This article which continues the series on Marriage and the Family, deals with the important topic of premarital counseling. It is valuable reading for all.
“Did you hear about Josh and Camilla? They seemed such a lovely couple. They appeared to be so suited to each other. They had so much going for them. And now this!” “Could we have done something if we had known?” Obviously, there was a great deal hidden away beneath the surface. Now that failed marriages have reached alarming levels in our world, what can we do?
More and more, families, believers, and assemblies are faced with the problems, embarrassment, and the disaster of marriage breakdowns. We should be asking ourselves, “WHY?” When these tragedies strike, we are often faced with situations that are deemed unresolvable, irreparable, and impossible. Yet, with all we profess to know, we should have the most prepared and best-equipped marriages in the world. With all we know, we should be almost impervious to problems that plague the world. The Bible declares that, “Without counsel, purposes are disappointed, but in the multitude of counselors they are established” (Prov 15:22). Perhaps it would help to consider the subject of Preparedness in the following three ways:
A. PREMARITAL COUNSELING – The Need For It — It takes a great deal more to get a driver’s license these days than it does a marriage license. Driver training has value along the roads of our country. It is obviously far more important to receive and participate in counseling prior to a life long commitment in marriage.
We take care of our vehicles and ensure that they are safe. Why? Because, as we navigate our way through the twists and turns of our cities and highways, we don’t want to be found ill-equipped when it might involve damage to life and limb. Is it not then vitally important that we do what we can, prior to marriage, to see to it that every precaution has been taken? Shattered lives and testimonies could be spared if only we prepared for a couple’s journey across the sometimes rough and winding roads of life together.
Who Should Do The Counseling?
It has been the practice of some of those who understand the need, to try to fit in some counseling with couples for whom they will be officiating. It is a good practice with good intent, and often with good results. The days in which we live speak with a loud voice to us that even more extensive coverage and time needs to be taken. Many of the problems could be avoided if we followed the scriptural admonition to parents that they might give good guidelines and safeguards to their children. Also, we are instructed that older, godly women are to have a part in the instruction of younger women (Tit 2:3-5). It is my belief that men who are not only happily married but also local, and known to be totally astute and caring, also bear responsibility in more formal counseling as well. Those characteristics should describe elders in the local assembly who have a care and God-given responsibility for the welfare of the flock. These godly overseers will have to live with the results of their work.
How to Counsel:
Prayerfully, carefully, and systematically. It takes time to sit down with a couple (Prov 18:13). My conviction would be that written responses should be given to questions and issues discussed, as we are all far more careful about what we write than what we say (James 1:19).
What Should Be Covered:
Marriage and happy homes do not happen by accident. The subjects that could be taken up are varied, yet essential. Here are a number of suggestions.
1. What marriage is and the reasons for it, as designed by a loving Creator.
2. The Importance of the Word of God in the marriage and home for establishing principles and priorities.
3. Uniqueness of the individuals and acceptance of each other.
4. Differences (male & female) and the tremendous potential in God’s wonderful plan first mentioned in the Garden of Eden.
5. Your marriage needs — 3 kinds of Love – eros (Intimacy in Marriage), phileo, and agape, the differences and uniqueness are combined in these three aspects of love.
6. Goals in marriage – number of children.
7. Fulfilling needs – there are many facets of need.
8. Roles, respect and responsibility – woman’s place and the man’s place.
9. Decision making – your percentage of decision.
10. In-laws or outlaws – your choice!
11. Communication – in so many different ways.
12. Conflict and resolution – What causes conflict? – Do we unwittingly “Sound the battle cry” or do we clearly say, “Let’s work together!;” the responsibility to forgive.
13. Sex in Marriage – please note this calls for great care – all foolishness is out of place.
15. Finances and divine principles for them.
A young couple suggested to me that their counselor had instructed them to write a love letter to each other. What an excellent idea. What a delightfully unforgettable way to show your appreciation to the one you love. This was then read to their partner in front of the counselor. Another suggestion that they participated in was when they were required to write out their own individual spiritual progress record and their spiritual goals. What a confession this would be when the heart is truly opened before each other.
