I am both surprised and delighted by the requests we receive for premarital counseling. The surprising and curious part is that couples are coming to us and not to the pastor who is marrying them. I can only guess at the reasons many pastors are not offering premarital counseling these days, and none of them are valid or good.
I have been helping people in broken marriages for many years now, and far and away the majority of them did not receive any pastoral counseling prior to marriage. Those who did receive some report that it was one or two meetings or that it was ineffective and did not address the things the couple found they were facing after marriage.
Pre-marital counseling (in my opinion) should begin before the engagement. It should in reality be pre-engagement counseling and take place when the couple is seriously beginning to think about spending the rest of their lives together; before a ring is purchased and before he pops the question. My experience has been that once it gets to the point where there is a ring and a date it is much more difficult to separate the romance and excitement of the wedding planning from the realities of what happens on the day after the big event or from differences that are easily overlooked while wearing rose colored glasses.
Our pre-marital counseling takes place over approximately 3 months. The couple is asked to complete a workbook by Wayne Mack, Preparing for Marriage God's Way and each week a male counselor and I meet with them to discuss the many important surveys, worksheets and questions that are asked in this workbook. In addition, we spend time teaching them about the origins and God's intention for marriage.
Many couples have an unrealistic idea of what marriage is all about. Marriage is a covenant and it is permanent (Ezek.18:8b).They will make a covenant before God to meet one another's real needs on every level- sexual, social, spiritual and others (Gen. 15:8-21). Marriage was designed by God because - “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen.2:18 ). Couples must understand that the vows they make them life-long companions. The divine purpose in marriage is companionship, so we encourage the couple to be certain they like one another enough to spend the rest of their days together. They should be best friends.
We teach them that marriage is to reflect the relationship Christ has with His Bride the Church. Marriage is a relationship in which both man and woman are obligated to give to each other. It is not a 50/50 proposition, but each person is to willingly give 100% of what they are to glorify God and serve their spouse.
We also teach them the basics of biblical communication, and how to deal with common problems and expectations in marriage that tend to drive wedges between the couple. We cover how to sort out responsibilities in the relationship and home, family finances, anger, resentment and how to resolve conflicts. In addition, we look at each person's family of origin because there are sometimes things in a family's background that can affect a marriage.
Marriage is joyful and wonderful but it is also work. Pre-engagement or pre-marital counseling reveals to the couple if they have unrealistic idea of what marriage is all about. Young women and men often have the idea they will sit and cuddle every night after work, and that there will never be any problems or disagreements.
We teach the couple that once married their spouse is to be the first and primary recipient of their time, attention, generosity, and love. Both husband and wife are to surrendering themselves for each others needs and sometimes their wants as well. Ideally, a happy give and take ensues and both husband and wife live to out-do each other in being "other" oriented. The worlds view of love is all hearts and flowers in other words, nearly all self-oriented. It centers around having perceived and felt needs constantly met at any cost. This sort of love bears no good fruit for the tree of life has roots that are sunk deep in idolatry of self.
Biblical love is costly! Biblical love flies in the face of the belief that love "just happens" and that once you are married the hard part is over. On the contrary! It demands giving of yourself, time, interests, and takes consideration, creativity, thoughts, and to follow the example of Christ it could even demand your life. Biblical love focuses on seeking the welfare of your spouse before your own. We do our best to prepare the couple, but ultimately they will spend a lifetime learning each other.
We teach our young couples to serve one another and feelings of ever deepening love will follow actions of love. These are but a few of the ingredients for a successful and joyful marriage!