Premarital Counseling for Today’s Generation

Many couples are reflecting on how 2020 went for them and wondering how 2021 will treat them. We noticed a boom of weddings in 2020 despite the pandemic. This encouraged many to get engaged and to hopefully get married in 2021. We may wonder why people are getting married, and it could be as simple a matter as singles and dating couples being tired of living alone.

The pandemic has brought many issues to the surface such as depression due to constant isolation and anxiety when alone. Autophobia is the fear of being alone and is especially difficult the older you are. Undoubtedly families and couples did better than singles while being left alone for such a long time during the pandemic.

Although some took the risk of going out during the outbreak, many had no option but to stay at home out of concern for a loved one. This woke up many men and women to consider moving forward with their partners toward marriage. This is a noble solution to the problem of being alone. Wisdom would say that although it’s great to get married, we must build solidly to have a long-lasting marriage.

As a minister, I notice that couples in our church tend to rush into marriage but many, if not all, of these couples wisely seek advice. The pandemic is causing doubts and questions for possible weddings of 2021 such as financial costs, wedding attendance, where to live, school, jobs, family distance, etc.

A blessing in disguise of the pandemic is that it is helping couples to work through these issues with others, which is helping them to count the cost of moving forward.

Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’Luke 14:28-30

These couples cannot afford to put up money for a big wedding, and they are wondering where to live because, if the pandemic extends, they want to know could they be safe, and what is around them in walking distance i.e., parks, beach, trails, stores, etc. With this in mind, partners are asking one another about pre-marital counseling.

Premarital counseling is a foundational precursor to a healthy marriage because we tend to invest in what’s important to us. The passage in Luke helps us to consider how we are building. Couples aren’t just “fools rush in”, there is an alternative that can support a stronger relationship that will remain resilient during challenging times.

Sadly, many couples also ended their relationship in 2020 because the pandemic tested them beyond their capabilities and forced them to tap out. Couples’ characters were exposed and with the added pressures of isolation, they had no one to turn to. These marriages had little to no support that otherwise could have been of immense help.

The question is, why didn’t these couples have support? We could chalk it up to many possibilities, but one vital reason could be that it wasn’t discussed at their premarital counseling. We all have friends, but we don’t turn to them to get input especially about sensitive material as insecurities, sexual intimacy, conflict, jealousy, deceit, secrets, etc.

If adequate support is not set up in advance this challenge can be difficult to overcome. We all need support to move forward in life. We all appreciate the heroic stories of individuals, but the most encouraging ones are the teams of heroes that show everyone’s strengths and weaknesses.

The Avengers, Justice League, and Star Wars are all some of the biggest box office hits in the last decade. The reason for their success is that they are teams fighting off a great evil. These have become bigger revenue-generating franchises and have overtaken the individual hero’s place as top of the box office king. Why do we have less enthusiasm about being a team in our marriages? Marriage is a perfect opportunity to be a team and have others team up to helps us.

Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

This is an interesting passage for couples because if my partner and I are one then who is going to help our one unit? Some may suggest that spouses are the other individual to help them out, but we can challenge that position by reminding everyone of the goal that God designed in Genesis 2:24 “the two will become one.”

By that principle, a couple who follows the word of God is one unit. The secret of Christian marriage is that we get to celebrate two lives joined together in holy matrimony, yet they are not alone. In the kingdom of God, we have support and guidance to face any issue. Marriages should never be alone. As separate individuals, we can support one another and maximize the potential of our unions.

2021 is going to be a full year of many couples dating, getting engaged, then married. Families will begin and many joyous occasions will take place. During those moments there will be stress and anxiety and one way to combat those symptoms will be to get premarital counseling as soon as possible.

First, dating or engaged couples can jumpstart their long-term relationship by investing in a healthy premarital counseling series so that they can develop a great foundation to make their marriage strong. Second, they can develop a support network. If they do these two crucial things, along with reading their Bible and praying every day, then they can have confidence that will stay together for the long haul.

