Tag Archives: Communication

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.

What you do before you marry affects your marital happiness and stability

A recent article from The Federalist explains why chastity matters when choosing a mate.


[A] new study shows that the more relationships you’ve had prior to marriage, the less likely you’ll have a good marriage. This seems somewhat obvious, but it’s so contrary to popular culture and practice these days that even the study’s authors say the finding is “counterintuitive.”

“In most areas, more experience is better. You’re a better job candidate with more experience, not less. When it comes to relationship experience, though, we found that having more experience before getting married was associated with lower marital quality,” said Galena K. Rhoades, research associate professor of psychology at the University of Denver. She’s a co-author of the study “Before ‘I Do’: What Do Premarital Experiences Have To Do With Marital Quality Among Today’s Young Adults?,” from the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia. The report has all sorts of interesting findings, including that large weddings and conscious decision-making in relationships are also factors in happy marriages.

Previous marriages and previously having lived with a partner were both identified as risk factors for less-happy marriages, the authors said. We know so much about how living together is a risk factor for all sorts of unhappiness that I seriously have to restrain myself from shouting at my female friends who tell me they’re moving in or have moved in with their boyfriends. I mean, even if there were no moral problem with it, it’s just bad strategy if you want a happy life.

[…][T]he nearly one-quarter of people in the study who had sex solely with the person they married reported high marital quality, higher than those who had sex with other partners prior to marriage. And the more sexual partners a woman had before marriage, the less happy she reported her marriage to be. Well that’s not what we’ve been told by the Cosmo-Jezebel alliance. The study’s authors speculate on why this might be.

One reason that more experience could lead to lower marital quality is that more experience may increase one’s awareness of alternative partners. A strong sense of alternatives is believed to make it harder to maintain commitment to, and satisfaction with, what one already has. People who have had many relationships prior to their current one can compare a present partner to their prior partners in many areas—like conflict management, dating style, physical attractiveness, sexual skills, communication ability, and so on. Marriage involves leaving behind other options, which may be harder to do with a lot of experience.

I have to say that this factor is the biggest factor that gives me pause when considering marriage with a woman with a sexual past. Will I be compared to these other men? Will I be trusted? Will she be vulnerable to me? Usually when a woman has had past experiences with bad men, then she tends to be more guarded with me, regardless of how I would perform sexually after we were married. I am interested in a woman being trusting and vulnerable, yet a sexual past usually doesn’t make a woman more trusting and vulnerable.

However, there is a way to work on the problem, I think – and that way is taking a structured approach to courting that involves open communication and deliberate planning:

[T]he hook-up thing, which was a factor in lower marital quality, also matches with other less formalized arrangements that are becoming common among younger generations. If you can make out with someone thanks to the lowered inhibitions you guzzled down at the bar, you don’t have to make a formal request to ask her out or to plan a date. Similarly, many respondents reported shacking prior to marriage. And those who lived with their eventual spouse before making a commitment to marry reported lower marital quality than those who waited to move in together until they were engaged or married.

The study actually had people rate how much of living together was a conscious decision vs. something that just sort of happened. And the more it was a decision, the happier the eventual marriage was. This might be because of higher levels of commitment present at the time of moving in or because it reflects better communication skills, a key to marital contentment, the authors said.

The same sort of conscious decision making effect could be seen in differences in pre-marital counseling. While only 32 percent of those who did not have premarital preparation reported high marital quality, that jumped to 57 percent of those who did take part in premarital preparation. Less sliding, more deciding might not be a Millennial motto but it should be.

What you want to avoid is someone who cannot communicate and is not good at making decisions and then sticking with her decisions over the long haul. And that can be developed – it can be worked on and improved. But it takes time to do.

Here’s the author’s conclusion:

All the options make it hard to man-up or woman-up and make some decisions because we’re so terrified of missing out on the next best thing. But the whole truly counterintuitive point of a happy marriage is that you’re not supposed to be thinking about what your spouse can do for you so much as what you can do for your spouse. That’s why this whole commercialized approach to spouse-picking is wrong. When you’re trying to figure out which yogurt to buy, you’re doing a lot of comparison shopping, but you’re not thinking of what you can do for the yogurt, you know?

We all want marriage, more or less, but we couldn’t be doing a worse job of trying to attain it. We want to find the perfect spouse, even though he or she doesn’t exist and finding a perfect spouse isn’t what marriage is about. What’s worse, we demand that someone forgive us our many faults even while we’re mentally comparing our potential spouse with other people or figments of our imagination. We should stop with that and really work at doing what it takes to get married and stay happily married.

[…]Even if you have not made the healthiest or most prudential sexual choices prior to now, don’t flip out or despair. Just because some factors are related to marital happiness doesn’t mean you can’t have a happy marriage. Just focus on making better decisions from this point forward. Be conscious and deliberate about them. Stop letting life happen to you and start thinking about what you want and how to get there. And, finally, remember that your big extended family is a blessing and that rituals occur throughout the world for very good reason.

I think having a string of past relationships does lead a person to want to delay marriage and hold out for “the next best thing”. That’s why so many women are delaying marriage and getting into fertility problems. They want to have fun and them jump off the carousel into the respectability of marriage at the last possible instant. Which is not fun for a man who is seeking the kind of intimacy that grows slowly over time. I have always been impressed by couples who have been married for decades, but you get that by marrying for the benefit of that other person, instead of holding out for the best deal for you. If you find someone you want to care for for the rest of your life, just marry them – that’s my advice. Try to make relationships more about planning and obligations, and less about fun and excitement.

UK survey finds that men and women expect to have sex after a few dates

Dina sent me this depressing article from the UK Daily Mail.


