Why should two people who are in love and desiring to be married seek counsel from a minister? Why would two mature and even converted adults need counseling before marriage? And why should they seek this counseling even before they become engaged? This article will answer these very important questions and more.
Marriage is one of the most exciting, meaningful, and sought-after stages of life. Most children grow up with the desire and expectation that one day they will marry and have their own family. Marriage is also a divine institution ordained by God for men and women. God directed that “a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).
But how do we go from the state of being single to being married? Any couple can marry, right? Although it is true that anyone can get married within the bounds of the law, forming a successful and lasting God-centered marriage is not automatic or a matter of chance. Successful marriages are planned, built, and constantly worked at!
Just as few people would embark on a chosen career without seeking the proper training and education, marriage should not be entered into lightly or without substantial planning and preparation. As Christ admonished in Luke 14:28, we should be sure to “count the cost” before making major life decisions. After all, marriage is one of the most important decisions a man or woman can make in life—second only to baptism!
Engagement is a commitment or a promise to be married. When a man and a woman become engaged, they are promising to marry each other in the relatively near future. Engagement should never be entered into lightly, and under normal circumstances should not be terminated unless it becomes clear to one or both individuals that they should not marry each other.
Because of this, a couple should be as certain as they can be about their future together before becoming engaged. It should mean that a man and woman have taken their time—proceeding carefully, methodically, and lovingly in gaining answers to their many deep questions, each coming to understand the character of the future mate. It should mean that they have sought out wise and loving counsel from trusted advisors—parents and grandparents, faithful friends, and the ministry of the Church—and have demonstrated and confirmed their love for and commitment to each other.
The Value of Counsel Before Marriage
God’s people are well aware of the biblical admonitions to seek counsel before making important decisions. Jesus Christ taught the principle that we should ask, seek, and knock (Matthew 7:7). King Solomon taught that the wise will seek counsel. In fact, there is even “safety” when we seek counsel (Proverbs 11:14). Why? Because if we are limited to our own reasoning, especially if we follow our heart without wise counsel, we can be deceived and take the wrong path (Jeremiah 17:9).
When it comes to pre-engagement counseling, many wise couples ask good questions. However, the help of a converted minister can greatly benefit the couple seeking to become married. Wisdom “raises her voice in the open squares” (Proverbs 1:20) and wise couples will seek it—especially before becoming engaged.
Seeking formal counseling before marriage is actually “one of the best proactive steps that you can take in order to safeguard your union” (“5 Benefits of Pre-Marriage Counseling,” Marriage.com, September 23, 2019). And according to longtime psychologist Dr. Seth Myers, “Pre-marital counseling is the smartest decision that any couple can make…. No matter how cohesive a couple may be, problems and differences will inevitably arise, so pre-marital counseling really functions like the best insurance policy a couple could ever purchase” (“Benefits of Pre-Marital Counseling: Successful Marriage,” Psychology Today, September 21, 2011).
One study actually found that couples “who underwent counseling before their wedding had a 30% higher marital success rate than those who did not” (“20 Significant Premarital Counseling Statistics,” HealthResearchFunding.org). The Marriage.com article mentioned before highlights five important benefits of pre-marriage counseling that are worth discussing. We have added commentary to each point.
- “You’ll see your relationship from ‘the outside in.’” Humanly, we each see ourselves from our own perspective. Involving one of God’s ministers as an outside counselor brings in a neutral and godly outside perspective.
- “It gives you a chance to think past your emotions.” Couples who want to be married are dealing with powerful emotions, no matter how hard they try to be rational. Seeking counsel can help a couple see their relationship from both a logical and a spiritual perspective.
- “Reasons for getting married” can be discussed. Seeking counsel can help ensure that a broad array of reasons for marriage are considered, not just the ones the couple are familiar with.
- “Uncomfortable topics” can be covered. No one likes to talk about private matters, but these matters must be addressed if the couple are to achieve openness, full disclosure, and trust. Although the couple do not need to disclose personal information to the counseling minister, the minister can encourage them to discuss together several very important topics that may very well be overlooked or omitted.
- “The counselor provides an unbiased opinion” or perspective. God’s ministers want couples to be happy and marriages to be successful. They are on the side of both the man and the woman and are much more able to look at the relationship in an unbiased way.
