As a pastor, I will not officiate a wedding unless the couple has participated in premarital counseling with me. For some couples, premarital counseling is a chance to strengthen a relationship that is already healthy and strong. It is preventative preparation for married life. For other couples premarital counseling provides the opportunity to dig deeper into already known issues or areas of disagreement. And lastly, for some couples it is an opportunity to “pull back the curtain” in order to reveal some serious issues related to character, beliefs or values.
I believe the single most important factor that determines the success of your marriage is what kind of person you are.
The following are a series of questions that I ask each person to answer about themselves and their partner:
- Do I or my partner usually look for shortcuts or the easiest path or are we both more interested in doing what is right?
- Am I or my partner regularly controlled or ruled by our emotions or by our character?
- Am I or my partner controlled by moods or by our values and priorities?
- Do I or my partner expect each other or others to cater to us or do we consistently think of others first?
- Do I or my partner look for excuses more than we look for solutions?
- Am I or my partner prone to give up, quit or not follow through or are we resilient and known to finish what we started?
- Do I or my partner complain much more frequently than we express gratitude?
I have worked with many married couples in crisis over the years where one partner could have avoided an immense amount of pain, disillusionment and disappointment by honestly considering these questions.
Another important benefit of pre-marital counseling is to help couples develop or readjust their expectations for marriage. Almost all couples have some type of unrealistic expectations when it comes to marriage. These sometimes can be referred to as “myths of marriage.” These “myths” come from a variety of sources. They may come from our own parents, our friends, the culture, media or even from the church.
It is important to help couples realize that walking down the aisle doesn’t involve an automatic transfer of need fulfillment. Even after marriage, each person must take personal responsibility for their needs. Of course, in a healthy marriage couples will want to meet each other’s needs. The problem is when couples give away or demand the other take full responsibility.
A common theme for marriages in crisis is that at some point each spouse began to view the other as not only the source of their problems but the only solution.
I can’t count how many times over the years I’ve heard, “he or she isn’t who I thought they were when we got married.” One reason for this is that couples don’t take into account that their dating experience isn’t reality. The whole point of dating is trying to win the other person’s heart. This pursuit often does not lead to transparency. The typical dating experience is about being and showing only the best in yourself. Adding to this is that couples fail to take into account the full picture. Emphasis is placed on feelings of love, playing up your partner’s qualities that you like and downplaying the ones you don’t.
How premarital counseling can help?
Premarital counseling is instrumental in getting both parties to take into account all the differences in personality, experiences, backgrounds and expectations. I place a high priority on couples honestly facing and acknowledging their differences. I want couples to know that the differences they overlook or find “cute” now will likely become annoying very quickly after the wedding.
Premarital counseling is a time to begin teaching couples how to accept and enjoy their differences, understand and accept their weaknesses and encourage each other’s strengths.
I am reminded of this quote about marriage, “A woman marries a man thinking she can change him and a man marries a woman thinking she will never change.”
Premarital counseling is essential in introducing the idea that the ultimate goal of marriage is not happiness. Should we expect marriage to bring us happiness? Absolutely, we should. However, if a couple makes happiness the ultimate goal then it will inevitably set them up for failure. That belief overlooks the fact that a good marriage requires hard work. Many couples make the mistake of believing the fallacy that a good marriage is effortless. If it isn’t effortless then these couples believe something is wrong which can quickly become someone is wrong. A good marriage requires taking personal responsibility for our own health – spiritually, physically, emotionally and mentally. This enables each partner to move toward the other in love from a place of security rather than neediness or desperation.