily living. One of the key points is to know whether or not they will be around after the marriage if you have questions or concerns and just want to talk. The best courses will tell you at the end of the course that their commitment to you does not end that day. They will welcome your calls and e-mails because they have an investment in your marriage and genuinely care what happens to you after the wedding. Groups that are run by volunteers are generally not as keen to offer this to you as they usually only volunteer for the sessions and nothing beyond. Bottom Line: Make sure you take your course through a business or church that is stable and that the leaders/minister have a willingness to help you.
All-in-all there are a number of factors to consider when choosing a pre-marriage course. Even though this article is being written for the Frugal Bride web site, money should not be the deciding factor in choosing a course, unless of course it is an absolutely outlandish price or you don’t care which course you take. Reputation, recommendations, and experience are all far more valuable in making your decision. Hopefully all of you realize that the wedding is one day, but the marriage is for the rest of your life. A good pre-marriage course can help you insure that it stays that way.