One of my closest ministry friends called me this week and asked me for advice about pre-marital counseling. What approach did I take? What materials did I use? Could I recommend books?
Let me share a secret with you: After 31 years of doing weddings, I still feel like I stink (substitute the semi-inappropriate word that is more accurate) at pre-marital counseling. In my own humble but correct opinion, I am a Jedi master at funerals. I am okay at helping a couple plan, prepare and perform a wedding ceremony. But premarital counseling is a real struggle.
It all started with one of my first weddings nearly 3 decades ago, as a youth pastor in South Florida. This young couple (still married today) was coming for their second session. The first one creeped me out. I felt like I was invading their makeout session. They pushed their chairs together, she leaned against him, he put his arm around her and they held left hand to left hand and right hand to right hand. So, I set up their chairs about 4 feet apart. They came in, pushed their chairs together and settled into their snuggle routine. I told them that I had put their chairs where I wanted them and could they please return their chairs to their original positions. They did, grudgingly. I watched as they kicked off their sandals, extended their feet toward each other and interlinked their toes.
What am I going to say to them that has any possibility of sinking in?
I had a friend who bragged that of the six couples that had come to him for premarital counseling, four had broken up. Bravo, bro! If you can break them up in premarital counseling, their chances of going the distance in marriage was almost nil. He was my counseling hero.
I have wondered if anything I said in premarital counseling was getting through or making a difference. “We are in love and everything will work out.” It is hard to break through the optimism of a young couple in love to help them deal realistically with the sometimes difficult realities that lie ahead.
What I would like to do is a brief pre-marital counseling session (or two) and then get the married couple to come back in 6 months into the marriage. By then, the honeymoon will be over and reality will have begun to sink in. I think I could get more done in two or three sessions six months into a marriage than I could in 6 sessions before the wedding. But getting the couple to promise to come back in is more difficult than getting to actually show up.
Anyway, I’m admitting that my friend asked me for advice and I had little to give him. So, I’m throwing open the floor for your help.
- Have you felt like your premarital counseling was successful?
- What is your philosophy and approach to premarital counseling?
- Tell us your pre-marital counseling syllabus – how many sessions, how long before the wedding, what is involved?
- What topics do you discuss?
- Are there any books or other materials you use?
Help me and my friend.