Pre-marriage counseling is good, and pre-engagement counseling is even better


Painting: "Courtship", by Edmund Blair Leighton (1888)
Painting: “Courtship”, by Edmund Blair Leighton (1888)

OK, I was chatting with my friend McKenzie who recently got married to an amazing Christian man. She and I are both big believers in asking questions during the courtship. She sent me this article from Verily magazine that has a nice story, and lots of questions.

The article starts like this:

When you know, you know. And with Zach, I knew. Just eleven months into dating, I knew this was the man I wanted to marry. Zach felt the same about me. But instead of putting a ring on it then and there, we decided to seek out a pastor for pre-engagement counseling. You read it right, pre-engagement.

It might sound intense or premature at first, but I am here to tell you that it has been an awesome experience. Sure, the deal isn’t sealed until you say “I do,” but engagement is a huge decision, too. I don’t want to get engaged and then deal with our baggage. When Zach proposes marriage to me, I want my “Yes!” to be with eyes wide open, and pre-engagement counseling has really helped us move in that direction.

What has been so great about pre-marriage preparation? It’s a structured way for us to explore the most important ideas that will be the foundation of our marriage. We have a session once every two weeks for about an hour and a half, during which we’re working through the book Preparing for Marriage by Dennis Rainey with our pastor through homework assignments and discussing together. Of course, pre-marriage counseling can take many forms, but no matter where you might go to get pre-marriage counseling, there are certain things I think any couple should consider before truly committing. Whether you work through them pre-marriage or pre-engagement, like us, is up to you.

She has 4 sections and here they are:


The whole essay is very practical, but let me just quote the one that stood out to me:

Few people enjoy talking about money, and Zach certainly did not look forward to this conversation. But money, how we think about it and what we do with it, plays a big part in marital happiness. In our pre-engagement sessions we were posed with great questions when talking about finances. Here are a few of the important questions to cover in a conversation about money:

  • Who will be the primary financial provider in the family?
  • How will you decide on major purchases?
  • Who will pay the bills, balance the checkbook, and keep track of expenses?
  • What is your philosophy of giving (charitable donations to your church or other organizations), and how will you make decisions about giving?
  • What is your conviction about debt and the use of credit cards?

These were just a handful of the financial questions we were asked to think about. We also discussed how we want to handle our finances as a couple and individually (joint or separate bank accounts). It’s a lot to think about, but the goal was to get on the same page.

What I am seeing a lot of these days – I am literally seeing this everywhere – is when older women prefer to date and marry younger men who do not have jobs and who either never did some sort of post-high-school job training or are still students into their mid-20s. And I know why they do that. Younger men who are not serious about providing are very, very easy for older women to manipulate. She can throw out pretty much any crazy plan she wants – and maybe say “God told me” – and he will have no authority from his own life experiences to second guess her. Because he is not responsible or disciplined himself. Young women not only struggle enormously with respecting men, they also prefer men who they do not have to respect, so they can run the relationship based on their own feelings and intuitions.

I have also encountered a very strange attitude among young women where they think that hard work in an area that doesn’t pay is as “promising” as hard work in an area that does. Actually, this isn’t true. Some people work very hard at things that don’t pay, and some people just choose things that do pay and don’t work as hard at them. What matters is not how hard you work, it’s what is in demand. An engineer working a 40 hour week is probably going to make a lot more than a graduate student working 80 hour weeks. Or an assistant professor working 80 hour weeks. The important thing is not to just be busy and organized. It’s much safer to choose a field where you can earn a good salary without killing yourself. Work stress is a stress on the marriage, especially if both spouses have to work because the male provider isn’t making enough.

There is no substitute for earning and saving money. You can’t run a marriage without money – somebody has to pay the bills. Pre-engagement counseling is useful to find out whether one or both people has a proven record of being able to earn, save, and invest. If both people have never earned, saved, or invested, that’s a pretty bad sign. Especially the way things are going with the economy and the national debt. Marriage poses serious financial challenges, and they cannot be wished away. If your plan for prosperity is to discern God’s mysterious will through your feelings and intuitions, then you should make a new plan.

7 thoughts on “Pre-marriage counseling is good, and pre-engagement counseling is even better”

  1. I see two huge holes in her plan. First, most of her counseling circles around but misses the most important part of a marriage: shared values. It’s well and all to say that their both Christians, but even the most fundamentalist Christians can differ in values. One might point to Genesis and say, “let’s be fruitful and multiply like the Duggars” and another might point to eschatological passages and say, “we should not have children but be preparing for our Lord’s return.” Or one might wish to become a missionary abroad while the other values family. Their values might not be incompatible with the Christian life, but they might be incompatible together or need some accommodation to combine their complementary values. And obviously, if your potential partner’s values are out of line with Christian values altogether, it is important to discover that before or while courting.

    The other problem I have with her piece is the idea of expectations. What should be learned from premarriage counseling or, ideally, church teaching is managing our own expectations, not concerning ourselves with having our expectations met. She comes close to this, but then states, “We also discussed how we will react if expectations are not met—a preemptive look at conflict resolution.” In other words, she and her spouse should try to meet each other’s expectations and then, somehow, nicely nag the other when disappointed. That will lead to disaster eventually. Now there is one very important expectation they should both have for themselves, each other, and their marriage; that is that they continue to adhere to their shared values.

  2. I don’t know that it has to be a formal series of counselling sessions, but it is absolutely vital to discuss important topics about what your plans are for life, what your values and goals are, and what you think marriage would look like BEFORE you get engaged. It is also very important to get input from good Christian people who know you and care about you (such as your family) rather than making such an important decision without guidance.

    When my husband and I started dating, we asked each other a lot of questions about important topics right up front, before we got emotionally invested, to see whether we were on the same page and would make a good marriage team. I recommend that this kind of evaluation (at least as a rough idea of where you stand) happen very early on. Learning the nitty gritty details of someone’s life and developing an emotional connection should come AFTER you know you’re at least roughly compatible on major issues.

    Here’s a post I wrote about things to discuss before you get engaged:

  3. Pre-marriage and pre-engagement counseling used to be older women and men in your church sharing with you, guiding you, as per Titus 2 and other passages. In particular it used to mean: listen to your parents!
    We are far too busy today.

  4. Thanks for sharing! Of course the article assumes that you have a common worldview, calling, and mission (otherwise what’s the point of considering someone as a marriage partner), and if not, hopefully those questions lead to asking some of the deeper ones. Good post!

  5. you should also be careful about the kind of pre-engagement counseling you do. My husband and I had six month of it with our pastor and while it was heavy on Bible passages about marriage it had almost nothing about how to communicate in an effective manner, how to handle conflict or even practical things like how to budget. I wish we had discussed such things because I am only 12 weeks into my marriage and we are struggling even though we share the same values.

    1. Pre-marriage counseling is a good thing but I think there’s only so much prep you can do for something that doesn’t exist yet. Each marriage is very unique and it’s impossible to anticipate a lot of things before the fact.
      I would expect the counseling to cover the big picture items, such as shared values and goals, the Biblical reasons for the high qualities we should be expected to live out toward each other, etc. But the nitty gritty items are more likely to present themselves during the marriage.
      That’s when we need that community of people with tried and tested marriages who also live out their marriages with the guidance of
      Scripture. It’s time then to go get advice from older married people on the how-to’s.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s