Pre-marital counseling is one of the perks of being a pastor. There is something energizing sitting across from a couple as they share their unique love story--their eyes light up and they smile at each other as they recall the moment that sparks began to fly. As I watch them gaze into one another’s eyes with tenderness as they anticipate their future, I think to myself, “you have no idea what you’re in for!”
It’s true – and I know it firsthand. Since I proposed to my then-girlfriend after nearly 2 years of dating, I figured that marriage would be a cinch. After all, as the Beatles so famously said, “all you need is love!” My soon-to-be Father-In-Law recommended pre-marital counseling, but I was quite certain there wasn’t much I could learn. Oh, how wrong I was! I see now, with the benefit of nearly 16 years of marriage, that the only thing that fully prepares you for marriage is, well, marriage.
Yet there is tremendous wisdom in intentional preparation for marriage as a jump start on healthy relationship building. You will probably spend thousands upon thousands of dollars on a wedding. Why not invest the same energy in preparing to be a good husband or a good wife? In addition to pre-marital counseling with a pastor or counselor, these are some essential topics to discuss with your future bride or groom.
First and foremost, God wants his people to share a common faith. “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers,” Paul warns the believers in Corinth (2 Cor. 6:14). Positively stated, God wants us to share what ought to be the most important part of who we are with the with the person who is most important to us. Ignoring this wisdom means that every aspect of your relationship with God – and that of any children you may have – will not be a part of your spouse’s life. Your core identities will pull in different directions. In fact, it is likely that as years go by, one relationship or another will suffer--either an important part of your spiritual life will not be shared by your spouse, or you will find your relationship with God gradually becoming less important. In addition to sharing a common faith in Jesus, discuss how you envision sharing your spiritual life. Will you do devotions together, and if so, how? How do you see yourself participating in a local church? What sort of church do you see yourself a part of? How will you see to the spiritual development of future children? Will Christian schools be in the picture?
I usually smile when I tell couples that one of their first major disagreements almost always happens in early November. Why? Because this when families plan how to spend the holidays, and the clash of different family cultures comes into focus. Will Christmas be at his house (since his mom always cooks Christmas dinner!)? Is it just assumed that Thanksgiving is spent at her Grandma’s house, out of state? Who won't you see at Christmas? One of the first instructions about marriage given to us concerns family: “A man shall leave his father and mother, and be united to his wife” (Genesis 2:24). Yet, this is far easier said than done; each of you has different expectations about what your relationship will be with your family of origin. Does he seem too dependent on his mother? Does she need to call her dad multiple times throughout the day – even if that means ignoring you? It’s vital to talk about your expectations of the role of your respective families, and it’s equally important to be clear about what boundaries you need to set, and how you will set them. Chances are, genuine compromise means giving up more than you want to. Think of it as forging a new family culture.
Your money says everything about your priorities and values – and each of you goes into marriage with a different understanding of how money is managed, saved, and spent. In fact, one of the leading causes of marital conflict and breakdown is owing fighting over finances. Usually, the tension stems not from not having enough, but rather, from competing views of money. I suggest getting into the habit of sitting down together each month, and making a budget. Each time you have this conversation, you are talking about what matters to you--it's not really about the money, but about your values and priorities, both of life and each other. How will you combine incomes, accounts, and existing debts? How much should you give to the church? What is important to save? How will you decide how to spend extra income? How much can each spend without checking with the other? How much do each of you get to spend on whatever you wish--to buy that latte or save for a fishing pole without grief from the other? Additionally, it is important to discuss your viewpoints on debt. When is it appropriate to borrow money? How much? Will you use credit cards – and if so, how will you do so in such a way that you are not buried in debt? You would be wise to draft a first-year income and spending plan before the wedding, just as a way of having a constructive conversation about your future life together. Your use of money reflects what matters to you – so, be sure that you are on the same page!
There may be no more powerful and trans-formative part of your relationship than the sexual intimacy that you will experience as a married couple. In 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, Paul illustrates for us that sex has power like nothing else to bring you together or, when misused, to drive you apart. You enter marriage with a set of expectations, hopes, and perhaps fears, surrounding your sex life. It’s possible that you have a sexual history that will shape your future marriage – and as awkward as it may feel, now is a good time to begin being open about sex. If you have struggled with sexual sin in the past, you owe it to your future spouse to be honest about your history. While sharing every detail isn’t necessary, it’s important that they are aware of sexual temptations that you face, or if you have previously been sexually active. As well, discuss your expectations – how often do you expect to be sexually intimate? What messages were you taught concerning sex (By your church? Your family? Your friends?), and how have they shaped your view on sex today?
Nothing can fully prepare you for the adventure of marriage! Once you say “I do!” you begin the exciting road of navigating life together. You will face disagreements, but you will also discover more of the joy of loving, knowing, and being known. Preparing for that journey by talking openly and honestly will help you start down that path on solid footing. May God bless you as you prepare for marriage!