[This post was prompted by a recent conversation with a friend who’s considering engagement/marriage…]
Pastor Tam, the pastor who officiated our wedding, used to say that although couples came to him for premarital counseling, they had already set the wedding date, booked the restaurant for the banquet, even got professional pictures taken with them dressed in wedding garments; during the premarital counseling, even if he found serious issues between the couple, his attempts to ask the couple to reconsider or postpone their marriage often fall on deaf ears. It is understandable, because after many couples get engaged, all their energies are focused on creating that perfect wedding day. I think some couples wouldn’t even voluntarily choose to go through premarital counseling if they didn’t belong to a church that requires couples to do so.
Not only do I believe that counseling is essential, but I think it is most effective before the marriage proposal. I’m talking about pre-engagement counseling. Some people might say that counseling before proposal is awkward. However, if you date someone with any seriousness and purpose, your goal should be marriage, and it’s a goal that you two should not feel awkward to talk about.
Actually, Wendy and I went through both pre-engagement counseling and premarital counseling. I had a wise mentor in Texas, so after going there for a couple days of sightseeing, we spent a few days with him, doing nothing else except talking about marriage and relationship. It was a casual yet intense time (if that makes any sense…). He listened to us, provided great insights, asked probing questions, and he engaged us in deep sharing about our relationship and our future. He answered our fears and concerns, he corrected our expectations about marriage, and he pointed out our misconceptions. We used some light discussion material, but mostly it was the deep conversations that mattered much more. Today, I actually don’t remember any specific thing that we talked about during that time, but I know that this pre-engagement counseling experience had been a very important time for the formation of our marriage and our lives.
In contrast, our premarital counseling sessions were a bit more formal and less personalized, because the pastor used a standard set of materials on all couples. But the advantage was that we were able to cover more comprehensive topics concerning marriage and family that we needed to discuss.
Both pre-engagement and premarital counseling had their different roles, and I think all dating couples should pursue the opportunities to go through both of them!