If for some reason their church, ministry, friends, or community cannot provide that, then therapy can be a great alternative. Marriage and Family therapists are trained in basic approaches that can help couples in their relationships hence the title “marriage” therapist. Some may say that therapy is too pricey and could take up a lot of your time. An argument can be made that investing in your relationship is priceless.

When I married Nicole, there was no price too high to pay for the ring, wedding, and honeymoon. We had a budget of course, but my attitude was that I wanted to invest in the things I thought were important to me. Where we put our money shows where we are invested.

My advice to those of you reading this article is that if you are considering getting married soon, think about possibly getting premarital counseling through a therapist who will be impartial and professional. Sometimes our friends and family can mean well when it comes to giving us premarital advice but at times that can have some biases attached with it.

A professional therapist is trained to be in the middle and not side with either partner. The licensed marriage and family therapist will work with both individuals to help bring issues to light that could be of concern and to build skills to help them navigate expectations for the future.

Having a healthy dynamic marriage is priceless. I look back to when Nicole and I got premarital counseling and I shudder to think what would be said of us right now if we had never invested in our relationship after our engagement. In truth, our marriage would be a nightmare.

I’m grateful that others supported me and helped me to learn ways to communicate effectively, how to plan out my week with my wife, prioritizing biblical values, sexual intimacy, reconciliation, daily encouragement, effective roles, letting go of past hurts, submitting to one another, listening, finances, etc. Many couples get married and do not talk about these issues.

It is no wonder that couples have so many arguments. They approach their relationship with optimism but then they hit a snag after the vows. When conflict arises, they realize that they didn’t prepare for these issues and are shocked when they have no one to turn to. They want to save face, so they keep it “in-house”. They go to church and pretend that everything is fine.

Deep down, however, they are yearning for help so that they can grow. This piece is written for those looking forward to getting married this year but honestly, anyone can get counseling at any point in their relationship. It’s an investment that will reap long-lasting rewards. One spouse can go alone, although it is highly recommended that both attend.

If the couple is healthy, and one spouse wants to process a trauma from their past, then that one spouse should get therapy and may not need to include the other. If the conflict affects both, then both should attend to get therapy. Premarital counseling will prepare the couple so that they will not be blindsided by any potential threats.

Athletes say that the worst hit they take on the field is the one they don’t see coming. With premarital counseling, not only will you be ready for those challenges, but you will also be ready to confront them. Not only will you be ready to confront them but be victorious as a wonderful team. I close out with an encouraging analogy from Jesus on how to build our spiritual homes:

Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.Matthew 7:24-27

Photos:
“Rings”, Courtesy of Nick Karvounis, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Love & Respect”, Courtesy of Kelly Sikkema, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Holding Hands”, Courtesy of Brooke Cagle, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Devotions Together”, Courtesy of Priscilla Du Preez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

5 Tips for Pursuing Christian Marriage Counseling

“A good marriage is where both people feel like they’re getting the better end of the deal.”Anne Lamott

It has been truly said that although marriage is a precious gift of God, it is, in the end, a union of two sinners. This sin – inherited from our First Parents and perpetuated by each one of us – brings trials and troubles into marriage that sometimes make it necessary to seek Christian marriage counseling in order to overcome.

In his book, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God, Tim Keller writes, “While marriage is many things, it is anything but sentimental. Marriage is glorious but hard. It’s a burning joy and strength, and yet it is also blood, sweat, and tears; humbling defeats and exhausting victories.”

5 Tips When Pursuing Christian Marriage Counseling

Consider these five steps to as you prepare to seek Christian marriage counseling.

1. Recognize that you can’t do it alone.

When you and your spouse experience marriage problems, the first thing to recognize is that you may not be able to fix it on your own. The help of the Holy Spirit, working through a professional counselor who is focused on the Word of God, will bring about change in your relationship.

Maybe you’ve already tried it solve your problems by yourselves and have gotten nowhere, or maybe you just find that the spark has gone out of your marriage and you want to rekindle the sense of closeness and intimacy that you used to enjoy.

