Congratulations! You’re engaged. You’re looking forward to your dream wedding and building a life together. First, though, you’re facing all the tension and drama and endless details involved in the wedding arrangements. It may seem like Christian premarital counseling is just one more thing on the “to do” list.
Perhaps you wonder if it’s worth the chunks of time it will take out of an already overloaded schedule. Christian premarital counseling is compulsory at many churches before the pastor will marry you, and for good reason! You probably could find a way to get around it, but do you really want to? Christian premarital counseling can equip you with the tools you need for an enduring and successful marriage.
How Will Christian Premarital Counseling Help?
The Bible speaks of marriage as the two becoming one flesh. What this means is that a single unit will be formed by two unique individuals. Each one will bring their past histories, their ambitions, their hurts and scars, their personalities, their opinions, their habits – all that makes each an individual – and merge them together, somehow without losing their distinctive personhood. This is a sacred undertaking, reflective of the relationship of Christ with the church, and should be approached with reverence and thoughtfulness.
Just as most careers require a substantive amount of training, so premarital counseling helps couples prepare for a lifetime commitment that will encompass many challenges. You may feel uncomfortable discussing personal issues, but remember that the process is preparing you to avoid common pitfalls that damage many marriages and empowering you to walk through life in a mutually rewarding and joyous union.
The State of the Union
Many couples carry into their marriage the concept that they’ve entered into a sort of 50/50 partnership, where each does their fair share for the other – whether its chores, or support, or love. They believe they should meet the needs of their spouse to the same extent as their own needs are being met.
The problem with this approach is that it’s not two becoming one – it’s two maintaining the status quo. When a couple focuses on “keeping score” – they are focusing on their individual needs, not the needs of the “one flesh” that they have become.
Each spouse must bring 100% into the marriage. Marriage involves a lot of give and take on the part of both spouses, but we need to cultivate the mindset of giving more than we get because in doing so we are building up the relationship – the “one flesh.” We can’t constantly be calculating out whether we’ve done our 50% or received our 50%.
The Bible instructs husbands to love their wives “as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her,” and for the wife to submit to her husband as the church submits to Christ. This does not mean sacrificing to the point of giving up your own identity or not having your own needs met.
It’s natural to take care of ourselves and should be just as natural to take care of our spouse. We don’t abandon self-care to care for our other half. The Bible says that when a man loves his wife, he’s actually showing love for himself. This is because he’s nurturing the relationship, and will reap the benefits.
Let’s say that one spouse ends up carrying the bulk of the daily household duties and begins to feel disgruntled. At first, they may tell themselves that they are “sacrificing for the cause” and following the Biblical pattern.
But if they become increasingly disgruntled and are muttering under their breath and slamming dishes around in the kitchen, they aren’t really being sacrificial. If one spouse is on the couch watching TV, while the other is displaying passive-aggressive behaviors, neither is enjoying the experience. Sacrifice isn’t sacrifice if it isn’t freely given.
The marriage relationship becomes stronger when both people strive to recognize the needs of the other and meet them. It’s healthy to communicate our needs and ask for help. When we love someone, it’s a joy to care for them and please them, but this joy can dim if there’s a lack of appreciation. We honor the other by recognizing their worth and affirming them, showing them appreciation and thanking them for their care.
Common Issues in Marriage
Every marriage has plenty of challenges. If a couple enters into the marriage with naivety about these issues, they are setting themselves up for frustration and failure. One important aspect of Christian premarital counseling is to discuss the common obstacles that most married couples face and empower you with strategies to deal with them.
Selflessness not Selfishness
Part of the process of the two becoming one is that your focus shifts from self-centeredness to “us-centeredness.” Without abandoning your own needs, you strive to recognize the needs of your spouse (and eventually your children) and work to meet them to the same extent that you would care for your own needs.
It’s healthy to ask for help – to communicate your needs. It’s also okay to say “no” (or to hear “no”) on occasion. The important thing is to lovingly communicate and patiently negotiate how each need can best be met.
Who Will Do What Chores?
The division of household responsibilities (grocery shopping, laundry, cooking, cleaning, yard work, child care, etc.) is a chief source of contention in marriages, so it’s important to address this going into marriage. Couples should remember to discuss and make necessary adjustments through the years, as children come along, and also depending on if one or both spouses are working outside the home.
Sometimes couples enter marriage without a clear idea of what needs to be done around the house. It’s helpful to make up a checklist of all the daily and weekly chores, and then the couple can decide on who will do what and how and when that will happen.
Some couples might enjoy cooking and engaging in the chores together, while other couples might prefer to split chores. Each couple needs to determine what works best for them, depending on their specific situation. Communication is the key!
