In this phase of relationship a couple is serious about each other and are considering taking a ‘big step’ of greater commitment with each other. In the past that big step usually meant getting engaged to be married, so counseling at this stage was considered per-marital counseling.
But these days that’s somewhat too limiting, because a significant commitment may take many forms other than marriage.
At this phase of their relationship couples have usually been seeing each other exclusively for some time and to some degree agreements and expectations about their relationship have been forming. It’s a dynamic and changing time for a couple, as they are finding their lives more and more intertwined and start considering a formal commitment.
Making the transition from ‘exploring possibilities’ with a companion into making a commitment to be a part of their life is a significant shift. Often the relationship will take on an increased intensity at this time and any conflicts or differences begin to have greater significance, as the couple starts considering the implications of them with a long term or permanent perspective.
If there are difficulties in the early part of this stage, before a decision on commitment is made, it’s usually related to the couple having different interpretations of their agreements, expectations of each other that don’t match up, or one person is more ready to move onto a more committed relationship than the other.
When such challenges occur it offers the couple an opportunity to explore how well they can meet these difficulties together before committing to be partners; which inherently will involve making agreements, following through on them, and finding their ways for managing their differences. And for some couples who have a strong attraction and bond, but find themselves struggling to manage these ‘nuts and bolts’ of their relationship, counseling may provide valuable guidance.
Couple’s Counseling Before Commitment
Counseling may also play a couple other valuable roles at this stage of relationship. For couples (or individuals) who are considering a further commitment, but are still unsure, counseling can be helpful for gaining sufficient clarity to reach a decision. And for those who’ve made the decision to commit, counseling can be very beneficial to help them anticipate and prepare for the ‘practical realities’ of coupling or marriage – and help them develop communication and collaboration skills as they make that transition (pre-maritial counseling).
Most couples move into these higher levels of commitment “by default”. That is, they simply follow their natural attraction for each other and merge more of their lives together, perhaps even marrying, but don’t have sufficiently in-depth discussions for clear agreements and understanding about their increased commitment. This increases the chance for differing assumptions being made, often followed by feelings of disappointment, or even betrayal, when ‘surprises’ begin to emerge later in the relationship.
As couples are moving towards making a commitment or preparing to marry, their prospects for long term satisfaction in their relationship is closely related to three factors. First, their willingness to be candid and specific with each other about their expectations and agreements. Second, a willingness to realistically consider and prepare to manage the “nuts and bolts” implications of commitment, especially related to cohabitation or marriage. And lastly, the couple’s acceptance that they will face some challenges with each other and willingness to address them directly with an intention of finding mutually agreeable solutions.
Admittedly, it is not a very romantic process to roll up your sleeves and talk about these issues directly, but doing so can help to avoid many future challenges – and can actually lead to greater intimacy. For many people this may not be a natural or easy process, or they may even be unsure what issues to address, so counseling can be very helpful to couples in this stage.