Recognizing that your marriage is not what it should be and that you need God’s power to fix it is the first step toward healing. God’s vision for your marriage is higher and greater than you could ever imagine.

2. Recognize that marriage problems are normal.

Your marriage problems may seem huge. Perhaps you recognize the same issues rearing their ugly head time after time and nothing ever seems to change. Maybe it feels like the two of you are just incompatible, and you begin to suspect that you tied the knot with the wrong person.

This is common. Since we live in a fallen, sinful world, there is no such thing as a perfect marriage. Every marriage experiences stress or conflict of some kind for the simple reason that both spouses are sinners. Regardless of what you may be experiencing, you are not facing anything that has not been faced by married couples before.

Rather than end the marriage and begin looking elsewhere for love, however, this is an indicator that you need to turn to God in faith and let Him bring healing. In his book, What Did You Expect? Redeeming the Realities of Marriage, Paul David Tripp writes, “One way God establishes beauty is by putting things that are different next to each other.”

Hiding your problems out of a sense of shame is a mistake. This is a fear-based reaction and is a common response of many Christians. They wrongly assume that church is only made up of couples who don’t wrestle with sin issues. Satan uses this assumption to keep couples in despair and isolation, preventing them from ever getting help.

Seeking help when you need it is always the best path. Of course, it will require humility and courage, and a conviction that there is something in your marriage that is worth saving.

Marriage is God’s invention, and because it is God’s intention that it be permanent, you should feel compelled to make the effort to save it. Many divorces occur because people didn’t seek help when they needed it but tried to do it solely on their own. As God’s Word says, “Without consultation, plans are frustrated, but with many counselors, they succeed” (Proverbs 15:22).

If you are willing to humble yourself and ask for help, you will find it. Professional marriage counselors are available to come alongside you and help you navigate the minefield of marital issues to find healing and hope for your marriage.

Once you have decided to get help, you need to face the challenge of finding the right counselor. Though it may be an intimidating task, you will want to find a trustworthy counselor that is a good fit for you. There are a number of counselors who offer Christian marriage counseling, and it may be a tough job to sort through all of your options.

This article will present some wisdom about how to find and contact a marriage counselor.

3. Recognize the value of personal recommendations.

Though it may seem simplistic, probably the best way to identify a trusted counselor is through word of mouth. Who have others used? Who do they recommend?

Though there are no guarantees in life, recommendations from those you love and trust can be a real help. The likelihood that you will actually find and meet with a good marriage counselor is dramatically increased when someone that you know and trust has had a good experience with them before.

In an article entitled, “How Do I Find a Good Marriage Counselor?” Dr. Robert Burbee writes, “Talk to someone you know who has gone for counseling or psychotherapy. In many cases, the best suggestions about who is good in your community are from trusted friends and family who have been in the same situation themselves of trying to find a good counselor or therapist. These individuals can give firsthand observation about a professional and what to expect. And, they are giving a client’s perspective which may be the most important.”

4. Recognize the importance of knowing both yourself and your counselor.

As you consider selecting a marriage counselor near you, a good first step is for you and your spouse to reflect on yourselves. Think about what the two of you want to accomplish through counseling and what your hopes are for your marriage. It is also good to evaluate what you want out of life and what you expect from each other.

You should also consider what type of counselor would be a good fit for both of you. Thinking about these things ahead of time will help you align your goals even before you start counseling. If you are not on the same page as your spouse regarding your goals and expectations for counseling, it can reduce the effectiveness of your Christian marriage counseling.

Of course, counselors come in many shapes and sizes and the sheer number of specializations and licenses that they may hold can be dizzying. So, secondly, it is helpful to spend time talking with any potential counselor about what they specialize in and how they are trained and licensed.

According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy professional website, “Marriage and Family Therapists broaden the traditional emphasis on the individual to attend to the nature and role of individuals in primary relationship networks such as marriage and the family. MFTs take a holistic perspective to health care; they are concerned with the overall, long-term well-being of individuals and their families.”