Even if the wife is a stay-at-home-Mom, both should remember that the care of small children can be overwhelming. She might be able to get some of the chores completed during the day, but she’s also devoting a lot of attention to the children.
When the husband arrives home from a long day at work, looking forward to a nice meal and putting his feet up, he needs to remember that his wife is also exhausted after a full day of changing diapers and running after active toddlers. The couple needs to come up with strategies so both can have some downtime, while also tending to the evening chores and the needs of the children.
Keeping the Spark Alive!
Once the excitement of the honeymoon wears off, and the couple settles into a routine, the relationship can tend to become stale. Just because you’re married doesn’t mean you stop dating each other. Carve time out of each day and each week to spend some quality time together, doing things you both enjoy, and things that make you laugh.
Go for a walk or sit on the porch with a glass of tea and ask about the other’s day. Continue to “woo” each other – a touch, a caress, a kiss out of nowhere. Show interest in what interests your spouse, and be intentional in affirming them, specifically listing your favorite things about them. Explore new places and experiences together.
Balancing Work, Ministry, and Volunteer Activities
It’s natural that our jobs consume a lot of our time and energy. If we’re successful in our career and receive a lot of affirmation there, our work can divert our attention away from our marriage, especially if we haven’t been intentional about keeping the spark alive.
If you are finding more fulfillment at work than at home, it’s time be proactive in refreshing your relationship, cultivating intimacy and mutual enjoyment. It’s great to engage in ministry and volunteer work, but once again, we need to be careful that we don’t lose our focus. One way is to be engaged in volunteer work or ministry as a unit – so that you’re able to make a contribution while sharing valuable time together.
Extramarital affairs are a real temptation for most married people. If a person feels unappreciated and unloved at home, they are vulnerable to the attention and affirmation they may receive from a co-worker or some other person in their life.
This is why we need to be diligent about keeping the romance alive in the marriage, actively expressing appreciation of each other, and nurturing the relationship. We also need to know ourselves (and our spouses) – our vulnerable points that might make us more open to infidelity. For some it might be the thrill, for some, it might be a need for affirmation, for some, it might be unmet sexual needs.
Be aware of and avoid situations where you might be tempted to stray. If you find you’re growing emotionally attached to someone who is not your spouse, you need to back away.
Going out for drinks or a meal alone with someone of the opposite sex is never a good idea. Reaffirm your commitment to God and to your wedding vows. Be mature! An immature person puts their needs first. A mature person refuses to allow passing pleasure to ruin their family life
What about Premarital Sex?
Views on morality, even among Christians, has radically changed in the past few decades. Our culture has discarded the traditional value of remaining a virgin until marriage. Today, about 95% of couples have had premarital sex before arriving at the altar, and most have been sexually intimate with at least one person other than their spouse.
Even among Christians, about 80% of young people are in sexual relationships outside of marriage, and many without a sense of breaking God’s law. Premarital sex is considered no big deal today. The few who maintain virginity are ridiculed. Some even consider cohabitation before marriage to be advantageous – giving the opportunity to see if a couple is “compatible.”
The Bible is clear that sexual intercourse is to be reserved for married couples, and that it is part of the “becoming one flesh” that God intended for marriage. The neurochemicals released during sexual relations create a strong bond with the partner.
If sex simply becomes recreation without commitment, it is trampling upon everything God planned for marriage. The Bible teaches that a person who sins sexually, sins against his own body and against the Holy Spirit. Sexual relations within marriage are sacred and precious.
If you’re engaged and already sexually active, your pastor may ask you to make separate living arrangements until the wedding. Many may find this ridiculous, but it’s actually helping you to make things right before God and each other and highlights the sacred concept of the two becoming one flesh.
Ideally, marriage brings together a man and woman, each with strengths and characteristics that complement the other, each emotionally mature, each with healthy boundaries, each able to articulate their own needs and eager to meet the needs of their spouse.
Realistically, most people enter marriage with childhood scars of one sort or another, with emotional immaturity, insecurities, and unrealistic expectations, and with selfishness and a lack of self-identity.
Christian premarital counseling is the starting point for dealing with common issues that often cause strife in marriages, but individual psychotherapy may also be advisable so that you bring a healthier, more mature person into the union.
“Fingers”, Courtesy of Snapwire, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Wedding Rings”, Courtesy of Freestocks.org, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Stand by Me,” courtesy of Alysa Bajenaru, unsplash.com, Public Domain License; “Still in Your Arms,” courtesy of Toa Heftiba, unsplash.com, Public Domain