7 Issues to Address in Pre-Marital Counseling

As with most pastors, I’ve performed a fair number of weddings. Part of being in ministry is helping couples enter the most important of relationships…marriage. It’s a daunting task and responsibility. Prior to a wedding, however, a minister has access to speak into a couple’s life in a way unique to any other time in their life.

I feel it’s important to help couples, as much as I can, be prepared for marriage. With time always at a premium, I frequently suggest couples walk through the book “Preparing for Marriage“. I’ve found it a helpful tool in thinking through many of the issues a marriage will encounter. I also try to make sure, as a minimum, the couple understands a few key principles prior to their wedding day.

Here are 7 issues I try to teach in pre-marital counseling:

You are different – Opposites do tend to attract. Each spouse is not only differently physically, but there are differences in backgrounds, outlook on life and the way to approach a situation. This is not intended as a curse against marriage. God designed those differences for a reason. The more a couple learns to celebrate those differences, the stronger a marriage will become. (I address this issue in previous posts HERE and HERE.)

Leave and cleave – Don’t let either set of in-laws dictate how you lead your new family. Decide in advance that no one, related or otherwise, is going to be a wedge between you two. Every couple has lots of other relationships, including perhaps children someday, but none of them should be allowed to interfere with the oneness God intends to create with the marriage. (I address these interferences more in THIS POST.)

Expect surprises – Life won’t always be as blissful as it is today. There will be hard days, whether self-induced or life-induced. Life brings changes and those times have the ability to catch even the best marriages off guard if not prepared for them. We can never be fully prepared for what might come, but we can prepare ourselves that when something comes, whatever it is and no matter how hard it is, that we will handle it . Couples should use these times to improve the strength of their marriage rather than allow them to pull the marriage apart. (I talk about this issue in a post on keeping the marriage fun. Find it HERE.)

Make a commitment to the marriage no matter what – Couples usually assume they are doing this by standing at the altar together, but statistics would say otherwise. Many times these days a person is saying “I’m committed until it becomes difficult or until the love we have today fades.” That’s not the Biblical picture of marriage God designed. Marriage is more than simply a feeling of love, it is a commitment to love…for better or worse…from this day forward. Verbalizing and agreeing to that on the front end, and continuing to remind yourself of that through the difficult days, will help the marriage last. Couples who should ask for help soon, not letting problems in the marriage linger too long without asking for help. Remove the fear of asking for professional counseling if necessary. It would be better to get help early than to see the marriage disintegrate beyond repair. (I preached a message on the commitment of marriage HERE.)

Model after the right couples – I encourage couples to find a couple whose marriage they admire and follow them closely. Most likely they have some stories to share. Things may not have been as wonderful throughout their marriage as they are today. No doubt they have learned some practices to having a strong marriage. I challenge couples to learn all they can from the couple they want to be like. (I did a post about this issue HERE.)

Evaluate often – Couples should ask  themselves often, are we growing together as a couple or further apart? Is the marriage growing stronger or are there holes that need addressing? Don’t assume your spouse feels as you do. (I’ve learned this is especially true for men who often don’t know there is a problem until it’s a big problem.) Establish the understanding early in the relationship that you have the right to periodically check on the state of your marriage. (Read a post about questions to assess the health of a marriage HERE.)

Put Christ first – This is the one most couples expect the pastor to say, but it’s not just the preacher answer, it’s the best secret to a lasting marriage. “A chord of three strands is not easily broken.” A couple’s individual and collective relationship with Christ will ensure they can endure the hardest days of a marriage. When the relationship with Christ suffers, the marriage will often suffer. Satan looks for any excuse to destroy the marriage. Pour your heart and life into Christ and let Him strengthen and sustain your marriage. (I preached on Christ’s standard for marriage HERE.)

That’s my list. I’m not sure they apply simply to premarital couples. These are good principles for couples regardless of how long they have been married.

Just so you know, I have, at times, simply shared with them this list. Sometimes I weave them into the discussion. Regardless of how you choose to do it, make sure you are strategic in helping couples begin their married life together.

Pastors, how do you do premarital counseling? What would you add to my list?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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70 thoughts on “7 Issues to Address in Pre-Marital Counseling

  1. I believe premarital counseling is a must in any relationship. Even if you are a person who can workout your own problems premarital counseling will teach you many thing you didn't know about your relationship.

  2. I think this is an awesome list! Thanks for sharing. I've been on staff at a large church and assisted with premarital counseling. I'm a licensed marriage and family therapist, and one of the major topics I think needs to be discussed is expectations. We all go into marriage with our own ideas about what it means to be a husband, wife, and what it means to be married.

  3. Very good list, Pastor Ron. And very important to address these things before marriage. Thanks so much. A friend of mine from India is marrying and I recommended him to get info about marriage before his wedding. I landed here and found a good list of info to help supplement my own.

  4. Great list! I would also add some practical issues that need to be discussed before marriage: finances (who manages the "books", learning about the others spending habits, etc.), children (number, how to discipline etc.), their careers (will wife stay home with kids, does one want to go back to school, etc.)… So many people do not discuss some of the most basic issues, then find themselves in conflict. If counselors would cover these topics, a lot of heartache can be avoided.

