School of Communication and Digital Content


Master of Arts in Communication (MA)


Faith Mullen

Primary Subject Area

Sociology, General; Psychology, General; Sociology, Individual and Family Studies; Religion, General; Religion, Clergy; Psychology, Social


Marriage, Premarital Counseling, Premarital Inventories, Self-Disclosure, Sexual Intimacy, Social Penetration Theory


Communication | Counseling Psychology | Family, Life Course, and Society | Interpersonal and Small Group Communication | Psychology | Sociology


With fifty percent of today's marriages ending in divorce, one begins to wonder if engaged couples should be more prepared when entering into a marriage commitment. This mixed-methods study investigates the function of social penetration theory within premarital counseling programs. The research was designed to address three questions: (1) Do engaged couples believe they know the depth and breadth of their partner adequately enough to be prepared for marriage after receiving premarital counseling? (2) Do counselors indirectly support the basic premise of social penetration theory by actively using strategies to help engaged partners reveal important aspects of the breadth and depth of their personalities before entering into marriage? (3) What areas of deficiency do counselors and couples find exist in current premarital counseling programs in regards to reaching an intimate depth and breadth of each partner's personality? In order to answer these questions, ten pastoral counselors and ten newly married couples were interviewed regarding their perspectives on the premarital counseling program. The results revealed that pastors support the premises of social penetration theory in that they encourage couples to spend a vast amount of time together, learning about each other, before committing to marriage. Pastors can effectively use a variety of methods to get couples engaged in deeper conversations during premarital counseling, including asking the couple direct and meaningful questions, building a close relationship with the couple, and using an inventory or questionnaire to reveal important aspects of the couple's relationship that need addressing. Premarital counseling was perceived by both pastors and couples to be stronger at discussing certain areas in depth rather than addressing a wide breadth of topics. The majority of the couples (60%) were satisfied with the depth and breadth of their premarital counseling material, but those who did wish to discuss topics more fully wanted to engage in more conversations about finances, developing boundaries with in-laws, sexual intimacy, and dealing with anger. Some depth and breadth of knowledge about one's partner cannot be learned until one begins marriage, and most couples found they talked more about the physical details of sex, practical finances, and coordinating schedules after their wedding day.