Pre-engagement Counseling: Wise or Weird?

By May 20, 200913 Comments

Dating coupleThis 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 stuff.

I think this decision stems from 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 the wedding planning process. Once you begin planning a wedding 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 fail, 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. 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.


  • Marie says:

    This is a great post! It is so easy to underestimate the pressure to follow through on a wedding once you begin planning. My husband and I had pre-engagement counseling and I believe that it made the wedding planning process so much better.

  • Brittany says:

    My boyfriend and I will be starting pre engagement couseling in a week and i was surfing the web just curious of what people who had done it thought…i really enjoyed your comments…I have chosen to do this becasue like you said “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”…Im young..22..and ive spoken to people about my plans and i must say i havent gotten too many positive responses..i feel like my generation doesnt believe in marriage…its sad..and disappointing.

  • Shannon says:

    My church has always encouraged pre-engagement counselling and it makes sense to me. I agree with many of your comments. This is the approach my boyfriend and I will be taking. Why not take every step to help ensure things start on a strong footing for marriage.

  • avery says:

    my boyfriend has mentioned that we “go talk to someone” before so i’m just now looking into it. we’ve talked about marriage for a while but have agreed that we are not ready. as scary as it seems i’m starting to like the idea. learning how to communicate effectively can save any relationship.

    i agree with brittany. i’m young, 24, but not young enough to play naive. marriage is a big deal and i want to know what i’m getting into before engagement. i have two friends who have pushed their engagements back. red flag in my opinion.

    i wish more people would consider it. does anyone have stories about pre-engagement counseling?

  • Bethany says:

    This is a great post. I’m one of those girls that unfortunately had to call off the engagement because we had rushed, and I did not want to push through just because we were already engaged. Which meant canceling the venue and giving back my ring. We are still dating and are now looking for a pre-engagement counselor. We lucked out and are able to take a step back, no matter how emotionally hurtful it was, and do it right. I would seriously recommend the pre-engagement counseling to anyone who is talking marriage with their significant other. It will save you a lot of stress.

  • Frances says:

    Thanks for this post! I will be starting pre-engagement couseling in a couple weeks and was wondering what thoughts there were out in cyber world. Your comments seem right in line with my view about it too. Thanks again.

  • A. Marks says:

    Thank God for this post. My prayers have been answered. My boyfriend suggested pre-engagement counseling and I thought it was the stupidest thing I’d ever heard of and so did my Mother and other colleagues but after doing much research, I think it’s a wise and valuable thing to do.

  • Katherine says:

    My boyfriend and I just started pre-engagement counseling last Tuesday! Our thoughts lined up exactly with those you mentioned in the article. It’s nice to know that we are not the only ones out there proceeding this way. 🙂

  • Eric says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more! My wife and I do pre-engagement counseling over the internet and the couples we have helped have found it very beneficial to do this before they are engaged. In fact, one of our rules is that a couple going through pre-engagement counseling will not get engaged until the 8 week program is over. Why? Well, we have found that it changes the nature of the counseling relationship. Instead of objectively trying to determine if the other person is the right one for him or her, the couple often ignores the difficult issues hoping they will just resolve over time and thinking they are not a big deal. Great post!

  • Virginia says:

    Look I don’t know who posted first but while it is great advice I noticed that your site and have almost exactly the same post. Please make sure to give credit where it’s due if they are not your own words. If they were your’s you need to contact marriage gene to notify them of the plagiarism.

    • Sharon says:

      Hi Virginia, I am the original author of this content. I could not locate the article you were referring to on that other site, but if you can send me the direct link I will contact them. Thank you for notifying me!

      • Virginia says:

        If you type in “the marriage gene pre-engagement counseling” it should pop up. And I apologize, i made a mistake on the website reference it is not .com

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