In addition to the benefits just mentioned, the counseling minister will help ensure that the couple deeply understand the spiritual purposes of marriage and the implications of their marriage covenant together. Also, the minister will help couples recognize tactics that our adversary, Satan the devil, uses to try to destroy marriages, and will help the couple understand how to develop the skills necessary to defend against Satan’s attacks.
How Does Pre-Engagement Counseling Work?
Once a man and a woman have gotten to know each other well, have begun dating with the intent to determine if their relationship is bound for marriage, and are fairly certain that marriage is a likely outcome of their relationship, pre-engagement counseling is a very wise idea.
As a tool to help a couple determine more clearly and conclusively the potential future success of a marriage, pre-engagement counseling is designed to assist the couple in getting to know each other on a deeper level and in a more systematic way. It can help a couple examine multiple elements of their relationship, many of which may be overlooked without the experienced direction of a counseling minister. Ultimately, pre-engagement counseling is designed to help a couple build the most solid mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual foundation they possibly can develop together for their future marriage.
Pre-engagement counseling should give a couple a very high degree of confidence in the potential success of their future marriage. They should see God’s hand clearly in their relationship, and they should be able to largely eliminate doubts about the success of their future marriage.
Like baptismal counseling, pre-engagement counseling is a process, not an event. In most situations, couples meet with a minister multiple times throughout the counseling process. Between meetings, the couple may be encouraged to read and discuss material related to marriage and relationships. In addition, the couple may be encouraged to complete worksheets or activities to facilitate deeper communication. These activities may involve exploring goals for marriage, expected roles for husband and wife, common mistakes made in marriage, financial planning, family planning, and more.
In addition to the tasks just mentioned, many couples complete a pre-marriage questionnaire like the Prepare/Enrich inventory. These tools can highlight areas of strength in the couple’s relationship and areas of possible weakness—areas where more skills can be developed to prevent future difficulties.
Why Not Seek Counsel Before Engagement?
To some, seeking counseling before engagement may seem premature. After all, if you are not yet engaged, how do you know you really want to get married? That question is really at the heart of the matter. How can an individual or a couple know for sure that they are ready for marriage and should, indeed, become engaged? Pre-engagement counseling is designed to help a couple clearly understand whether they are truly “right” for each other and are ready for marriage.
There is one more crucial reason why couples should seek counseling before they become engaged. Engagement signals that the individuals have committed to each other and intend to be married. When counseling occurs after engagement, couples often minimize it simply as a necessary requirement or “hoop to jump through” in order to get the blessing of the Church on their marriage. FocusOnTheFamily.com makes the point that “it’s a good idea to place more stress on pre-engagement counseling than on pre-marital counseling” because “couples who are already engaged are far less inclined to take an in-depth, honest look at their relationship” (“Pre-engagement Counseling,” 2010).
Couples who seek such counsel before engagement are usually much more open to learning, growing, and incorporating into their relationship what they learn. And, should something appear that is problematic, they are usually more willing to see it and address it.
How Do You Begin Pre-Engagement Counseling?
In order to begin pre-engagement counseling, the interested couple should contact a local pastor. Ideally, the couple’s interest in each other won’t come as a complete surprise to the pastor, but even if it does, the couple can simply let him know that they would appreciate counseling with him about their relationship moving toward engagement and marriage.
What Pre-engagement Counseling is Not
Pre-engagement counseling is not a minister’s attempt to prevent a couple from getting married or to point out flaws in their relationship, nor does it require that the couple “bare their souls” to him. It is instead a step toward a better foundation for marriage and a better future. Through pre-engagement counseling, the minister can help direct the couple to deepen their communication and move forward in building a healthy relationship.
Learn and Grow
Pre-engagement counseling is certainly built on sound biblical principles. This counseling tool is a powerful opportunity for couples to lay a far more solid foundation for future marriage than they might without it.
In my own experience as a minister, I have observed that, although some couples may be uncertain at the start of the counseling process, virtually all of them have been grateful and appreciative for what they learn through the process. Some have even commented that much of what they learned and discussed throughout the pre-engagement counseling process added greatly to the quality of their relationship as well as to their peace of mind going into marriage. This is also true of couples for whom it is not a first marriage, and even for those who have in the past had good marriages that ended only with the death of a spouse.
God’s Church has long encouraged pre-engagement counseling for the benefit of the couple and their future family. Why wouldn’t a couple considering marriage want to take advantage of this powerful tool? To learn more about pre-engagement counseling, talk to your local pastor.