Spring and something else was in the air. The morning was crisp and beautiful. But it could have been dreary and cloudy for all I cared, as long as I could be with my girlfriend, and dream out loud. Me: “What do you think of that house over there? Do you like it?” She: “Yeah, but I like that style over there better.” What was being communicated in that not-so-veiled exchange? We were both single, liked each other and were thinking of the future … together. Sure enough, a few months later, we were engaged and a year after that, we walked down the aisle together.
Marriage is a Roller Coaster
After almost thirty-three years of the adventure (my wife would say, ‘roller coaster’ and ‘whip lash’) of marriage and raising two kids together, I feel thankful for this journey. But I also ask, ‘How could we have been better prepared?’ Every marriage experiences some struggle, conflict and pain, especially in the early years. After all, marriage is the crazy proposition that two imperfect, broken people can somehow forge a bond that will last a lifetime and enjoy a partnership that brings good to others. In the fragile crucible that is early marriage, sparks can fly, egos get bruised and feelings hurt, sometimes effortlessly. Working through conflict and disappointment and misunderstanding is part of the normal process of building trust, intimacy and partnership. This has held true throughout my marriage. But is all the pain and messiness necessary? Could some of the crises been averted? In our case, I think my wife and I could have avoided some of the hurt we inflicted on each other and counteracted some of the intensity we brought into our interactions, with more initial insight into ourselves and each other and more equipping in relational skills, in a way that considered our relationship with Christ.
Premarital Counseling Prepares You for Marriage
Over ninety percent of Americans say a happy marriage is one of their most important life objectives. Premarital counseling and education can be a major contribution toward actualizing that hope. Research confirms that couples who invest in their relationship through premarital counseling experience more satisfaction, better adjustment and increased longevity in marriage. They are better communicators and problem-solvers, feel closer and work better together than those who do not participate in premarital counseling. While two are better than one in adapting to common life stress, a new marriage relationship is initially one of life’s highest stress producers. Christian couples counseling before marriage can provide insight, identify strengths and potential areas of stress and conflict, and reinforce, strengthen and sharpen healthy communication and conflict resolution patterns.
An objective picture of one’s own family of origin experience, and awareness of the resultant expectations brought into marriage, can help a couple avoid blaming and resentments and facilitate intimacy. How does your personality blend with that of your potential spouse? What about the other’s temperament is harder to accept, and why? What does it take to communicate and listen well? How do you manage anger, resolve conflict and solve problems together? What are your convictions about money? How will you cultivate emotional and sexual intimacy? How is marital faithfulness fostered? What is God’s design for marriage and parenting? How do you encourage one another’s spirituality?
Counseling Can Strengthen Your Bond and Avoid Future Heartache
These are the questions which can be addressed in comprehensive premarital counseling. While the benefits are many, premarital counseling is not in-depth psychotherapy. It may lead to deeper individual emotional healing work by flagging issues for future counseling consideration while enhancing mutual empathy now. Sometimes a dating couple needs objective, professional, faith-affirming counsel before engagement. The focus of pre-engagement counseling is similar regarding seeking insight and honing relational skills, but the goal is different: providing what is needed to make a wise decision about whether marriage is advisable. Such work can either strengthen a couple’s bonds or save them much future heartache.
Some of my most enjoyable work as a counselor is with couples in pre-engagement and premarital counseling and I have seen the fruit of their hard work in thriving marriages. When I work with couples in premarital counseling I have found that eight to ten sessions provides a good foundation. Pre-engagement can be four to five sessions. God’s heart is for oneness, great life partnership, character transformation and blessing in and through marriages.
Christian Counseling Can Reinforce God’s Vision for Your Marriage
Premarital counseling is well worth the investment, not just for the health of a marriage but also for the benefit of all who will be touched by your union. In addition to providing important self-understanding and practices for marriage, Christian premarital counseling can reinforce God’s vision for your relationship.
Images courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net: “Young Couple Arguing” image courtesy of photostock (10040378.jpg); “Man and Woman Lying” image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici (10067420.jpg); “Couples Walking Together” image courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee (100139337.jpg)
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