What All Parties Should Attend With (Micah 6:8):
1. Honesty – The need for an honest heart before your intended partner, counselor, and the Lord is obvious.
2. Humility – Another invaluable attitude in all marriage and communication is a “WE” mentality. Many of the problems of our age can be easily traced to the “ME” and “MY” thinking that speaks of self-interests, pride, and self will. True dependence on God in prayer is an essential factor in reshaping our attitudes so that all we do will honor Him. 3. Hope -Expect that the God who designed marriage and companionship did it for our good and knows how to help us retain and experience the blessing of these valuable lessons. 4. Hearing ear and a willing heart – Seeking God’s help and a readiness to respond to His Word.
Frequency of These Sessions
That will depend on the availability of the individuals involved including the counselor who takes on this necessary work. Men who are considered full-time, due to the very nature of their labors, are usually not able to pursue this work as frequently as necessary It should be clear that this is a responsibility that true shepherds of the Lord’s people will take up in dependence upon the Lord.
B. FINANCIAL ISSUES
Although already mentioned as an area for discussion prior to marriage, it is significant enough that it deserves special mention here. Unfortunately, statistics reveal that financial matters are a leading cause of separation and divorce. We live in a world that is full of greed and covetousness. It is inevitable that it will affect all of us in lesser or greater measure. It actually reveals how materialistic we have become. Many marriages start out with such a debt load that there are bound to be problems paying it back, in addition to our responsibility for the normal cost of living. If your out go exceeds your income then your upkeep will be your downfall. Excessive and irresponsible spending can only lead to disaster. An illness or unexpected accident can severely strain the best-laid plans. A most interesting warning is presented in Hebrews 13, after the Lord has decreed that “Marriage is honorable in all,” He then speaks, “let your tum of mind be free from love of money, content with what you have”(EGT), then He goes on to remind us of the greatest resource we have in the same verse, “He hath said, I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.” It is followed with the confidence we can share today, “So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my Helper.”
This is a very real area of our lives in which we need to be guided by the Word of God. It is so important to recognize that, everything we have is a trust which has been placed in our care for administration. In recognition of that fact alone, there should be a portion set aside for Him, for the assembly of which we form a part, and for the Lord’s Work that we want to see advanced. If the principle of “God First” is lacking, how can we expect God to prosper us when we do not show Him the respect He deserves as the Great Auditor and Administer of our material blessings?
We are reminded that we are to provide for things honestly. We are to support our families and even provide for the future, should the Lord see fit (1 Tim 5:8). The need for a good job with suitable income and good benefits is clear. At the same time, it is clear that the Lord intends us to show the kind of spiritual balance that recognizes the claims of God on our time. Assuming that that exists and that we are not overworking just to get ahead financially and neglecting our wives and families, we need to be in agreement about the budgeting and balancing of our finances.
Do’s and Don’ts of budgeting:
Avoid credit spending. Do not budget every dollar you have. You need a reserve fund. If there is debt, deal with it first and refuse to allow yourself to repeat that mistake. You can’t have everything; you don’t need everything! Learn to live with less. Like the Quaker who saw the new neighbor moving his many possessions in next door, he called out, “Say neighbor, if you find something lacking, just call on me and I’ll tell you how to live without it.”
There are good books written on this subject which would be better to read before a difficulty has surfaced. I would recommend only one volume to all. I have found that it is best of all and you and I already have it – the Word of God.
What do you expect? This is not a perfect world, and we are not a perfect people. It is totally unreasonable to expect that nothing will ever come along to disturb our peace and pleasure.
On the other hand, it does not follow that divorce or unresolvable differences are inevitable and unavoidable. The very intention of marriage was for our good. Nothing can equal that loving, caring, and precious bond that blends two lives into one of fulfillment, responsibility, and usefulness. Thankfully, our God is far greater than our greatest need. He never lacks resources, wisdom, or power, and He giveth to all men liberally and upbradeth not! Expect Him to bless you as you seek to honor Him.
There are differences between “needs” and “wants.” For the believer, these principles can best be learned in the presence of God in prayer and with the Guidebook before us. Establish together the things that are needs. There will always be needs. Learn to listen to your partner. Carefully consider the other things and learn to distinguish them in fellowship with God. Keep in mind the principle of our stewardship of things and ask yourself, “Is this just for me, or is it going to enhance our lives together and be a help to our family? Will it be something that I can use for the help and hospitality of God’s people?” Resolving these things and working them out together with the Lord will bring the greatest fulfillment and blessing that the Great Designer ever intended for us. He purposed it. He planned it. He provided it, and blessed be His Name, He prospers it.