Many couples are not excited—even worried and confused—about premarital counseling. It is especially dumbfounding to a world today that has become increasingly desensitized to the sacredness of marriage.
And it is most disconcerting of all that Christians have added to the confusion over biblical marriage and contributed to the epidemic of divorce.
The Christian pollster George Barna has said, “There no longer seems to be much of a stigma attached to divorce; it is now seen as an unavoidable rite of passage.” See my article: Marriage & the Gospel of Jesus.
Christians are called to honor marriage as the most sacred of earthly covenants—a lifelong covenant to be entered in purity with a holy commitment to God in Christ.
Yet the church has succumbed to the spirit of the age by ignoring Jesus’ teaching on sacred marriage and the destructive nature of divorce (Gen 2:24; Matt 19:1-12; 1 Cor 7; Eph 5:22-33; Heb 13:4, etc.).
Let’s be honest, divorce not only destroys marriages and leaves a lasting mark on the couple affected, it tears apart families and perpetuates the cycle of dehumanization. You do not escape unscathed.
Divorce is antithetical to the Gospel and the reconciliatory work of Christ in the world. The church must be reminded of this and be admonished when necessary. Regardless of our mistakes, we must hold marriage high at all costs. We must operate off of principle instead of emotion.
Christian marriages crumble for a number of reasons. It is a relationship that must be continually maintained with a love that knows no bounds and be refreshed by a shared passion for the heavenly bridegroom—Jesus Christ. I can’t stress enough how this must be a “shared” passion and conviction. Believers are not to be “yoked” together with unbelievers (2 Cor 6:14).
Premarital counseling is an attempt to confront couples with the weight of the decision they are preparing to make. It is for the purpose of helping believers enter into marriage grounded upon Christ and equipped to move forward as hopeful realists. Premarital counseling is intended to position the couple for the best possible beginning to a Christ-honoring marriage.
Here are a few specific goals I have for Christian premarital counseling:
Goal One: Help establish and affirm the couple’s commitment to Christ.
If I’m asked to marry a couple, I believe it is necessary to establish the couple’s commitment to Christ. Does each person share a personal knowledge and love for Jesus? Have they both accepted Christ as Lord? Are they active members in a local church?
If so, then the couple will be encouraged in how to share Christ with one another and go on to discuss their plans for church life together.
If it becomes evident that they are unequally yoked and spiritually apathetic, I will advise the couple not to marry (at least until the situation is corrected). If they are insistent upon marriage regardless of the biblical teaching and their spiritual condition, I must decline to marry them.
There will be no hard feelings or judgment on my part if this happens. It’s nothing personal. I simply must respectfully decline out of my own conviction and the best interest of the couple.
As a minister of the Gospel there is no way that I can invoke the Lord’s blessing upon what I perceive to be an unbiblical union. I do not think that the marriage vows and ceremony are meaningless jargon and ritual for the sake of producing a romantic memory or making it “official” for the state.
Marriage is the beginning of a promise before God and men that the two are joining to become one flesh. There is nothing more sacred on the earth than marriage. We dare not enter into it carelessly.
The couple may be able to find a licensed minister to put his stamp of approval upon their marriage and go on to perform the ceremony without any conditions, but my conscience is bound to my understanding of Christian marriage. I’m aware that not everyone understands or agrees with this position, but I do believe that it is reasonable and biblically defensible.
The real challenge is trying to find a biblical argument against it.
Goal Two: Help the couple discern whether or not God is really calling them together.
This goal is reached by challenging the couple to learn more about each other. This goes beyond their fiancés favorite color, how they each feel loved and respected, and what they plan to do about credit cards.
Instead, it goes to the heart of marriage. What brought the couple together? Were they following Christ when they met? What part has Christ played in their dating relationship? Have they sought the Lord as a couple in making the decision to pursue marriage? Are they honoring the Lord now?
It is critical that the couple recognize that they began and/or are now pursuing God’s good will and purposes. Does their relationship go beyond mere attraction and companionship?
If the relationship is not rooted in God and his purposes for their lives, the couple increases their chances for divorce.
I can remember the anxiety I experienced during the pre-engagement period (even some while we were engaged) as I desperately sought after the Lord’s will on whether or not I was to marry my wife. I admit that some of it may have been overkill due to a spiritual immaturity.
However, after almost 10 years of marriage, I believe it was healthy for me to wrestle with the decision to marry, especially at such a young age. We wanted to please the Lord, so it concerned both of us that we trust in the Lord’s best for us. This is a good thing.
I would never advise a couple marry without seeking the Lord about it together. If a couple has decided to get married with little to no concern about the Lord’s thoughts, they need to seriously go before the Lord together in prayer and seek his heart for their relationship.
