How to Start Your Marriage Right!

As a pastoral counselor, I often see couples on the brink of divorce. Many times, I wonder what went wrong. Sometimes, it is a lack of communication that drives a wedge between husband and wife. Sometimes it is a marriage that is untended and withers. But most often I believe that the mistake happened at the beginning. Many couples do not seek out a professional counselor for premarital counseling and therefore do not see that perhaps they are not ready for marriage, that they are unaware of the challenges resulting from their particular relational match, or that they may not be healthy enough to marry.

I once counseled a young man after his brief marriage and divorce. He was depressed and perplexed as to why his marriage crumbled. He was sure that God had told him to marry the love of his life. As he retold his story of their dating and engagement, I noted several instances where God may have actually been waving big red flags to warn the couple of danger. Upon reflecting on this, the client acknowledged deep reservations which he had buried.

Note just a few of the statistics taken from Health Research Funding:

I got to thinking more about this when reading, The ABC’s Of Proverbs, The Word to the Wise: An Introduction to Proverbs by Mary K. Turkington. This proverb caught my attention:

Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisors they succeed.
– Proverbs 15:22

We are now entering the season of summer weddings. Many will prosper but many will suffer and end. Yet, if we heed Proverbs 15:22, we might actually have more successes than failures.

When I married my husband Steve, we had one premarital counseling session with our pastor. We were older mature folks and he knew us both well, so he most likely thought one session of speaking with us was sufficient (I am pleased to say that our marriage has flourished in spite of this single meeting).

In light of my own marital and counseling experience, I would suggest that engaged couples seek out counseling that meets the following criteria:

1. Ask for a premarital assessment.

Assessments will not tell you whether or not you should get married. They are created to help you recognize and understand your differences in such areas as finances, parenting, sex, faith, family backgrounds, and personality traits. The more that couples can talk through as many issues as possible before marriage prevents many problems down the road.

Here are a few assessments that I recommend:

Prepare/ Enrich
FOCUS
Relate Institute

2. In my experience, thorough premarital counseling requires a minimum of six one- hour sessions. Putting the time and money into this type of care is a critical investment in your future.

3. Choose an experienced licensed counselor or a pastor who has had adequate training in personality dynamics and marriage and family therapy. This person should also be trained to use the premarital assessment and his or her qualifications should be included in the directory of the assessment company’s website.

4. Give yourself a minimum of six months before the wedding to begin counseling. I have had couples approach me for premarital counseling just a few short months before the wedding. At times, I have had to be bold to share my concern about their union. However, once wedding arrangements are already made, it is difficult to either break the engagement or slow down the wedding plans.

Another option is to begin premarital counseling even before engagement. This has been a really helpful process for several couples that I have worked with who were considering the possibility of marriage.

Remember, the commitment you make now is for “better or for worse.” This includes loving your spouse when he/she leaves dirty clothes on the floor. It means working your way through seasons of significant stress such as dealing with an affair, a bankruptcy, or a miscarriage. Your marriage needs to be healthy and mature enough to endure the unplanned for challenges that will eventually arise.

It is expected that engaged couples will be starry eyed for each other and that they wear rose colored glasses. This also means that they are also blind to the weaknesses that each brings to the marriage. Christian families are not immune to divorce. Make premarital (and marital) counseling a priority as you prayerfully consider these words again before making one of the biggest decisions in your life:

Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisors they succeed.
– Proverbs 15:22

Kathy Milans

Kathy has experience as an elementary educator, teacher trainer, adjunct professor, and has served as Family Resource Director for a major hospital. Kathy is a Kentucky Licensed Pastoral Counselor and is credentialed as a Registered Play Therapist/Supervisor by the American Association of Play Therapy. She is owner of a private practice, Path of Life Ministry, in Wilmore, KY.

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