Men now expect to sleep with a new partner on their third date – but women typically won’t consider it until the fifth, according to an intriguing new study on dating in the 21st century.

On the first date men are most likely to pay for dinner and drinks, with most couples tending to split the bill from the second date onwards.

But by the third date men expect sex and are willing to splash their cash to hurry the romance along.

[…]Both sexes are now spending small fortunes in a bid to prepare themselves for a date that could end in sex, the study found.

Men typically spend £46.79 on grooming, while women spend £5 less at £41.79.

Women prepare for a first night of passion by waxing their legs (58 per cent), buying new lingerie (32 per cent), and waxing their bikini line (17 per cent).

Men are most likely to buy new underwear (28 per cent), groom their pubic hair (27 per cent), and buy new bed linen (15 per cent).

The money is being spent wisely, as men say their biggest turn-offs are a hairy upper lip, dirty sheets, and hairy legs.

And women are turned off by dirty sheets, untidy nails, and an untidy bedroom.

I’ve posted before about how having a large number of premarital sex partners causes marriages to fail. This finding is true for men who have many partners, and especially true for women. The fun that people have before they are married gets paid for later when they cannot hold the relationship together. Premarital promiscuity teaches you nothing about how to be faithful and self-sacrificial in a marriage. It trains you to think that sex is not something to save for a commitment, but something to be done in order to have “fun”. When people have premarital sex, they are treating sex as a recreational activity. They are not willing to commit to loving and taking care of the person they are having sex with for life, so that the other person will not be harmed if the relationship fails. We shouldn’t be having fun with a person in ways we’re we will be deeply connected to them and then just pull away from them and leave them alone. If that happens to a person enough, it ruins their ability to be trusting and vulnerable. It’s hard to repair the damage once it’s been done.

I think that if we are going to be serious about marriage, then we need to think seriously about rolling back our support for this sort of promiscuity, as well as laws that promote break-ups like no-fault divorce. Instead of encouraging people to think that sex before marriage is normal, we should be encouraging them to look at the data that shows that waiting a long time (or even better, waiting until marriage) before having sex is the right thing to do.

And for Christians, let me just reiterate that premarital sex and adultery are both forbidden. You cannot be a Christian and be having sex outside of marriage. The Bible is very very clear about that. Although people like to think that Christianity is compatible with sex outside of marriage, it’s not. We need to be careful about watering down Christianity in order to avoid the need to bow the knee to God’s authority in sexual areas.

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New study: delaying sexual activity produces improves relationship quality and stability

Dina sent me this article from the UK Daily Mail about a new study showing the importance of chastity for relationship quality and stability.


New couples who jump into bed together on the first date do not last as long in relationships as those who wait a new study has revealed.

Using a sample of almost 11,000 unmarried people, Brigham Young University discovered a direct correlation between the length and strength of a partnership and the amount of time they took to have first have sex.

The study showed that those who waited to initiate sexual intimacy were found to have longer and more positive outcomes in their relationships while those who couldn’t help themselves reported that their dalliances struggled to last more than two years.

‘Results suggested that waiting to initiate sexual intimacy in unmarried relationships was generally associated with positive outcomes,’ said the report authored published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.

‘This effect was strongly moderated by relationship length, with individuals who reported early sexual initiation reporting increasingly lower outcomes in relationships of longer than two years.’

The study examined four sexual-timing patterns: Having sex prior to dating, initiating sex on the first date or shortly after, having sex after a few weeks of dating, and sexual abstinence.

Each one of these fields yielded different results in relationship satisfaction, stability and communication in dating situations.

Should we be telling children moral rules, backed by evidence, so that they will have better lives? Or should we be telling them lies so that they won’t feel bad about behaving immorally? That’s the choice that every grown-up has to make. Are we going to tell the children something that will guide them away from harm? Or are adults going to tell them something that makes them feel better about their own mistakes?

When I see studies like this, it makes me glad that I am still a virgin, and I really recommend that to everyone, especially to men. It’s important to keep a clear head and to protect your ability to make bond to the right woman, should she come along. That’s what gives you the ability to make a tight bond, and helps you to trust women and to believe the best about the good one that you finally decide on. Too much early sex, and seeing women at their worst, and you lose your ability to trust the good ones.

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Marriage advice from Christian philosopher William Lane Craig

Here is a question of the week from Dr. Craig on “Marriage Advice”!

Here’s the question:

Dear Dr. Craig,

Marriage is in the foreseeable future, and I would like to ask you for any advice before it happens. Can we avoid any mistakes? Would it be helpful to meet with a pastor for premarital counseling? Are there any helpful tips you could give from a Christian perspective or from your own experience?

Thank you in advance!


Here are the main pieces of advice Dr. Craig gives:

  1. Resolve that there will be no divorce
  2. Delay having children
  3. Confront problems honestly
  4. Seek marital counseling
  5. Take steps to build intimacy in your relationship

And here’s the controversial one (#2):

2. Delay having children. The first years of marriage are difficult enough on their own without introducing the complication of children. Once children come, the wife’s attention is necessarily diverted, and huge stresses come upon you both. Spend the first several years of marriage getting to know each other, working through your issues, having fun together, and enjoying that intimate love relationship between just the two of you. Jan and I waited ten years before having our first child Charity, which allowed me the finish graduate school, get our feet on the ground financially, establish some roots, and enjoy and build our love relationship until we were really ready to take on the responsibilities of parenthood. The qualifier here is that if the wife desperately wants children now, then the husband should accede to her wish to become a mother, rather than withhold that from her. Her verdict should be decisive. But if you both can agree to wait, things will probably be much easier.

I wonder if the married readers agree with him about the “waiting at least a year after marriage bafore having children”?