When Maria, now 37, decided to go to couples therapy with her long-term boyfriend, she felt a little weird about it. "It felt odd to go when we weren't even engaged," she says. But the couple was struggling with financial challenges after moving in together, and a friend recommended giving therapy a try. "We made a deal that we would just do a couple of sessions," she says. "We haven't stopped going, and we got married this past September. We go once a month."
Maria isn't alone. In fact, therapists suggest scheduling time with a professional before tying the knot could be the key to a successful, strong relationship. "Premarital therapy is a place to learn and foster the skills necessary to navigate differences in a healthy way," explains Jennifer Wolkin, Ph.D., a psychologist based in New York City.
Viewing therapy as a preventative measure rather than a last resort could be what sets close couples apart. "The skepticism around couples therapy is a byproduct of the stigma that still exists regarding therapy as a tool fix something that might be broken," she says. "No one is broken. Therapy helps people gain insight and move forward in more adaptive ways."
Feel like you and your S.O. don't need therapy? We beg to differ. Here's why it might be the secret to a long-lasting, happy relationship.
You’ll Learn to Fight Fair
While conflict is an inevitable part of dating, therapy provides training for those difficult moments. Annie Wright, a California-based psychotherapist, says she teaches couples to bridge differing communication styles, better relate when one partner is upset, and repair the relationship after ruptures and arguments. Pretty valuable stuff, right?
Wolkin encourages the couples she works with to try mindfulness, which can be a vital tool for conflict resolution. "Mindfulness is much more than meditation," she explains. "It starts with choosing to become more aware of how we show up in life, and making conscious choices about what our presence looks and feels like in each moment."
Try it tonight:
Follow Wolkin's exercise for mindful listening: Set a timer for five minutes. Prompt your S.O. to talk about how they're feeling about the relationship or anything else that's on their mind—positive or negative. While they're speaking, try to remain silent and just listen. When the timer goes off, switch roles. This is a really simple activity, but you'd be surprised at what comes out when you have a chance to speak uninterrupted.
It Stops Small Issues Before They Snowball
Those trivial disagreements might not seem like a big deal, but they can grow over time into serious resentment, which can prove very problematic in a long-term relationship. "Something supposedly minor is worth discussing because most things that matter to us now will continue to matter later on," notes Wolkin. If your partner's habit of working on weekends annoys you a little bit now, imagine how you'll feel in 10 years. Therapy can help combat those issues now before they snowball.
Try it tonight:
One of the best ways to strengthen your bond with your S.O. is to establish a weekly activity that you always do together, no matter what. Ideally, it should be something that doesn't involve Netflixing or using your phones. Consider cooking dinner together or heading out for a hike—anything that allows you to catch up and ensures you're in sync.
It Helps You Broach Difficult Subjects
No matter how happy your relationship is, there are some crucial subjects that every couple should bring up before marriage. In Wolkin's experience, few couples delve deep into honest conversation. "Many couples don't realize that it's crucial to see the forest just as much as the trees," she explains. "The bigger picture matters when we are hoping for relationship longevity." In other words, you might know that your partner wants kids, but that's just one aspect of a larger conversation. Have you talked about what your parenting style might be, what kind of school you want them to go to, and whether or not you're open to adoption?
Of course, just because you go into your relationship wanting one thing doesn't mean it will stay that way forever. "Views often change with age and the life experience that it brings, and that's okay too," Wolkin says. Still, going into your partnership fully understanding your S.O.'s long-term priorities isn't just smart—it's essential.
Try it tonight:
If you're not ready to commit to a full-on therapy session, make time to have a deep-dive conversation at home. Commit to sitting down with your S.O. once a week (or even once a month if you have a hectic schedule) until you've worked your way through the checklist below. Be sure to write down your top three questions in each area before you start, to ensure your most important concerns are being covered.