What Are The Best Pre-Marriage Counseling Books?

Updated March 10, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Aaron Dutil

In spite of news stories about vanishingly brief marriages, and dire divorce statistics, it's safe to say that almost all marriages last longer than the weddings that begin them.

So why do most couples spend a lot more time, money, and effort preparing for the wedding than for the marriage? According to The Knot magazine, the average time for engagement in the U.S. is 14.5 months. That’s a long time for engaged couples to be waiting and preparing for the big day! But the wedding ceremony typically lasts a few hours. By contrast, relatively few couples seek premarital counseling. This is especially unfortunate because, for those willing to invest, the pay-off can be high: according to Psychology Today, couples who complete some form of premarital counseling report higher satisfaction in the coming year. They may even have lower divorce rates than couples who do no marriage preparation. If you don't have the time or money for a formal course of premarital counseling, your relationship can still benefit from an investment in marriage preparation. An excellent way to plan for the marriage is to read one of these pre-marriage counseling books together.

Here, we’ll look at some of the best premarital counseling books that you and your finance can work through together. Each of these books was selected for the list of the best premarital counseling books based on the important life lessons that can be learned from each of them. In fact, therapists and counselors alike also highly recommend these premarital counseling books!

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6 Of The Best Pre-Marriage Counseling Books

Getting Ready for Marriage: A Practical Road Map for Your Journey Together -Jim Burns and Doug Fields

Author Jim Burns is president of HomeWord Center for Youth and Family at Azusa Pacific University. Doug Field is executive director of the same organization. In Getting Ready for Marriage, the authors take engaged couples on a proactive journey that tackles big issues in marriage like communication, finances, spirituality, and intimacy. The book is subtitled "A Practical Roadmap for your Journey Together," and it aims to give you and your future spouse concrete guidance through potential obstacles ahead. Read it together, or use it with the Getting Ready for Marriage: A Practical Road Map for Your Journey Together book and video package.

Why It's Recommended

This book is recommended for its practicality, flexibility, and comprehensive approach. The book and optional workbook don't just tell you what might go wrong, or how to fix it. They contain exercises that can be completed individually or as a couple, as well as starting points and guides for potentially difficult (but valuable) conversations. Getting Ready for Marriage can also fit into whatever approach you and your future spouse want to take to pre-marriage prep. You can read the book together, or choose additional resources, including videos, and an app.

Who Is It Good For

The option for a comprehensive approach makes Getting Ready for Marriage: a Practical Roadmap for your Journey Together a good choice for couples who would like a full premarital counseling experience but lack the time or finances to make it happen. If that's not you, however, you can use the book by itself for a more laid-back approach to your pre-marriage prep.

The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts - Gary Chapman

This is an oldie, but a goodie. Can you show love to your spouse-to-be in a language he or she understands? The Five Love Languages teaches couples to do just that, and even offers exercises for how to improve communication in marriage. Chapman first explains the five different love languages: giving gifts, sharing quality time, speaking words of affirmation, doing acts of service, and physical touch. Next, he helps you and your future spouse discover your own and each other's preferred love language, so that you can show your affection and commitment in ways that will truly resonate with each other. Discovering your spouse's love language and practicing it early will help in your marriage and all relationships in terms of communication.

Recommended Because:

This book gains a recommendation for its focus on relational intimacy. Unlike some of the other books on this list, The Five Love Languages is not aimed directly at common conflicts or roadblocks in long term relationship; rather, this book works to help couples build the kind of relational attachment that can withstand whatever difficulties crop up. When each member of a couple feels truly understood and loved by the other, their relationship will have the flexibility and safety necessary to work through conflict or whether the strains of external circumstances.

Especially Good For:

All couples - married, engaged, or dating - can benefit from the gentle relational tuning laid out in The Five Love Languages. As pre-marriage prep, it's especially recommended for couples who are highly compatible in practical areas like finances or children but want to invest more heavily in the emotional intimacy of their relationship. The Five Love Languages could also be helpful for couples who want to build a life together but have frequent conflicts around misunderstandings, or unintentional hurt feelings.

Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married -Gary Chapman

Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Got Married by Gary Chapman is another gem by this relationship expert. In this book, Gary Chapman points out that you should plan for your marriage before you plan your wedding. For every other major decision, we know we need education. But we rarely educate ourselves before making arguably the biggest decision in life: who we marry, and how we make that marriage work. In this great book, Chapman points out that most divorces happen in the first seven years of marriage. Feeling obsessively in love lasts for about two years, then after that, maintaining a strong and lasting relationship takes conscious work and effort. A strong and lasting relationship is not something easy to find or easy to maintain. It takes deliberate work from both sides. 

Recommended Because:

This book covers everything you can expect, especially in the first years of marriage.  You might think that you and your partner will not argue, but you will, and you need to find a healthy way to do it. You may think your partner will not mimic his or her parents, but parents have a huge influence on everyone. As if you were in a couples therapy session, Gary Chapman explains how to maintain communication in marriage even when you are facing frustrating problems that you didn’t expect. 

He goes through the most common issues that couples face in their first years of marriage and offers solutions for each one. Along with talking about the basics, like children, responsibilities, finances, and location, this book will walk you through some important points, such as:

  • Being madly in love isn’t enough to build a solid marriage. Once the passionate love fades you may start to question if you married the right person.
  • Romantic love starts out being easy, but then it starts to take some hard work. At first, you do things for your partner just to make them happy, but later you may find that you do these things more out of a sense of responsibility. 
  • Take a good long look at the parents. While we don’t become out parents exactly, the habits you see with your in-laws are likely to be repeated later on in your spouse.
  • You will argue, so you need to find the healthiest way to curb the arguments. 
  • Apologizing is difficult sometimes, but it is a sign of serious strength. Sometimes we want to “win” an argument, but apologizing is far more emotionally strong than beating your partner down so that you can win.
  • You might need to work to keep your sex life alive. If one party loses interest in sex, you should have a plan in place to revive that interest. 

Before tying the knot a premarital book like this can warn you about issues that you never thought would come up in your loving, young relationship. More importantly than pointing out what issues you face, reading books like this one will show you how to overcome those trials when they come up. 

Especially Good For:

This is a great book to read if you are engaged to someone and planning to get married, and you want to really know what to expect. Before you tie the knot a premarital counseling book is vital, because otherwise, you could be going into your union blind to its realities. As compared to preparing for your marriage the total money spent on preparing for your wedding is laughable, especially considering that your marriage is much more important for your quality of life. Instead of just planning your upcoming wedding, plan your upcoming marriage!2q

The New Rules of Marriage -Terrence Real

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This is a modern book, with a thoroughly modern premise - author Terrence Real believes that women have changed with the times, and men need to catch up. In Real's experience, the past 25 years have left women increasingly more independent and self-confident, while many men, on the other hand, remain irresponsible and unavailable. This leaves many couples frustrated and feeling unfulfilled in their relationships. In The New Rules of Marriage, Real aims to help modern couples navigate with a modern set of rules. These rules are designed to rejuvenate languishing relationships, and help couples enjoy each other again. This might sound dire for an engaged couple, but forewarned is forearmed. What better time to settle on the rules for your relationship than before trouble begins?

Recommended Because:

This book is highly recommended because of its flexibility and modern approach. Unlike many other books on this list, which were written by religious authors, this book is aimed at secular couples. Also, The New Rules of Marriage is designed to work whether or not both partners want to read the book together. If you're a woman wondering whether what you're getting from your relationship is all that there is, or a man looking to figure out what it is that your female partner wants, Real assures you that you can change your relationship all by yourself.

Especially Good For:

If you are an overtly secular couple, who doesn't wish to sort through any religious overtones in your marriage prep, The New Rules of Marriage is for you. It addresses a whole host of topics, from roles in the marriage to total money makeover. While most of the other books on this list are explicitly designed to be helpful to couples of all faiths or none, they are written by Christian authors from a Christian point of view. The New Rules of Marriage, on the other hand, is intended to be a more modern take on relationships.

The New Rules of Marriage could also be especially helpful if you're interested in a pre-marriage prep book, but your partner is not. The exercises and advice in the book are designed to be helpful when carried out by just one person in the relationship.

Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts - Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott

Using the experience of counseling more than a million couples, Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott guide couples through the seven most important questions to ask before and after you get married. These questions are designed to foster a deeper sense of intimacy. Saving Your Marriage Before it Starts promises to help couples get on the same page about what to expect from their marriage. It is a complete premarital guide for engaged couples. Also, the book will help you and your future spouse communicate more clearly, resolve conflict smoothly, and get a handle on the common relationship busters of money and sex. It even helps couples who are looking to do a total money makeover before heading into a marriage. Couples also have the option of using gender specific workbooks, as well as a video series accompaniment, for this premarital guide.

Recommended Because:

Saving Your Marriage Before it Starts earns its spot on this list by being comprehensive, but approachable. The Parrotts draw on research, as well as extensive clinical experience, to identify the root causes of many marital conflicts. They then guide you and your future spouse through the conversations necessary to clear these obstacles out of the way before you even reach them. The main goals is building a strong foundation on which the marriage can be based, so that it can survive and even thrive despite the inevitable conflict that will arise. By focusing on these root issues, Saving Your Marriage Before it Starts is comprehensive without trying to cover every possible arena of conflict. Also, the Parrotts' style is clear and accessible in this premarital counseling book.

Especially Good For:

Like Getting Ready for Marriage, mentioned above, Saving Your Marriage Before it Starts has something for every couple. If you're looking for the full DIY pre-marital counseling experience, you can choose to use the his-and-hers workbooks and the video series. You can also use the book by itself for a less intensive experience. The his-and-hers workbooks could also be useful for couples where both partners want to do some pre-marriage preparation but are drawn to different styles of prep. Both people could read the book, and then one can choose to do the workbook, or view the videos. All of these materials together, though, make a very comprehensive premarital guide.

Getting Ready for a Lifetime of Love: 6 Steps to Prepare for a Great Marriage - C. Michael Smith, Ph.D.

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Although Christians write many of the other books mentioned here, Getting Ready for a Lifetime of Love is the most directly Christian in its approach. It assumes Christian belief and practice, and directs couples to ask themselves, "What convinces you that God is calling you together as husband and wife?" Through its eight succinct chapters, Getting Ready for a Lifetime of Love takes Christian couples on a journey of discovery and commitment with probing questions, and Biblically based insight on what it takes to make a marriage work.

Recommended Because:

This book earns a recommendation for its niche appeal and direct approach. While Christians wrote many books on this list, and contain Christian content, they are designed to be useful to any couple. Getting Ready for a Lifetime of Love, on the other hand, is not intended to be particularly useful for couples who aren't practicing Christians. In character with this clear religious niche appeal is the direct approach - Getting Ready for a Lifetime of Love is short and to the point. It's not as interested in your feelings as it is in helping you be certain that you're making a good choice.

Especially Good For:

Getting Ready for a Lifetime of Love is the book for couples looking for a guide to an unabashedly Christian approach to marriage. Conversely, if you're not a practicing Christian, you know to steer your search for marriage prep in another direction. This book may also be right for you if you're looking for no-nonsense marriage prep, shorter on the emotions and longer on the truth bombs.

How to Use These Books

Once you choose from this list of the best premarital counseling books, it’s time to jump into the content! But how should you and your finance go about making the most of these premarital counseling books? Well, the first step is to set clear goals and expectations about what you want to learn and achieve in your year of marriage preparation, and even into your first year of marriage. Having clear goals in mind while you’re reading a premarital counseling book is a must!

Each premarital counseling book usually includes a premarital guide, so you won’t be thinking up these goals from scratch. In order to succeed in building a strong foundation for your married life, it’s important to not only learn from a premarital counseling book, but to also apply what you learn. In this way, your married life can actually be positively impacted by your learning, even before the wedding! Remember if you learn and read before getting married, you’re already a step ahead, since you’ll be better equipped to handle money, communication, and conflict issues in the marriage.

Looking For More?

While the books on this list are a great way to start some DIY marriage prep, you may find that you're looking for something more structured. You and your partner may also want counseling that is tailor-made for your unique situation. At ReGain, you can get access to trained, certified therapists who can provide the custom counseling that your relationship needs. It’s easy to find a couples counselor who can help you through premarital counseling. If you don't find what you're looking for on this list, or you know that you prefer to work with a professional familiar with your particular relationship, get started here with ReGain.


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