Premarital Counseling: Why Your Church’s Class Is (Probably) Not Enough
If you could design your own premarital counseling class, what would it include?
The premarital counseling churches usually provide walks couples through topics like these:
- God’s Design for Marriage
- Intimacy in Marriage
- Families of Origin
- Communication in Marriage
- Conflict Resolution and Forgiveness
Over 4-8 sessions, several couples typically meet together with a facilitator and work through the essential premarital counseling topics. In between sessions, there’s usually some prep work that includes studying relevant bible passages and discussion questions.
But something – something really important – is missing.
A Better Way
Don’t get me wrong. The usual approach is a battle-tested, solid one. Couples receive a biblical worldview around the key topics, personalize it as they talk with their fiance(e), and grow together with other couples.
And it’s way better than nothing.
If I had to give it a review on Amazon, though, I’d only give it two-and-a-half stars.
The thing that’s missing is tailored, one-on-one, personal investment from a more seasoned, godly couple. And that’s a really big deal.
We know this from other areas of life. For example, which would you prefer?
- Taking an audio tour through the Louvre, or, a personally-guided one with an expert?
- Working through a financial wellness curriculum with a book and discussion guide, or, sitting down with an experienced financial planner?
- Going to the gym, or, working with a personal trainer?
In each case, most of us would probably prefer the second option. We know that personal attention from someone who know’s what they’re doing is far, far more effective than something more generic.
There is clear, biblical evidence that this approach works. Jesus chose to spend the most valuable years of his life pouring into just twelve men. And had an inner circle of just three. Paul, himself a master discipler, also made personal discipleship a cornerstone of his ministry (2 Timothy 2:2).
Five Benefits Of Personal Premarital Counseling
It’s the same when we’re getting ready for marriage. Meeting with a godly, experienced couple for premarital counseling can:
1. Provide a more objective, outside look at the ecosystem of your relationship.
‘Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.’ (Proverbs 15:22) Because we’re fallen people living in a fallen world, we need others to help us see ourselves accurately.
I can still remember the sessions my wife and I had with Jerry and Bev leading up to our wedding. Simply because they had been down the road we would travel, and didn’t have a horse in our race, they graciously pointed out many things we couldn’t yet see.
2. Allow you to see weaknesses – individually, and as a couple – that you probably would have missed.
Or, not observed as deeply. Jennifer and Franklin*, for example, were conflict-adverse but didn’t really see the potential implications for their relationship. Pointing this out allowed them to recognize they would need to be intentional about bringing difficult things up. And, working through their fear of others’ opinions by learning to value God’s opinion most.
3. Help you see areas of strength.
The best premarital counseling (any counseling, actually) doesn’t simply emphasize trouble spots. It goes far beyond that to identify strengths, helping couples celebrate and draw upon them as they approach the wedding day. Nathan and Tamika* were struggling with a persistent issue in one area, but they remained soft and open toward each other. This was huge, and – if they remained that way – would ultimately allow them to resolve the area they were struggling with. When we shared that, they came away encouraged, and their problem seemed much smaller, even though it didn’t magically disappear.
4. Give the different areas of your relationship receive the appropriate, unique attention they deserve.
It goes without saying that every couple will have unique strengths and weaknesses. But preset church courses flatten all that out, however unintentionally.
When couples sit down with a mature, mentor couple, the key issues for them emerge. One couple, for instance, may be in complete agreement financially, yet need a lot of work on developing spiritual intimacy. Another couple may need to focus on issues stemming from their families of origin, while still another may need to work through their vision for the future.
Usually, couples don’t know where they need to focus until they start their counseling. In God’s hands, wise mentor couples can draw out the deep waters of their hearts, adapting a framework to couples’ individual needs (Proverbs 20:5).
5. Offer many intangible benefits you can’t really quantify.
There are many benefits to personal premarital counseling that you may never quite be able to put your finger on. The sum is far, far greater than its parts.
When you sit down with a real couple, you see how they look at each other. The regrets they have over mistakes they made when they were your age, and how God has redeemed them. And their heart for Christ in the expressions on their face.
As my wife says, ‘What we’re really giving the couples we meet with is us.’ And, hopefully, Christ in us despite our many, many warts. The best ministry is ultimately incarnational.
So why don’t more churches do this?
If custom, incarnational premarital counseling is so important, why aren’t more churches doing it?
Let’s go back to our earlier examples of the audio tour, financial wellness curriculum, and gym. While these are great, isn’t it better to have a personal tour guide, financial planner or personal trainer?
The issue, for most of us, is the difference in cost. The more personal and individual something is, the more it costs. Not only for the person providing the service, but for the one receiving it, too.
Under the normal model, couples come for roughly six weeks, investing perhaps six hours of their time. In-between sessions, they might spend another six-twelve hours doing the prep work. The same holds true for whoever teaches the class. It’s a pretty big investment, but after the framework is in place, it pretty much runs on autopilot.
When you introduce personal mentoring, the costs start to increase. Not so much financially, but in other ways. It takes time for both the couple and their mentors to meet. It takes much more emotional energy and courage to have a wiser couple see what’s really going on in your relationship, too. And churches have to take the time to identify and train qualified couples to do the mentoring. Sadly, couples like this are in short supply.
But if we’re willing to invest resources in a personal trainer or financial planner, how much more should we invest in the most important, permanent human relationship in our lives?
Practical Takeaways For Couples
Let’s close with some practical takeaways.
Most importantly, couples, determine that you’re going to meet with an older, godly couple you respect as part of your premarital counseling process. If your church doesn’t connect you with one, be proactive and find one on your own. (Men, don’t be passive with this; this is a great opportunity to exercise some servant-leadership.)
Here are a few tips:
- Be honest and vulnerable with your mentor couple, inviting (not merely permitting) them to speak openly into your relationship. This requires a growing security in Christ and the gospel.
- Try to identify the biggest challenges in your relationship, and spend the bulk of your time there.
- Ask them to share what they’ve learned (good and bad) with you.
- Meeting face-to-face is ideal, but if you can’t identify a solid, local couple, technology (like Skype) is your friend. Far better to meet virtually with a couple you love than locally with one you don’t.
- See if your mentor couple would be willing to meet with you, on occasion, after your wedding.
If you’d like to learn more about how to identify a good premarital counselor, and make the most of your counseling, check out my dating and engagement page. You’ll find articles and free resources that will help you go further. And feel free to reach out to me with any questions.
May God provide you with an older, wiser mentor couple so that you enter your marriage as prepared as you can possibly be.