3 Premarital Counseling Myths Christian Couples Must Avoid
When you're getting ready for your wedding, there's a lot to do. You've got to choose a date. Then a venue, photographer, DJ, and... the list goes on and on.
It can become a part-time job. (Without pay.)
But as important as your wedding day itself is, your marriage is far more important. It doesn't make sense to have the perfect centerpieces or venue if your relationship isn't getting the attention it needs.
That's where premarital counseling comes in.
Done well, it can reduce your chances of getting divorced by 30 percent over your first five years of marriage. And, increase your levels of marital satisfaction, too.
Thankfully, most Christian couples seem to understand it's an important step to take.
That's the good news.
The Bad News
But - you knew this was coming, right? - merely doing premarital counseling isn't magic. Or, some kind of lucky charm. It won't guard you against all struggles and help you live happily ever after.
There are a lot of premarital counseling myths and misconceptions that couples tend to believe. In all honesty, many churches and pastors believe them, too. If you enter into your counseling with these false expectations, your premarital won't help you as much as you hope it will.
Or, even worse, you might feel like you're ready for marriage when you're actually not.
Three Premarital Counseling Myths
Alright, here are three premarital counseling myths many Christian couples believe, but would do well to avoid. (Full disclosure: I probably bought into all of them when during my premarital!)
Myth #1: Knowing Jesus Will Protect Us From Disaster & Divorce
While committed Christians actually divorce at a rate significantly lower than the unchurched and less committed Christians, they still divorce far too often. Or, worse, live parallel lives and become more like roommates than lovers and friends.
It's true, of course, that knowing Christ is a major advantage in preparing for marriage - and beyond. After all, God created marriage as a picture of his relationship with us (Ephesians 5:31-32).
And the Spirit produces the kind of fruit that can help us flourish (Galatians 5:22-23). Still, I know a ton of Christian couples who are struggling, or, have decided to part ways.
So, we definitely can't treat premarital counseling as a mere formality or box to check, thinking Jesus will make it all okay.
Myth #2: Covering The Right Topics Is The Most Important Part Of Premarital Counseling
When we sign up for a church's premarital class, or meet with another couple for our counseling, it's natural to think they know what they're doing. That we can just go through their curriculum, and be (pretty much) set.
And, that may be largely true.
But the content of the course or curriculum is just a starting point. A foundation we must build on, and supplement.
Think about other areas of life for a moment, and how we get ready for them.
For example, a future physician goes to medical school for four years. The first two years are spent primarily learning about basic science. What the body is like when it's healthy, and what it's like when it's not.
For the most part, this part of the curriculum is classroom-based and theoretical. It's critical, and essential to becoming a competent doctor.
But it's not enough, and that's why students spend another two years applying what they've learned in real-life situations on rotations, and then a minimum of three more years in residency.
Effective premarital counseling is a lot like that, too. Part of it is learning: covering the right topics, studying scripture, and answering application questions.
But you can cover all the key topics, read solid books, and go through a bunch of application questions and still have it be largely theoretical. Academic. And leave many of the core dynamics of your heart and relationship unexplored.
When that happens, those dynamics will bubble to the surface later, after the wedding day, and cause significant problems.
Myth #3: Meeting With An Older Mentor Couple Is Great, But Not Essential
Many church premarital counseling classes offer a structured curriculum, but do not require couples to meet with an older mentor couple.
Part of this stems from a more content-driven approach like we talked about under Myth #2, but there are other reasons, too.
For one, mentoring takes a lot of time because it's one-on-one. It doesn't scale. You could have several couples meeting with a mentor couple at one time, but it's much harder to share the most vulnerable stuff with another couple in the room.
(It's no accident that even Jesus only had 12 disciples, and an inner circle of just 3.)
My wife and I also suspect that strong marriages are in relatively short supply, too. In my view, mentor couples must:
- be following God themselves (i.e., both the husband and wife)
- have a solid (not perfect) marriage
- be willing to share their successes and failures
- encourage and challenge couples they're mentoring (as necessary)
- have a premarital counseling plan that prepares the couples they meet with for marriage (can be provided by the church, a good book, etc.)
At first, this might not seem like a tall order. But my wife and I have found that it is. In particular, having a good marriage, and being vulnerable, seem to be the most difficult. And again, we get it: it's rarely fun or easy to share our mistakes with others.
But when you meet with a mentor couple, and are fully honest with them, amazing things happen.
Because we sit down with couples in our living room (sometimes over Skype) for 4-6 sessions, my wife and I pick up on things we never would otherwise. Often, the things we see are great, and sometimes not. When something challenging surfaces, we can camp out there a bit and cycle back to it as needed. Conversely, in areas of strength, we just say 'awesome, keep going' and move on.
But even when we see warning signs, we know that God is at work, doing his work of redemption through the relationship.
Overcoming The Myths
Simply being aware of these common myths will go a long way in helping Christian couples avoid them.
Still, let's close with some short, more specific advice for each one so this doesn't float off up into the clouds somewhere.
- 1Myth #1 - Understand that marrying another Christian isn't a silver bullet, or recipe, for a healthy marriage. Yes, it's the essential starting point (1Corinthians 7:39), but our hearts are still 'deceitful above all things, and desperately sick' (Jeremiah 17:9). Good premarital counselors understand both these truths, and will help you balance them, too.
- 2Myth #2 - Before you choose a premarital counselor, or class, by all means ask what they will cover. Poke around a bit, and don't be afraid to say, 'I think we really need to focus on (certain topics); can we spend some extra time there?' But don't put your hope in the topics, or merely going through the material. Be vulnerable with God, and others, as you work through it. Pray that the Lord will help it come alive in your relationship.
- 3Myth #3 - Find a mentor couple that meets the qualifications shared above. Make sure they have the kind of marriage you'd like to have; at least in general. Be completely honest with them when you meet, and give them total freedom to speak loving truth into your relationship.
Okay, that's it for today. If you recognize, and work to avoid these common premarital counseling myths, misconceptions and mistakes, it will be much more helpful to you.
Much more likely to prepare you for a healthy marriage that glorifies God, serves others, and brings you joy.
Which one of the 3 myths are you most likely to believe? How will you (or have you) overcome it? Let me know in the comments below.
For other free resources related to premarital counseling, check out this dedicated page on my site.