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Is pre-marital counselling really necessary?

Should you go or shouldn’t you go? You’ve known each other for ages, and you’re both determined to make this marriage work, but there’s just so much on your to-do list that there isn’t really time for anything else. Added to this, your mate isn’t very keen on the idea . . .

It’s been said that people should keep their eyes wide open before they get married, but that, after that, they should rather keep them closed! In order to reach the standard that 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 sets, you really need to work hard on your marriage, and for this hard work to be a pleasure, you need to ensure that you choose the right mate.

Why would you need pre-marital counselling? And why is it so important to receive it from a Christian counsellor?

    In short: pre-marital counselling can save your marriage, and prevent you from marrying a complete stranger! You probably think that you know all there is to know about your mate, but do you really? You may be well aware of the fact that his favourite colour is brown, and that he loves eating ribs and potato wedges, but did you know that he is also set on disciplining your children using a long metal rod? You know he likes it when you dress attractively, but did you know that he believes a wife is a ‘possession’, and that, after you get married, he doesn’t want to see you in skinny jeans and stilettos any more, but rather in an apron and running shoes busy preparing those very same ribs in the kitchen?

The typical couple spends a lot of time talking, yet they may not know each other as well as they think they do. The reason for this is that a relationship in which a couple is ‘going out’ with each other is designed to hide information away, not expose it. Each mate puts his best foot forward, and does his best to conceal those things that he isn’t proud of.

Usually, the bride and groom enter marriage with a number of assumptions about how life after marriage ought to be. Conflicts begin arising weeks later when they realise that they differ radically in terms of what they see as non-negotiable issues. This is the breeding ground for arguments and hurt feelings which were never anticipated during the dating period, explains James Dobson in his book Complete Marriage and Family Home Reference Guide. This is why he believes so strongly in pre-marital counselling. Hennie Stander, writer and professor in the Department of Antique Languages at the University of Pretoria in South Africa, also believes that pre-marital counselling is an absolute necessity in that it helps couples to act proactively, and combats disappointment in marriage. “Before marriage, both parties have so many dreams for their marriage and what being together will be like. When they encounter difficulty, they are usually disappointed and prone to thinking that they have chosen the wrong mate. All too often, when couples ask for help after getting married, there has already been so much damage inflicted that the path to recovery is much longer, and sometimes that damage is irreparable,” he explains.

There is nothing wrong with visiting a psychologist, social worker, or psychiatrist for pre-marital therapy – in truth, this is strongly recommended as many churches often offer six sessions of this kind of counselling, and sometimes even only as a group. In the article Why Receive Christian Premarital Counselling on the website, the author writes that another reason why pre-marital counselling is so important is that things often look very different six months into a marriage than they did before. Suddenly, your mate isn’t giving you as much attention or you start thinking about starting a family, but your husband isn’t nearly ready. Soon, you start to experience relationship problems and wonder if you haven’t made a mistake in marrying this person!

Marriage is a challenge, and an adventure. It can be very fulfilling if it’s marked by kindness and love, but it is also important to remember that it is the union of two very different individuals who come from very different families – they each have their own expectations about marriage. Both mates have been influenced by the experiences they had in their own families and, as a result, have preconceived ideas about the ‘right’ way to manage money, conflict, and what it means to love someone.

Currently, half of all first marriages end in divorce, but couples who have had pre-marital counselling have a greater chance of their marriage making it than those who didn’t have any preparation for marriage.

Christian counselling offers a dimension that secular therapy can’t necessarily provide. Why? Besides instructions about how to handle things such as finance, raising kids, and even basic communication skills, it offers a foundation which allows couples to learn about the truths of marriage, according to God’s Word – the Bible. Christian pre-marital counselling has Godly intentions and prepares a couple to enter a marriage based on sacrificial love for each other. This is the same kind of love Jesus modelled, and allows the couple to invite Christ to be an integral part of their marriage.

There are also different thorny issues that pre-marital counselling can help minimise and make less prickly. Every couple, even those that look as though they were made for each other, should participate in at least six to ten sessions with someone who is trained in helping them prepare for marriage. The main purpose of this is to identify assumptions, and to help work through areas of potential conflict, explains James. Even church leaders need pre-marital counselling. Some churches don’t require this, because they know that leaders understand Christianity well, but the divorce figures for Christian marriages are almost the same as for non-Christian marriages.

Certain themes that are discussed in pre-marital counselling include relationships with parents-in-law, how to set up a budget together, differences in personalities, good communication and conflict resolution skills.

Often, couples are asked to complete a personality test. This enables them to learn so much more about each other, which leads to interesting conversations together. Remember that being in love causes your body to give off certain hormones which may make you blind to your mate’s faults. Perhaps you and your mate haven’t talked about the roles that you will play as soon as the children are born. Does he expect you to be a full-time mom? Do you need to get back to your high-power executive job as soon as possible after the birth and hope he will be willing to be househusband-cum-nanny?

Issues like this are important to discuss, and many of them come up in pre-marital counselling. Other questions include where will you live after you are married? Will you keep working? Are you planning children? How many, when and how far apart? What church will you attend? How will your roles differ? How will you spend Christmas? And financial decisions – how do you feel about credit?

Gina and her husband received pre-marital counselling, and testify that it was a wonderful experience during which they dealt with finance, the five love languages, how to handle conflict, how to treat your spouse and intimacy issues. “It prepares you for married life and also equips you with advice on how to handle issues when they arise. It makes you think of things that you never would have thought of – like how you are going to run the household and who is going to be responsible for the finances, and similar things…”

Charlene (32) and husband Mark (36) also attended counselling, as well as a seminar for engaged couples. Their sessions looked at the leaving and cleaving process, sex within marriage, phases in marriage, and how to handle disagreements. “It helped prepare us for issues that may arise in the marriage relationship through deciding beforehand what we would do in certain situations. Discussing possible solutions was very valuable.” She believes that it is definitely necessary for all couples. “Due to the fact that you do the counselling with people who have been married for a while, and people who have the same value system as you, this helps in that they are able to tell you about situations that could occur. They allow you time to discuss what your reaction to these situations might be and also prepare you for what lies ahead.”

In his focus on the family article, Preparing for Marriage, Louis McBurney writes that if you are planning to get married, you’ve probably already been asked if you really know what you’re doing? He goes on to say that he’s sure you don’t! “I’m not trying to put you off, but I’ve counselled enough engaged and married couples to realise that you simply can’t understand everything that it involves. You have no idea about the possibility of true happiness and the opportunity for experiencing wholeness within your marriage. Just experiencing a sunset together, walking in the woods or listening to your favourite song gains new meaning.” But there are dangers involved, he warns. 2 million couples get divorced every year, with more than one million children involved. The percentage of people who are getting married three or more times has increased in the last 20 years from 4% to 8%. Children of divorced parents, especially women, have a bigger chance of getting divorced themselves than children who come from happy homes.


“It’s great to be able to learn from your mistakes, but couples should rather learn from the mistakes of others. Go for pre-marital counselling and learn the skills you need in time so that you don’t have to bump your head.”

Hennie concludes...

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