For many couples contemplating marriage, they are basking in those early, delightful stages of infatuation and romantic passion. But as many married couples find, that stage is fleeting, leaving you in the best case with a different sort of love and devotion or in the worst case nothing at all.

If you want to be among the 50 percent of couples who stay married over the long haul (and the even smaller number of those who do so happily), you may want to consider premarital counseling. A 2003 study published in Family Relations found that couples who participate in premarital counseling and education report a 30 percent stronger marriage than other couples.

Often when couples participate in premarital counseling, it’s only after the engagement ring is purchased and the wedding date is set. But at that point, key decisions (such as whether to marry this person) have already been made; and the focus is on the wedding itself, making it more difficult to be honest about deal-breakers. Ideally, couples should seek premarital guidance when initially contemplating marriage, before becoming engaged. Still, it’s better to do it later than not all.

Premarital counseling is often available through many churches — some even require it if you want to marry there or have their clergy perform the ceremony. It’s also available from marriage and family therapists, and some communities offer group programs.

Most premarital counseling focuses on values as they pertain to gender, roles, finances, family (including whether to have children, how many and how to discipline them), conflict resolution and communication.

Facilitators raise issues that couples may not have considered because they aren’t yet married, and many couples, even those who have dated for years, often learn something new about each other. When differences in values are found, premarital counseling can help you address up front how to resolve those differences in the years ahead.

Good premarital counseling programs are really skills training programs. Research has shown successful, enduring marriages are based not only on compatibility and personality but also on expectations, communication, conflict resolution, intimacy and sexuality and long-term goals. When choosing a premarital program, look for one that covers all of these.

You may also want to look for programs that include an assessment inventory to identify strengths in your relationship and areas that may need some attention, focus on couples at your stage of relationship and life and are adaptable to you and your needs as a unique couple rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. If your particular religious program doesn’t provide all of these, you can supplement with another program or counselor that does.

Dating is often about the glitz. Premarital counseling can help you close your eyes and honestly envision your future together — providing both the understanding and the skills to make it happier and more fulfilling.

As published in the February 2008 Edition of the Vernon County Broadcaster.