Making a decision about marriage without having totally surrendered your will and heart to the Lord is reckless.
It is for certain that being intentional about discussing the things that really matter most will raise questions, doubts, and qualms to the surface. Many couples fail to ask uneasy questions of each other and even ignore sensitive issues that they hope will eventually work themselves out later.
Couples will unknowingly—and knowingly—wear blinders to many things. It’s easy to do this when they have become infatuated with each other. So, an outsider is helpful to stir the pot a bit.
Premarital counseling will stimulate conversation that the couple needs to have, but may not have if they are not encouraged and guided in that process. It’s a great way to enter marriage with confidence that the Lord is indeed Master of the relationship—that he brought the couple together and that he will see them through it “until death do you part.”
Goal Three: Help the couple to exchange an idealistic view of marriage for a more realistic and biblical view.
This last goal is met by working to deconstruct the fantasies of romance and marriage. Each person brings with them certain expectations about marriage. There is a great deal of unrealistic expectations that have been acquired from well-intentioned parents all the way to the distortions of Hollywood.
If the couple is not aware of those expectations to discuss them, those unresolved expectations will eventually lead to demands, and demands will lead to an attempt to manipulate and control the other partner.
Many married couples are later blind-sided with this sort of thing and never move beyond this power struggle of bending the other to their will. This leads to isolation for both partners. It is often the killer of many marriages.
H. Norman Wright writes:
Too many couples enter marriage blinded by unrealistic expectations. They believe the relationship should be characterized by a high level of continuous romantic love. As one young adult said, “I wanted marriage to fulfill all my desires. I needed security, someone to take care of me, intellectual stimulation, economic security immediately—but it just wasn’t like that!” People are looking for something “magical” to happen in marriage. But magic doesn’t make a marriage work: hard work does (Communication: Key to Your Marriage).
Premarital counseling’s third goal is to help bring out some of those unrealistic expectations and to find guidance from an older married couple(s) on how confronting this idealism will keep a couple from disappointment, disillusionment, and divorce.
What is a biblical marriage in a broken world? It is important that the couple recognize the lies in order to embrace the truth of the real marriage journey.
Finally, if each partner can begin to identify the baggage from their upbringing and traumas suffered in the past—and do so while dating and during the premarital counseling experience—this will help the couple tremendously as they enter marriage.
When these things are identified, they may be dealt with if the couple is committed to the hard work of investing in a fulfilling marriage.
Selfishness that is displayed in an unwillingness to work through personal problems and past traumas will end a marriage before it even begins. You gotta deny yourself for marriage to work.
The counseling process can help the couple learn how to begin working through the painful experiences that have left open festering wounds that need to be treated. It is for the health of your future marriage.
This process will not uncover all hidden realities and sort out all “issues” a couple may have, but it will most definitely encourage a healthy communication that is essential for a successful marriage.
Preparing for Marriage–Some Premarital Counseling Is Better Than None
Why premarital counseling? Well, I will be so bold to say that those who really care about their future marriage and are seeking to honor Christ with their lives will have no qualms or hesitations with beginning preparatory sessions that will position them for a marriage that lasts.
If you want a marriage that is built on Christ and for a future serving him with your spouse, strengthen your relationship by taking the first steps on solid ground. Take the first steps toward a marriage that doesn’t make you happy, but instead makes you holy.
D.D. Flowers, 2011.
May 26th, 2011 at 8:22 pm
Glad for your passion for faithful marriages, though this article leaves the reader a bit limp for Biblical or historic tie-points. Engagement, “dating”, vows & ceremony…?
Why do counseled marriages continue to fail?
Is marriage (by divine design) intended to be dependent upon relationship, or rather to establish & facilitate one?
May 26th, 2011 at 9:18 pm
Marshall, “limp for Biblical or historic tie-points”? The purpose of this article was not to draw parallels between ancient betrothal practices and contemporary dating. I was only concerned to address the need for wisdom and guidance (premarital counseling) for those considering marriage in the 21st century.
Why do counseled marriages fail? They fail for a number of reasons, Marshall. Why do marriage counselor’s marriages fail? What’s your point?
May 31st, 2011 at 11:59 am
This is a very important topic. Thank you for highlighting it. I believe it is very important to give couples a realistic view of marriage and not many are willing to do that. It is very similar to choosing to follow Jesus. In the sense that we must count the cost and give everything to it repenting from our past way of living. So many times it is easy to keep a single mind when getting married but that just doesn’t work, I know. 😉
June 1st, 2011 at 1:57 pm
Here, here! Very good advice. My sister just got married in the fall and I wish you could be her pastor. 🙂
June 1st, 2011 at 10:10 pm