Monday, August 2, 2010

Marriage Preparation: My Thoughts

I'm doing a wedding in October. The couple is lovely, and one that I've known for several years (I went to college with the groom, and met the bride when I officiated at a mutual friend's wedding in 2007). I've enjoyed getting to know them better and am looking forward to their wedding and watching their marriage grow and develop.

My policy with weddings (OK, to be truthful this is only my second wedding, but I can still have a policy, right?) is that I have three requirements that a couple must agree to fulfill before I will agree to officiate their wedding. Number one (and this is the only negotiable one) is that if the wedding is more than 50 miles away from my home, they will provide me with overnight accommodations. Number two is that I have veto power over the elements of the wedding ceremony. Number three is that the couple must undergo a minimum of four sessions of premarital counseling with either myself or a licensed counselor. I offer the "licensed counselor" option in case the couple lives far away from me or if issues come up during our sessions that I feel would be best handled by a "pro." So far, both couples have chosen to have me be their facilitator.

I use a wonderful tool called Prepare-Enrich that is largely based on an extensive inventory of questions that each individual answers independently. The program then does some magic and prints out a 30+ page report for me, and I base our sessions on that. Both of my couples have been extremely compatible, highly committed, and very effective communicators, so I haven't run into any "issues". But I feel that this tool, coupled with my facilitation, would be able to raise "red flags" and/or major issues in a relationship that would cause me to suggest the couple see a counselor before marriage and/or reconsider the marriage entirely. I've already decided that if I ever am approached by a couple in which one or both individuals have had multiple marriages, I will insist they see a counselor for their marriage prep rather than using only me.

I feel rather strongly about requiring substantial pre-marital counseling for three reasons: first, it's what I learned in seminary; second, Harry and I had six sessions with a professional counselor and I believe it helped us a great deal; and three, I keep hearing of couples getting divorced after only a few years of marriage, with the underlying reason being that the marriage really should never have happened in the first place. My best friend from college divorced her first husband after a year of marriage, and admitted to me that she even had doubts on her wedding day (and how embarrassing that two of her attendants were future clergy!). We have some family friends whose son got divorced three months into the marriage because his new wife had an affair and she said that "marriage wasn't what I thought it would be." I'm only 33, but off the top of my head I can think of at least six couples from college who got divorced after less than five years of marriage.

I know that premarital counseling is not a guarantee against divorce and/or unhappy marriages. I am not so naive to think that every couple I marry will "live happily ever after". However, I believe that at the very least, a well-prepared couple goes into marriage with their eyes somewhat open about their relationship, their expectations, and the challenges that marriage brings. And I feel that it's my responsibility as the person who is making their marriage legal to do everything in my power to ensure that they have the tools they need for that marriage to be a long and happy one.

What are your thoughts on this subject? What do you require from your couples?


Pastor Joelle said...

I require counseling as well but over 25 years I haven't noticed that it's done much good :-( I also use PREPARE/ENRICh and I find the most helpful aspect of that is the family of origin mapping. Some of the best discussions and insights couples have gained have been from understanding how their families play into their expectations (and how those very different expectations can play havoc with their relationship)

Oh and forget about a hotel. I will not drive 50 miles to do a wedding. I do weddings in the church where I serve.

Anonymous said...

I use the same tool as you. What I have found.. is that by doing pre-marital counseling... a couple is more likely to seek help if things start going south. I actually point that out to them when we are together. It's easier to teach folks to be open when they are happy... than it is to teach them to be open when they are in a hatin' sort of mood.