  5. Premartial is really great, pretty much anything that keeps the couple communicating on a deep level is great because communication is the key to a wonderful relationship. Not only with words, but also communicating with your body and tone that you use. As well as setting yourself up for a high quality relationship by asking the right questions will work wonders…Great article, a nice read.

  6. Most couples have no idea what is discussed at pre-marital counselling therefore think they do not need it. Nice coverage of what is covered so that they know what to expecy and reason out.

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  9. Thank you for wonderful words, wise words but am in a relationship and I need someone to talk too, to encourage me and have a lot which is going on in my mind, I can see where this relationship is going n in future I don’t want to face things like am facing now. Would love to have you in my side cause I find it difficult. Thank you God bleSs

  10. This is some great stuff!

    My husband and I counsel together and we also make sure to address sex and intimacy; being careful to differentiate between the two. We make sure to address any concerns, anxieties, or inhibitions that the couple may have on this subject.

  11. One of the things I also discuss is what they understand, based on biblical principles, is the role of the husband as head of the household and the role of the wife.

  12. Pastor, that is a great work. Indeed when reading thro your explanations, honestly, it is just as if we are talking one on one. It trickles in well and you are hitting points straight on the head.
    Kindly, may I ask you if at all you may help me thro such lessons via email. I find it so helpul to me. Thanks…God Bless You!
    Patrick

  13. Premarital coaching is a great idea. You can learn a great deal about yourself, your partner. You examine your expectations and stereotypes. You can develop visions and make a map of your future to guide you on the way. You can be tested to see if what you think and say about marriage aligns with reality. It will also tell you areas you need help in, and if you are really ready at this time. If not it can help you save thousands in divorce fees, by giving yourself the time instead of rushing ahead.

  14. Great article, I think this is all amazing information. The fact that you are putting it out there is amazing, more people need to see these types of things and really do some research before getting married. I think by looking at these 7 things before and during a marriage you are already multiplying the chances for a successful relationship. Thank you for your time and for putting this information out there, you're doing a lot of favors to those young couples out there.

  15. This is a really great article. I am writing my thesis on premarital counseling with a view to having my church overhaul our current premarital class and make it more beneficial for engaged couples. Could you have any more material on structure of premarital classes..like for how long it should run, what skills couples should be taught(as opposed to just passing information to them)….anything that could be helpful to me? I will really appreciate your help and insight. I love your articles Ron.

    Ivy (Kenya)

    • I don't have anything else written, but you might order the book “Preparing for Marriage”, Edited by Dennis Rainey. It is most helpful.

  16. Pre marital counseling is great and sets the foundation. I would add two things Priorities and Check-ups.
    I tell the couples that as individuals they have a priority first to God then to their spouse then children, ministry, job, hobbies and lastly to Self. This is important not only for an individual but also for a couple. Priorities never change in a biblical marriage.
    Check-ups – too often we are quick to give Pre Martial counseling when the bride and groom are all googly over each other then we wonder why in two years they are back in our office throwing the divorce word around. I make an agreement with the newlyweds that for the first year we will meet twice a month and the second year we will meet once a month and they have to mentor a newly married couple. It lessens the load of counseling I "Have to do" and just allows me to build a great relationship with awesome people.

    Just my thoughts! Great article and I will be using pieces of it! God Bless.

    • Great idea of meeting every 2 months..help the couple to come up with a budget plan..couples come with different different visions about money..They need to come together with a budget..Anything spent/gifted over $100.00 should be in the budget or agreed upon in the weekly budget meeting. Read book "Family CFO" & Total money makeover. I think the simplest & best budget system is the Envelope budget system

  17. Way back when we were just so young, we jokingly said that on our 85th wedding anniversary, we would divorce! We still have 62 yrs to go…..we count down every year and when the going does get really tough, we simply remind each other just how much longer we have to hang in there together, and all of a sudden, it doesn't seem that far away!!! By the way, that means our marriage will last until Dec 27, 2073 when we are 105 yrs old! I'm pretty sure we can make that….with God's help! That is the ONLY context in which we can use the "D" word!
    I encourage young couples to put a similar goal ahead of them….something that could feasibly happen but probably won't! And yes, encourage them to go through pre-marital counseling – they never know what life will throw at them!
    Thank you for sharing your list!

  18. I believe pre-marital counseling is a waste of both time and money. You do not need counseling before getting married since millions of people are able to have successful relationships without counseling. The main thing to remember is communication and making time for each other. If you can do that then you will solve a lot of issues.

    • While I appreciate your “opinion” it's not based on facts. Premarital counseling is mostly free, at least in the context I am speaking of. Also millions do but millions don't.I'm going for the millions who don't.

      • Even if it weren't free, it is worth the investment! If people spend $10,000+ on a degree for a career or $150,000+ for a home, it's time to consider the value of investing in people – especially people we're committing to do life with! Pre-marital counseling was valuable and fun for my husband and I.

