Importance of Premarital Counseling Revisited
June used to be the best month to talk about wedding vows because many couples followed May graduations with June weddings. Now there are graduations in May, September, and December—all followed by weddings. Most couples are focused on the event, not the sacredness of the ceremony. For too many of them, the ceremony simply legalizes what has already been their experience. Perhaps the following essay will remind us of the seriousness of the vows that are often taken as a matter of course.
In 1976 I completed a research project on premarital counseling that formed the basis for my doctoral dissertation and later the book, Three to Get Ready: A Premarital Counseling Manual. The subjects for this project were twenty-one couples who were seniors in college. It was a diverse group of professing Christians.
The Importance Illustrated
The most memorable couple came from very different families of origin and very different subcultures. He was the son of first generation Italian immigrants from a culturally homogeneous community in Philadelphia. She was from a pastor’s family in the mid-Pennsylvania fundamentalist Christian haven, which was sometimes referred to as the buckle on the Bible belt of the east coast. He was a recent convert to an evangelical Baptist church out of a strong Roman Catholic rearing.
Their dating life was conducted on a very tightly monitored Bible College campus. Both had strictly traditional views of marriage with no understanding of marriage as a covenant relationship intended to be complementarian in nature. Their concept of love was fashioned much more by popular culture than biblical Christianity.
Premarital counseling was in its infancy with a paucity of guidance for the pastor. Seminary notes from a then well-known professor cited the importance of the enterprise with no suggested process. Hence, my research project and the dissertation.
Sociological Changes in America
The diverse background of the young couple cited above has become the norm, not the exception. Since the end of WWII, the norm of couples growing up and marrying within a five-mile radius has radically declined. The mini sub-culturally diverse couple has become the norm.
Mini sub-cultural diversity may include simple differences such as growing up in a military career family compared to growing up in a Lancaster County Pennsylvania Dutch farming community. A more complex difference would be the obvious diversity that comes with the intermarriages of Asians and Middle Easterners with Europeans and African-Americans.
Natural Issues of Discipleship
In our Birmingham area practice, many prospective couples come from broken homes and/or are college converts who come from non-Christian environments. Premarital counseling is more essential than ever before. And premarital counseling must often include additional, and sometimes individual, sessions to address family of origin issues of abuse, anger, bitterness, resentment, fear, etc.
The Reality of Second Marriages
Regardless of your view of divorce, you will have many opportunities to do premarital preparation for second (or more) marriages. Having a policy of performing no marriage without premarital counseling will save you and prospective mates future problems.
For example, one couple protested premarital counseling since both had been previously married. The woman’s protest revealed an anger problem that surprised the man. Attempts to address the issue accelerated it and, as a result, the man broke off the relationship. A couple of years later he returned with a different prospective bride. This couple completed their premarital counseling and were married. They have enjoyed a great relationship.
Creating Pathways for Further Assistance
In addition to clarifying the biblical view of covenant marriage, premarital counseling introduces the couple to biblical counseling. Hence, the fear and reluctance that feeds resistance to seeking early intervention is diminished. Closing the preparation process by scheduling a post-marriage check up session with an upbeat invitation for the couple to return at any time leaves a friendly open door.
Questions for Reflection
How essential do you view premarital counseling in your preparation to officiate wedding ceremonies? What are some go-to resources and Scriptures that you use in premarital counseling sessions?