Counseling the Engaged Couple (Newsletter 30-9)

Counseling the Engaged Couple
By: James E. Johnson

Each year approximately half a million homes in the United States are broken by divorce. The toll in human misery is immeasurable.

No one can say with certainty how many of those marriages might have been saved, but professionals in the field of mental health and family counseling agree that programs of prevention can often head off family problems before they become unsolvable.

One such program is that of premarriage counseling by the pastor or a Christian counselor who cooperates with the pastor. The pastoral approach to premarriage counseling may vary with the situation, with the counselor’s abilities and experience, and with the number of couples being counseled. The important thing is to have a plan.

Most young couples can profit from several sessions with the pastor or counselor. Group sessions involving several couples contemplating marriage can be effective. More formal programs with resource people such as Christian doctors or marriage counselors can also be valuable.

Whatever the method used, here are some vital areas of marital interaction which should be discussed in premarriage counseling session;

1. The Christian concept of love. Many young people interpret physical attraction, mutual admiration, and various other kinds of feelings as love. While these feelings are a part of love, alone they are not the fabric of enduring marriage.

First Corinthians 13 describes love as being unselfish, longsuffering, humble, patient, and everlasting. Giving, rather than receiving, is the essence of love and is essential to a happy marriage. An understanding of these and other basic Biblical concepts of love will help young people see the meaning of lasting love and evaluate their affection for one another in that light.

2. The importance of understanding each other. When a person marries without understanding the basic personality, characteristics, and needs of his partner, there is almost always some disillusionment. A frequent statement by young couples having marital problems is that “he (or she) is not the same person I married.” Usually, it develops that the couple simply did not get to know each other well enough prior to marriage.

The mutual understanding so vital in marriage must begin during courtship. Engaged couples are often reluctant to reveal innermost feelings and ideas for fear of alienating their beloved. However, courtship should be a time when couples begin to share ideas and views and to reach an agreement on such topics as religion, child-rearing and discipline, philosophy of life, and expression of affection.

3. Spiritual obligations in marriage. The couple contemplating marriage needs to be reminded of the divine nature of marriage. Point out the spiritual privileges and responsibilities involved in establishing a home and bringing up children. Encourage them to submit themselves to the will of God and to seek His plan and purpose for their lives and for their home. By submitting their wills to each other and to God, the engaged couple takes a significant step toward a happy marriage.

4. The nature and importance of forgiveness in marriage. Thousands of homes are broken every year because of the inability to forgive. To ask forgiveness is one of the most humbling experiences of life, and to forgive is one of the most humbling experiences of life, and to forgive is one of the most rewarding. Yet, rather than asking forgiveness and settle an issue, many couples let a difference smolder until major warfare breaks out.

The Bible teaches several principles regarding forgiveness which, while not directed to marriage problems per se, apply well to such difficulties.

The first of these is that the person who is wronged should take the initiative in working out the problem (Matthew 18:15). This is contrary to the popular idea that one should wait until forgiveness is asked before extending it.

The second concept is that we should forgive repeatedly when necessary (Matthew 18:21, 22). Married couples need to understand this and practice a forgiving attitude.

Third, forgiveness is to be extended graciously, as God forgives (Ephesians 4:32). This involves letting bygones be bygones rather than continually reminding one’s partner of past offenses.

5. The expression of affection in marriage. Whatever the outcome of the current controversy over sex education, there will still be a need for the Christian counselor or pastor to advise young people concerning this important aspect in marriage. From whatever source young people receive factual information regarding the physical aspects of marriage, it is from the church and the home that the moral and spiritual attitudes must be generally learned.

It has been my experience in working with couples who have problems in this area of marriage that these difficulties are rarely due to physical incompatibility. Rather, the problems usually stem from a lack of understanding of the psychological, emotional, moral, and spiritual implications in the marriage relationship. We need to impress young people with the importance of mutual understanding, appreciation, respect, and patience as vital elements in the expression of love–of which the physical relationship is only one aspect.

6. The roles of men and women in marriage. The marital roles of men and women have become increasingly indistinct in today’s society. Some household functions which were once traditionally performed by the wife are now being handled by the husband, and vice versa. Many responsibilities which traditionally belonged to the family have been taken over by educational, governmental, and social agencies outside the home. Consequently, young couples may enter marriage with only a vague idea as to their individual or family jokes.

The Bible speaks directly on this subject in Ephesians 5:21-25, laying down principles that are valid regardless of the times in which the couple is living. The home, like any well-functioning organization, must have someone as the head. The Bible clearly shows the man to be the head of the household, fulfilling that function with love, respect, and consideration. In turn, the woman is to be submissive to her husband.

Many problems in marriage could be avoided if both husband and wife understood and practiced their God-ordained roles in the home. However,
deviations from this principle are often evident in modern marriages. For example, some men are reluctant to assume responsibility as head of the household. Others go to the extreme, ruling the home with an iron hand. Some women are reluctant to recognize the husband’s authority and compete with him at every turn. Premarriage counseling stressing the responsibilities of both husband and wife can help young couples avoid problems in this area.

7. Practical aspects of life after marriage. The psychological, emotional, and physical adjustments to one another present some serious challenges to the newly married couple and ought not to be compounded by avoidable problems. The counselor can help by encouraging the couple to consider such practical matters as budgeting, arranging for housing, and preparation for emergencies.

Some couples elect to live with their families at first–to save money. While this sometimes works out well, it often results in tension between the young married couple and their families. The minister or Christian counselor should offer the couple a checklist of items having to do with the practical aspects of marriage and encourage them to make the best possible plans in these areas.

8. Where to turn for assistance with problems. Many marriages could be saved if couples having problems would seek professional counseling for their problems early enough. The minister is often the first person to whom the couple turns. He should encourage them to feel free to come to him, but it is highly desirable that he be in touch with a Christian marriage counselor to whom he can refer cases that are beyond his capability or those couples who request such help. The minister should also have a thorough knowledge of community agencies so he can make an appropriate referral if indicated.

The minister who counsels young people needs to pray with them and to offer his assistance in setting up a family altar in the new home.

The failure of so many marriages is one of the great tragedies of our time. The church must assume its share of responsibility for this failure. It must also assume its share of responsibility to attempt to reduce the incidence of marriage failure in the future. A sound program of premarriage counseling offered by the church can result in happier and more enduring marriages.

(The original publisher of the above material is unknown.)

Christian Information Network