It is a good idea to take advantage of any free consultations over the phone prior to meeting with a counselor in order to get to know them a little bit and get a feel for whether the counseling relationship is likely to work out. This gives you the liberty to ensure that you are comfortable with this counselor before you commit to anything long-term.

This is a good time to ask any questions both of and about the counselor. You can ask about their counseling approach, values, experience, training, etc. Make a list of things to ask, especially about subjects that will increase your comfort level. Find out if they are a Christian and ask what that means to them and how it affects their counseling methods.

This is critical since you are about to commit to a counseling relationship and whether or not it is successful will depend in large measure on the kind and strength of the relationship that you develop with the counselor you select.

5. Learn to trust your instincts.

Though we are often led to think that first impressions are unimportant, they are not always wrong. “Intuition” or “gut instinct” is an important part of who we are as human beings and though we should not rush to judge a person’s character when we don’t know them, our first impressions should not be ignored.

As you interact with any given counselor via phone, email, or in person, you should give thought to how they make you feel. Do you feel like they are really listening to you? Do they seem interested in you and your problems, or do they come across as disinterested or bored? Do they appear to be concerned enough to provide help right away? Do they seem confident and hopeful about your chances for positive change through counseling?

Marriage requires a lot of hard work and can be difficult. Anyone who says differently is selling something. Every married couple will experience issues at some point in their marriage and will need help. If this is you, contact a Christian counselor. They will provide the best care and counsel possible and will help you navigate the complexities of marriage problems and help you and your spouse get back on the right track.

References:

AAMFT (2018). About Marriage and Family Therapists. Retrieved from: https://www.aamft.org/About_AAMFT/About_Marriage_and_Family_Therapists.aspx

Burbee, R. (2014). How do you find a good marriage counselor? Retrieved from: https://www.focusonthefamily.com/marriage/divorce-and-infidelity/your-spouse-is-not-the-enemy/how-do-you-find-a-good-marriage-counselor

Keller, T., & Keller, K. (2011). The meaning of marriage: facing the complexities of commitment with the wisdom of God. New York: Dutton.

Tripp, P.D. (2010). What did you expect? Redeeming the realities of marriage. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

Weiner-Davis, M. (2009). How to choose a good marital therapist. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/divorce-busting/200910/how-choose-good-marital-therapist

Photos:
“Hold on”, Courtesy of Neonbrand, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Standing Firm”, Courtesy of Naassom Azevedo, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Walkin’ in the Rain”, Courtesy of Juulzgrand, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Loving couple”, Courtesy of Medium as muse, Flickr Creative Commons, CC0 License

Have You Asked These Premarital Counseling Questions Yet?

If you’re reading this article, you’re probably engaged to be married soon. This is such an exciting time, knowing that you’ve committed to spending the rest of your life together. No matter how long you’ve known your future spouse, there are still important issues to discuss before the big day.

Throughout your relationship, you’ve both gotten to know each other, including interests, passions, likes and dislikes, and personality traits (and quirks!). At this stage of your relationship, you’re probably filled with happiness and anticipation about starting your married life.

But it’s also possible that you may have some mixed feelings. Maybe you’re concerned about some things in your relationship and wonder how they’ll affect your future. It’s okay to be nervous or have reservations about making such a huge commitment.

Whether you’re wholeheartedly ready and longing for your wedding day, or you’re feeling happy but a bit hesitant, it’s important to ask some questions before you take the step of getting married.

This is where premarital counseling comes in. It provides the opportunity and guided structure to discuss the major life values and decisions that will affect your relationship. Some couples even choose to get pre-engagement counseling so they can be fully prepared before the public engagement announcement.

Premarital Counseling Questions You Should Ask

One of the best things about pre-engagement or premarital counseling is that it requires an intentional focus on the relationship. This is definitely a recipe for success! So no matter how happy or hesitant you’re feeling right now, these who-what-where-when-why premarital counseling questions can benefit you as you contemplate your future marriage.

