You probably remember how it felt when you first fell in love with your spouse. It was an unforgettable state of mind and heart. The whole world and everything in it seemed changed for the better. Every good thing was a reminder of them. You drifted off to sleep with a smile on your face, and your first thought upon awakening was looking forward to the next time the two of you could meet.
When you made eye contact and they smiled at you, your heart felt like clay in their hands. Everything they said and every time they laughed, you were captivated.
While speaking about them to someone else, you would trip over your words. You thought they were practically perfect, and you wanted them to think you were, too.
You would rather spend time together than sleep, even if it meant you’d be miserable at work the next day. Your companionship seemed to meet all of your needs. The sense of satisfaction in being together was overwhelming.
This quote from Dr. Seuss may summarize your state of mind at that time: “You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.”
Now it is five years later, and you’re married to that same person. You’ve seen the ups and downs of your relationship over time, and you’ve learned that sustaining a beautiful marriage requires a deeper commitment than those thrilling feelings of falling in love. The stage of intense infatuation can’t be maintained indefinitely, and when those initial emotions started to dwindle, differences between us began to surface.
This doesn’t mean that falling in love is a bad or false experience. It’s the natural response to the beginning of a good relationship. This stage can provide the “spark” that motivates us to continue to grow in intimacy with our spouse.
Our goal should be to fan this spark into a flame that lasts for a lifetime. In Gary Chapman’s book Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married, he writes, “Being in love is not an adequate foundation for building a successful marriage.”
The Benefits of Christian Premarital Counseling
If you’re engaged and still in this season of infatuation, consider the help that a Christian counselor can provide for looking at the big picture of your relationship. You can work to build your marriage on the foundation of Jesus Christ. As Solomon declares, “a cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12).
Meeting with a Christian counselor before you get married can help you consider the sacred nature of the union you’re about to enter into. It’s vital for both partners to grow in their individual and joint commitment to Christ as they prepare to enter the marriage relationship.
Even if both of you are mature believers, you will find it difficult at times to show the patience, sacrificial love, and other Christian graces that enable a marriage to thrive. You can’t sustain your marriage without His help.
Making this investment in your future marriage can help you grow in emotional and spiritual intimacy as you prepare for your life together, and consider what to work on to build a strong foundation for your relationship.
7 Reasons Why Premarital Counseling Should be the Norm
Here are seven reasons why engaged couples should strongly consider premarital counseling:
1. Premarital counseling is an opportunity to learn to love each other more.
Whenever I ask an engaged couple their reason for getting married, their typical response is, “Because we love each other!” What they mean by “love” is generally an element of their relationship they want to protect and preserve in its current state.
Their experience of being in love motivates them to make it last indefinitely, so they are getting married to sustain their bond. Even the phrase “we fell in love” connotes something that happened by chance, implying that the romance in a love relationship is derived from its quality of being irresistible. However, this is a problematic perspective for two reasons.
First, this perspective makes love seem like a feeling or a possession instead of an action. Because it is simply a state of consciousness, there’s no compelling urge to work hard at loving one’s partner.
The second problem is that love viewed in this way is out of one’s control. So not only did you fall into love, but it’s possible that one day you might fall out of love. If you’re subject to emotional whims in this way, you might not see the necessity to intentionally nurture your commitment to your spouse.
In premarital counseling, you’ll have a chance to learn how to put your feelings of love into action, and to be intentional about expressing love to your partner.
The act of getting married doesn’t preserve romantic feelings in a vacuum. You’ll still need to be committed to working on your relationship, your commitment, and your intimacy. The wedding is the starting point, not the finish line.
John Mayer reminds us:
“Love ain’t a drug
despite what you’ve heard
Yeah love ain’t a thing
Love is a verb.”
2. Marriage lasts far longer than a wedding.
When a couple gets engaged, much of their focus shifts to preparing for the wedding day, but often there’s not as much attention paid to preparing for marriage itself. This is a shame, because the wedding lasts only for a day, and is merely a symbol of the reality of marriage.
Our cultural priorities appear out of whack when we compare the breakdown of marriage and the family to the extravagance of weddings.
On a global scale, the wedding industry is worth $300 billion, and over $55 billion of that is spent in the United States alone. Even if you’re trying to plan a frugal wedding, you’ve probably realized how overpriced everything is, from flowers to decorations to attire.
TheWeddingReport.com lists the average price for a 2016 U.S. wedding at $26,720. This huge expense is coupled with the time, stress, and energy involved in planning one’s “dream wedding,” adding up to a monumental amount of expense and trouble centered around this one day.
Getting married is truly a significant event worthy of celebration, and it’s not wrong to want to have a wedding to remember. But it’s important not to neglect the more vital aspect of your commitment: the lifetime you’re preparing to spend together.
This is where premarital counseling can be of great assistance, in helping you to prepare for the marriage itself. It does require an investment of time and money, but this will pay dividends when the honeymoon is over and you wake up to spend the rest of your life together.
A wedding lasts for a day, but a marriage for a lifetime.
