Pre-engagement Counseling: Wise or Weird?

Sharon Counseling, Dating, Marriage 5 Comments

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This week my parents are in town so I’ve been extra busy spending time with them, which hasn’t left me a lot of time to blog. That said, I thought I would re-post a popular blog (written before I was married) about which I still receive a lot of feedback! A number of people find their way to my blog by searching the term “pre-engagement counseling” so this is clearly something that Christian couples are thinking about. If you find yourself at that place, I hope this post will be an encouragement to you!

Also, I have a bit of an announcement! After numerous people have asked me how to subscribe to my blog, I finally got with the program and added the feature. Now at the bottom of every post you will see a little button that says, “Subscribe.” I hope you do!

Now on to the blog….

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This past weekend my fiancé and I attended a retreat for engaged couples who are preparing for marriage. At the beginning of the weekend we were presented with information about our culture’s stance toward marriage, and we heard one statistic that I found particularly compelling:

90% of American young people believe that premarital counseling is a good thing to do, but only about 35% would actually consider doing it.

I was not given a source for this statistic so I honestly have no way of verifying its accuracy, but based upon my own experience I am not surprised. I have talked to a lot of couples, Christian and non-Christian, who respond warmly to the idea of other people doing premarital counseling, but when faced with the option to do it themselves, they opt out. Why? Because it sounds good, but not necessary. Only couples with “big problems” need that kind of thing.

This rationale would appear to stem out of two different causes–gross naiveté on the part of the couple, or flat-out denial. Either they have no idea how hard marriage is, or they have some inkling that their relationship isn’t healthy but they don’t want to deal with it. They’ve already decided to get married, they’ve paid for the food and the band, and there’s no turning back.

That’s why some churches have begun offering pre-engagement counseling. At first I thought this was a weird idea–as a single person, even a dating person, I actively avoided talking and thinking about marriage. No need to count my chickens before they’ve hatched, right? I was attempting to guard my imagination, and more importantly my heart.

The problem with my thought process was that it underestimated the momentum of planning a wedding. Once you begin the process of planning it’s like you get on board a giant locomotive and there’s no way to stop it. Had I realized that Ike was not the man for me, I cannot imagine the pain and hardship of canceling the wedding, or even just delaying it. Aside from the financial loss, it would be humiliating and emotionally devastating. In the short-term, it would seem much easier to just go through with it.

Which is why it’s so important for young couples to begin seeking godly counsel BEFORE the train gets going. Married couples already have the odds stacked against them, so given the soaring divorce rates you’d think engaged couples would be sobered into seeking every resource possible. When one in two marriages is failing, doesn’t it make sense to ensure that you’re NOT on the wrong side of the statistics? Wouldn’t you rather do the hard work of confronting your issues and asking the tough questions before you get married, instead of hoping for the best?

Unfortunately, this type of reasoning rarely takes place during engagement. While some couples DO break off their engagement, many choose to ignore the warning signs because they are blinded by the prospect of getting married. The end is in sight so they delude themselves into thinking that marriage will fix everything, even though marriage statistics would indicate otherwise.

So if you are in a serious dating relationship and the topic of marriage arises, I would encourage you to seek counsel BEFORE the proposal–though you might do so separately at first. Prior to taking on the 300 pound gorilla that is wedding planning, make sure you’re moving forward wisely and soberly. Even in dating it is difficult to have clear vision and an objective perspective, but if you are hesitant to have an outside opinion weighing in even NOW, then that’s a red flag.

Don’t hope for the best, don’t count on the other person to change, and don’t ignore the input of your friends and family. Breaking up with a boyfriend or fiancé is hard, but being in a bad marriage is much, much harder.

Comments 5

  1. Emily R.

    I thought pre-engagement counseling was wise but my now-husband thought it was weird, so we didn’t seek any official counseling before our engagement. (We went through a couple books of things to consider before marriage before we got engaged, but they weren’t recommended by our church or part of a program.) A good portion of the material that we went through during premarital counseling was definitely more appropriate for a couple who wasn’t yet on that speeding expressway toward a wedding. I wished we could have skipped over it and relegated it to official pre-engagement counseling or to resources made available on the web or something. I know the Summit’s Preparing for Marriage Sunday seminars are billed for “seriously dating” couples as well, but we never met or saw a couple at any of the ones we attended who wasn’t engaged or married.

    It seems crazy to me that couples considering marriage wouldn’t avail themselves of all possible resources, yet I was in one of those couples so I guess I can understand how it happens. I think the reason I didn’t insist on pre-engagement counseling even though I thought it was wise was partly that don’t-count-your-chickens mentality. We had SO many family members and friends asking us when we were going to get engaged in the year or so before we actually did that I didn’t want to get anyone’s hopes up any higher than they already were, including our own.

    A reason/excuse I’ve observed in couples who think that premarital counseling is a good idea but don’t actually do it is that many weddings take place in the bride or groom’s hometown instead of where the couple actually lives (particularly for couples within a few years of graduating college). That makes it much harder to use the resources of the church performing the wedding (basically impossible if it’s flying-distance instead of driving-distance) and more awkward to use the resources of a local church that isn’t actually performing the wedding. This consideration played into our decision to getting married in Durham instead of CA.

  2. Jennifer Hanson

    “underestimated the momentum of planning a wedding”

    AH! This is soooo true. It is so easy to feel “caught” if, during pre-marital counseling, a couple realized they might need to call off, or postpone the wedding. But the pressure of “it’s already in the works” is so heavy!

    My husband and I went through the book “101 Questions to Ask BEFORE You Get Engaged” and it was incredibly helpful!

  3. Susanne Gonzalez

    My husband and I also went through that book (Jen’s a friend of mine! 🙂 ) and it definitely helped us focus more on the marriage rather than just the wedding. Another GREAT one to check out is “Getting to ‘Really’ Know Your Life-Mate To Be”. Even though we’ve only been married about 5 months, there’s so much good wisdom that we have already used by having those discussions and seeking wisdom on things before the big day!

    And Sharon I remember reading that post when we were thinking about getting engaged…it was encouraging then and I know it will encourage more women now! Keep on writing, you’re rad!

  4. Felix

    My wife and I went through pre-engagement counseling at Trinity. Our relationship would’ve been much more rocky without it, I think.

  5. Les

    I appreciate your post & appreciate your words. We are a young married couple who thought we could do without premarital counseling. Needless to say, we are strong advocates for it now. We were blessed though to be introduced to an excellent tool that helped us so much. We wanted to share it with you & your readers. Zoescore.com is a program that consists of Marriage Research, Awareness, Feedback Materials, & an Efficient Process. Zoe helps you see your relationship more clearly so that you are aware of issues earlier and can resolve them sooner in your relationship. Zoe is a simple, unique and valuable research-based approach to help you prepare for your marriage. With Zoe, you can set your relationship on a course to make it the finest it can be! It’s more than worth the time to check out – believe me! Wish we had known about Zoe before our marriage. Thanks again.

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