Who am I marrying?

This isn’t a surface-level question; it’s an opportunity to make sure you intentionally get to know your partner as well as you can. Do you know what’s most important to them? Can you identify what you most like (and dislike) about them? For the things you dislike, what are they, and are you expecting or hoping those traits will change?

Exploring this question can reveal a lot of layers; most prominently, securities and insecurities. In other words, what things about your partner make you feel secure? What qualities come to mind when someone asks, “Why do you love him/her?”

The things you love about your partner can range from their personality traits to skills or knowledge they have, or maybe their past or the way they were raised. How are the two of you similar in a way that benefits your relationship? And how are you different in ways that create a healthy balance?

It’s also good, although a little scarier, to discuss the insecurities you have related to who your partner is. Are there any red flags (even small ones)? These are the insecurities. What are the issues you desire to discuss but maybe feel uncomfortable bringing up?

Sexual history is one example of this, especially if you haven’t discussed past relationships or have only briefly mentioned them. An imbalance in the number of previous sexual partners can lead to conflict in the future if this isn’t worked through before marriage. This is particularly true if one partner has a sexual history and the other doesn’t.

This area isn’t limited to intercourse; it applies to any intimate actions. Addressing these issues in premarital counseling doesn’t mean you have to describe them in excruciating detail. A healthy approach would be to provide basic information so that there are no surprises in the future, and for each partner to listen to the other’s feelings in this area. It’s important that both of you feel you have a complete picture because things will probably come out someday either way.

Often, couples simply assume that they are on the same page in matters of faith, but fail to have explicit conversations about their beliefs. These assumptions can be misguided, which may lead to big problems in the future.

Once you’ve considered these questions about your partner, reflect them back to yourself. Do you have a healthy self-awareness? Whether you do or not, taking time to consider your values, identity, and how well your partner knows you can really benefit your relationship and your personal growth.

What does marriage mean to me?

After considering questions of identity, ask yourself what the institution of marriage means to you. Sometimes we assume that other people view marriage the same way we do. Do you view marriage as permanent no matter what? If you believe that divorce is justified in some cases, what specifically would warrant divorce in your mind?

Sometimes we sidestep these questions before marriage because they’re not enjoyable to consider. Beyond the big questions, think about the details such as dividing holidays between extended families, or dividing household chores between the two of you. What will those things look like if and when children come into the picture?

Also, think about your mental vision of marriage. What do you picture it being like? How will you balance living together and prioritizing your relationship with daily routines and managing a household?

While you’re considering what marriage means to you, think about the different components including spiritual, physical, emotional, and practical. Are you aware of any obstacles that would prevent your marriage from being what you want it to be? If so, now is the time to discuss those issues.

Talk together about what those obstacles are and how you can work on overcoming them now. Your partner may have a different perspective or be willing to offer solutions for the difficulties you’ve identified.

Where do I see us in 5, 10, 50 years?

Once you’ve thought about your view of marriage, consider your specific future together. Where do you see your life and marriage in 5, 10, 50 years? Do you want to have children? If so, how many?

Will adoption or travel be a part of your future? What are your educational and vocational aspirations? What are your partner’s? Do you want to stay in your current geographical area indefinitely?

Marriage counselors often hear the phrase “we grew apart” from struggling couples. To avoid growing apart, it’s so important to talk about your future before you start it! You’ll grow as people over time and the things you want will change, but at least you’ll both be on the same page at the beginning of your journey. This can help prevent so much misunderstanding and conflict later on.

Some other questions to ask: what are the goals you’d like to achieve as a couple? What activities do you enjoy doing together? How will you prioritize your marriage practically over the long haul, especially when juggling the responsibilities of parenthood and careers?

As you’re thinking about your individual and marriage goals, again consider any obstacles. Is your partner on the same page? Are they willing to help you reach your own goals? What areas will require compromise or sacrifice?