3. Love is blind.
You’ve probably this cliche before, and it has an element of truth. Romantic love tends to blind us to our partner’s faults.
This isn’t altogether a bad thing. It’s good that we can be focused on the other person’s strengths, spotlight their good qualities, and gloss over their shortcomings.
Maybe you’ve had a conversation in which a friend waxes rhapsodic about the person they’re in love with, and you’ve privately thought that your friend was naive and that it was impossible for anyone to be so perfect.
However, this is a perspective many couples who’ve been married for awhile could benefit from. One tool I like to use with married couples is to ask them to describe one another’s positive characteristics in as detailed a way as they can.
It’s wise to be cautious about looking through rose-colored glasses before marriage. Making an error in judgment in choosing who to marry will affect your entire life. Rushing into marriage based on feelings of infatuation does not honor the sacredness of this union the way God designed it.
In the gospels, we see Jesus calling us to count the cost before we follow Him. In the same way, we should consider what marriage will demand of us before we take our vows. This doesn’t mean changing your mind out of fear and deciding never to get married; it means holding the institution of marriage in high regard and taking our future vows seriously.
In Christian counseling, you’ll have a place to discuss common challenges married couples face, preparing you to handle them in the best way possible. You’ll also have an opportunity to discuss each other’s faults in a safe environment, and commit to loving one another regardless, instead of believing that your partner is perfect.
The role of a Christian counselor could be compared to that of an optometrist; people can already see, but the Christian counselor wants to help them see better.
4. You need to prepare for conflict.
Some engaged couples can’t even consider the possibility that they might face conflict one day. Of course, they inevitably do, and then they wonder if they made a mistake in who they married. But no matter who we are, we will have disagreements now and then, and this is normal. The important part is how we handle conflicts when they arise.
As Gary Chapman writes, “Large or small, all conflicts have the potential of destroying an evening, a week, a month, or a lifetime. On the other hand, conflicts have the potential of teaching us how to love, support, and encourage each other. This is by far the better road to travel. The difference is how you process the conflicts.”
In premarital counseling, you can learn to accept the fact that conflict is inevitable, and prepare for it by planning how you’ll respond. Therapists work to help you listen to each other with empathy and seek to understand, instead of assuming the other person has bad motives.
If you don’t prepare for conflict, you risk being torn apart by it. Counseling is one helpful way to learn to grow through conflict and become more (rather than less) intimate as a result.
5. You need a financial plan.
You may have heard that money is one of the top subjects to cause arguments in marriage. Statistics prove that this is true. Talking about finances can seem prosaic and unromantic, but it’s a vital part of preparing for marriage.
It’s important for couples to set aside the idea of individualistic ownership of money, and to view all resources as joint property. Becoming one flesh applies to every area of life, including bank accounts.
In Christian counseling, you can discuss your plans for budgeting, spending, and saving. This will prepare you for a well-stewarded financial future and will help protect the peace in your relationship.
6. You had different parents and different upbringings.
What we saw in our parents as we grew up tends to set the norm for us as to how we think marriage should be. Maybe your parents had a loving commitment to one another, or maybe they argued a lot and were verbally abusive. Whatever the situation, it’s likely that you subconsciously internalized it as being normal.
This obviously carries into one’s future marriage relationship, even in ways you may not have expected. A wife might act the same way she saw her mother act while assuming that her husband will behave in a similar way that her father did. But meanwhile, her husband might have seen his father act in a completely different way, and this influences how he behaves in his own marriage.
Taking the time to work through these issues before the wedding can prevent disastrous misunderstandings afterward. Your counselor can work through your upbringings with you and discuss how they influenced your expectations for marriage.
7. God honors marriages that bring glory to Him.
It’s crucial to remember that marriage is an institution created by God Himself, and we need His blessing in order to thrive in it. It is a high calling and a difficult one, but if we are called to be married, God will enable us to obey Him in it.
If you and your partner are walking with God, you can be confident that he will provide everything you need to sustain your marriage. You might recall the famous “love passage” in 1 Corinthians 13, where Paul outlines what true love looks like when it’s lived out perfectly.
Sometimes we can feel that this standard is unattainable and not even worth trying for, but we can rely on God’s power to love beyond what we can do in our human strength.
A Christian counselor desires to see you thrive in your marriage and depend on God’s strength to do so. If your heart is to glorify Him, you can cultivate a heart of humility and servant love that desires to serve Him first and foremost. Marriage can be a channel through which you and your spouse experience the blessing of His love.
If you are engaged, please don’t neglect to prepare for marriage with focus and intention. Contact a Christian counselor to help you work through both the positive and negative components of your relationship, and prepare to enter marriage from a place of truth and strength.
Paul’s prayer for the first-century church is also applicable to marriage: “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other ” (1 Thessalonians 3:12).
“Stand by Me,” courtesy of Alysa Bajenaru, unsplash.com, Public Domain License; “Twirl Me,” courtesy of Clarisse Meyer, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “In love,” courtesy of Valerie Everett, Flickr Creative Commons 2.0, CC0 License; “Married Fight,” courtesy of Gratisography, pexels.com, CC0 License