    • Probably the most important and far reaching decision anyone makes in a lifetime: the choice to join one's love and destiny with another human being, and perhaps bring other lives into the world, and you don't think a couple should seek counseling (not to mention the divorce rate in this country) ? Are you kidding???

    • I guess my only question to you mr bowmanave is how do people find out what you recommend if no one tells them? I am very disappointed that our counsellor did not speak more strongly into my husband's life because as a result, he still does not have anyone giving him input and he has not really figured much out for himself in ten years of marriage….

  19. Before my wife and I were married, we were told by our Sunday School teachers (married couple) that there were several rules we needed to agree to before we got married. I do not remember any of them, except this one – Never allow the use of the "D" word (divorce) to enter into a conversation between us.

    Ron, that stuck with us. To date, 17 years this past weekend, we have not used that word. We are not perfect and we fight, but we feel safe knowing that "D" is not an option!

    Thanks for an in-depth post! I will be passing this one on!

  20. Awesome! I might add one just out of my personal perspective

    Set Your Expectations In God!
    We go into marriage sometimes with way too high expectations in each other. My expectations were horizontal 1st instead of vertical to God 1st. My husband was my knight in shining armor…. For the 1st 6 months or so until he fell off the horse! After the 1st year of my marriage, I stumbled into disappointment, disillusionment only because my expectations were in someone who could not meet all my needs. My expectations were not in a stable, Holy Alliance with God, but on a roller coaster ride of human conditions, which ended up in a perspective that soured my stomach towards my husband. I wish someone had explained that to me before I got married, that no human being could meet my needs. Eventually the Lord taught me and I got it, that He was the only one that could meet my needs and what I really needed was a sight adjustment in my focus, because the best alignment in marriage is vertical, from my heart to God’s heart! Vertical! Out of this amazing Spirit To Spirit connection, all my horizontal relationships became burden less, because God was meeting my needs, so I could then be free to serve their interests 1st and was strong enough to forebear with their weaknesses as I put my expectations in God’s capable hands. It is kind of funny how God works because my vertical relationship changes me 1st and when I had a horizontal relationship, I wanted God to change them, I never looked up and saw the image of God, therefore I only reflected my need. Having a vertical relationship with God, I see more clearly that I was perfectly created for my husband with and will be every day equipped with everything I need to be Mrs. Robert McCarthy. God has and will continue to make me into Bob’s perfect helpmate as I put all my hope and expectation in God! I have a vertical relationship with God, He is my Rock, My Defense, My Provider, My Salvation, My Refuge, My Great And 1st Love and because of this, my horizontal relationship these last 33 years with my husband has been one that has grown into a three strand cord that is not easily broken and I am experiencing the true joy of having a best friend and being in a love relationships where there are no conditions and no expectations that God is not working out on my behalf and for His Glory, because God’s Got This! AWE-GOD!
    Psalm 62:5 My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from him.6 He only is my rock and my salvation: he is my defense; I shall not be moved.7 In God is my salvation and my glory: the rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in God.

    Twitter: kmac4him

  21. If I ever get married, I would also go through Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University with my future husband. Getting all the finance stuff on the table is important. Great list and I agree with Brad on committing to counseling.

  22. Great ideas with regard to pre-martial counseling. (Even though, I am single) Some suggestions on premarital counseling from my end:

    — Bear in mind that nobody in this world is perfect. Learn to love the mate with imperfections.
    — Always be a cheerleader of your spouse.
    — Show up. When you show up consistently, your relationship is bound to grow spirally.
    — Praise in public; Confront in private.
    — Avoid the balme game; Instead, take collective responsibility and try to solve the problem.
    — Forgive and forget the mistakes made by each other often.

  23. Excellent list Ron. I make sure I go over finances and how they plan to make decisions in their marriage. I have found these two areas to be areas that bring about stress and arguments.

    • Yes, that's great. I don't go over finances with them, but I do encourage them to go through the Preparing for Marriage book which covers that and making decisions. You are right. Big issues.

  24. Great outline for pre-marital counseling. Maybe even GREATER material for post-marital REMINDING!!! Imagine if a pastor who would commit to "tying the knot," might also commit to supporting the newlyweds with a bit of accountability, maybe conducting a 6 month or 1 year anniversary "check up." The results might be surprising!!!

    • yea, I love that idea of a “system” of accountability. One idea too is to assign a couple to them to walk through that first year.

    • That is exactly what I now ask all couples to commit to – a 3 month, 6 month and 12 month checkup. Tell them i won't marry them unless they do!

  25. You did a great job preparing Adam and I for things to come. :) Still something we go back and talk about occasionlly – even after 8 years. :)

  26. Good stuff, Ron. I also have each couple make a commitment to counseling. Not that they sign up for it after they get married, but acknowledge their willingness to seek professional direction before they say, “i do.” There will be some issues that they encounter on the marriage path that will need another pair of eyeballs on it. I have had numerous couple over the years share that this was key in keeping their marriage strong.