When you know your goals for the future, it helps you make wise decisions in the here and now. This way, you can grow together as a couple rather than growing apart.

When are we getting married?

Of course, before you actually get to the future, there’s the detail of getting married itself! If you’ll be getting pre-engagement counseling, it’s helpful to have a sense of the timeframe for your future. We all think about what season of the year we’d like our wedding to be in, but more importantly, what is the season of life you’re getting married in?

Are there any individual goals either of you would like to accomplish before the big day, like finishing a degree or a specific goal at work? Discuss these issues and decide together what you’d like to accomplish pre-marriage and what the time frame will be.

Maybe financial issues are presenting a barrier to getting married as soon as you’d like. How long will this be an issue? Are there ways you can cut back on wedding or other expenses in order to avoid having an extended engagement, which can lead to tension in your relationship?

Again, make sure you raise these issues with your partner, especially concerning your individual values about the engagement timeline. What is your goal for the engagement period? Do you feel that you still need to get to know each other and build your relationship? Or is it simply a matter of practicality to allow you to plan the wedding?

These questions aren’t meant to discover a right or wrong answer, but simply to foster open communication in your relationship. The goal is to have an agreed-upon timeframe that will not make either partner feel overly rushed but will also not draw out the engagement far beyond what is desired.

Why are we getting married?

Finally, ask yourself this: why are we getting married? Also, why am I getting married? Look at the relationships in your life that you see. You probably have examples of good and bad ones, and you probably are pursuing the former. Take inventory of what is working for them and talk to them about how married life has been.

And finally, although it might seem superfluous, ask yourself why you’re getting married. What are your reasons, both individually and as a couple, for making this lifelong commitment? Think about married couples in your life and ask what has contributed to (or detracted from) the well-being of their relationships.

Ask yourself, “What am I really looking for? What do I want? And will I find it in a marriage to this person?”

There are many possible reasons that people get married. In our culture, we often ask that question to such an extent that we simply decide marriage isn’t worth it. Since you’re considering or planning on getting married, what has made it worth it for you? Why now?

What role does religion play in your desire to be married? What about your family and friends? Are there social or cultural pressures that make you feel that you should get married sooner or later?

Marriage isn’t just merging two lives; it’s merging two extended families. Whatever skeletons you have in your family closet, those will become your partner’s, and the opposite is true as well. Are you prepared to relate to your extended families as a team?

It might seem like these questions are digging for dirt or trying to stir up trouble, but there are no wrong answers. Rather, the goal is to thoroughly explore these topics in order to build security and trust in your relationship and future.

Even if some of these questions make you feel doubtful, that’s okay! If you can ask yourself these questions and work through your doubts now, you’ll feel more confident in the future, and you can learn to love your partner better.

Knowing why you love your partner and what has led you to desire to marry them will help give you a sense of security even in the midst of future conflict. And it’s okay to not have all the answers now, either.

A huge aspect of premarital counseling is turning covert issues into overt ones, making sure things aren’t being left unsaid. This allows you to identify potential problems and deal with them proactively while you’re in a calm and structured setting.

Who, what, where, when, why – now what?

Once you’ve worked through these questions and you still want to marry this person, you’re more than prepared to enter the premarital counseling process with a professional Christian counselor or perhaps a pastor or counselor at your church. This will allow you to fully discuss the answers to these questions as a couple.

Thinking through things on your own allows you to have more helpful discussions as a couple. You can clearly identify your similarities and differences, and then consider how they will benefit each other or possibly cause issues.

Pre-engagement and premarital counseling can be an enjoyable way to grow closer together and prepare for marriage. It will allow you to feel confident in your communication and build healthy habits that can have lifelong benefits for your future marriage.

Photos
“Fingers”, Courtesy of Snapwire, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Sunset Cliffs,” courtesy of Taylor L. Spurgeon, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Lover’s Sunset,” courtesy of Alex Rebosa, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “Stand by Me,” courtesy of Alysa Bajenaru, unsplash.com, Public Domain License