The Importance of Premarital Counseling
About the Guest
Rob Green, a pastor of counseling at Faith Church, talks about the importance of premarital counseling. As Green walks couples through the counseling process, he talks to them about the difference between role and expectation. Some things a husband is commanded to do, like living with his wife in an understanding way and continually learning about her. But other things, like taking out the trash or mowing the lawn, varies from couple to couple. Green reminds couples to talk about their expectations and to focus building their marriage on Christ.
Rob Green talks about the difference between roles and expectations. Some things a husband and wives are commanded to do.But other things vary from couple to couple. Green reminds couples to address expectations.
The Importance of Premarital Counseling
Bob: From years of working with engaged couples, one thing Rob Green has learned is that the habits that are developed during the dating years are habits that will carry over
into the marriage.
Rob: A couple that explains how they have put Christ at the center of their relationship in dating don't have to spend a whole lot of time thinking about it now. Those who haven't done that, then the normal course of action is to say, “What we're going to try to do is to focus on some areas that we believe you need special attention on.” I tell the couples, right up front, “I care a little bit about the wedding ceremony, and I care a lot about the 50 years after it.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, September 2nd. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. How can people, doing premarital counseling, help engaged couples get habits developed that will serve them well in marriage? We'll talk more about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. So, you've got lots of couples at your church, who get married every year; right?
Dave: Yes; we have lots of couples.
Bob: Do you do personal premarital counseling with these couples?
Dave: We used to.
Ann: Yes; we used to quite a bit, actually.
Dave: And I, actually, to be honest, hated it. [Laughter] I hated doing that. [Laughter]
Dave: I can't believe I'm saying this out loud, but—
Ann: I know!
Dave: —they'd sit on our couch in our family room. You'd look over, and they're so clueless; they're not even listening! [Laughter] They're like: “Oh, it's going to be so much different for us. We're going to love each other.” It’s like, “I want to see you in six months.”
But now—it's very important, and we have an army of mentors and counselors that do that.
Bob: Do you do classes at your church?—
Dave: Yes; we do.
Bob: —and mentors that follow up from there?
Ann: Yes; we do both.
Dave: And it's very important—I'm kidding that it isn’t.
Ann: And we also recommend people to go to the Weekend to Remember®—the FamilyLife® Weekend to Remember conference, because that's just a great resource before you get married, too.
Bob: You did that before you got married.
Ann: We did, and—
Bob: —and you're still married—[Laughter]—so there we go! [Laughter]
Ann: That’s good.
Dave: We're always looking for great resources. Do you know any great resources that couples could use?
Bob: I might have something to recommend to you here. We've got a guest, who's joining us this week on FamilyLife Today,who has written a resource for laymen and women or for pastors, who do pastoral counseling. Rob Green joins us on FamilyLife Today. Rob, welcome.
Rob: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Bob: The book Rob has written is called Tying the Knot: A Premarital Guide to a Strong and Lasting Marriage. I presume you've done lots of premarital preparation for couples.
Rob: I have.
Bob: Would you think it would be dozens?—or hundreds?
Rob: Probably more in the dozens category. We have a lot of people in our church, who seek premarital counseling. It's part of our requirement: “If you want to use the church facilities, and you want to act like God is going to be the center of your marriage, then you really need to go through premarital counseling to have that take place.”
Dave: I heard you were quite the dater, growing up; so did you go through premarital counseling? [Laughter]
Rob: Oh my word! [Laughter] Yes; you know, I was certainly a ladies' man—that's for sure. [Laughter] In fact, I was such a ladies' man in high school that the girl I asked to go to prom went by herself. [Laughter] That, right there, is the epitome of a ladies' man. [Laughter] I did actually go through premarital counseling with my wife, and we had a great time doing it.
Ann: Rob, is it a waste of time? Do some couples feel like, “Oh, we're not going to need this”; because Dave and I were like that; does it help?
Rob: Oh, it absolutely helps. One of the great opportunities about doing personal premarital counseling is that you get to know the individuals. You find out where their strengths and weaknesses are. You can actually help them prepare for some roadblocks or some obstacles that could come along the way.
Bob: Yes; at your church—you're in Lafayette, Indiana; part of Faith Baptist Church there—you lead the counseling ministry. Is it you and others—like the Wilsons have at their church—who are doing the premarital prep?
Rob: Yes; absolutely. Some of our staff do it, and we also have lay individuals who also do it.
Bob: Do you find couples come in, ready to learn? Or are they—you described yourselves as naïve. Mary Ann and I were naïve; I mean, we thought—here's what we thought when we came in: “We're Christians.” And we were looking at it, going: “Our parents weren't Christians like we were. We're Christians—we love the Lord; we love each other. That should take care of pretty much everything, as long as we love Jesus and love each other; so what do we really need to be counseled on?”
Now, we sat through it and we—I don't think we took any notes—but we listened to what they said and nodded our heads. It was like, “We're never going to deal with any of these things really.”
Ann: And what happened? When did you come to the realization that you needed help?
Bob: Here's the story that was kind of the “aha” moment for us. Mary Ann and I had dated for four years. It had been pretty much our pattern, during our dating years, that
I liked to sleep in on Saturdays. We get married—the first Saturday morning that we're in our house—I'm in bed; it's 9:00 on a Saturday morning. Mary Ann's an early riser—she's been up for an hour-and-a-half—so at 9:00, she comes in and raises the shade. [Laughter]
I'm awakened by this light in the room, and I look up and there's my wife. She says, “Good morning.” I responded with—not “Good morning”; but “What are you doing?!” She said, “Well, I just thought you'd want to get up.” I said, “No!” She pulled the shade back down, and I could tell—I lay there and I thought: “Okay; I just upset her. I need to go talk to her.” So, an hour-and-a-half later, I went and talked to her—[Laughter]—after I woke up at 10:30.
She said: “I knew what had been your pattern during dating; but, also, my dad—
Ann: Oh no!
Dave: Here it comes!
Bob: “My dad, on Saturday mornings—he would get up and he would get into his to-do list for the day. And I just thought…” In the back of her mind was the thought: “Once you're married, that's what you do. You start to act like my dad did.”
We find that couples would come into premarital stuff, Rob, with—they're not even aware of the expectations that they have of each other and how that's going to play out. They wind up being surprised in those early months of marriage, when these adjustments have to be made: ”Oh, you think like that,” “Oh, you act like that,” “You do this kind of stuff…”—right?
Rob: Yes; for sure. One of the things that I like to talk to them about is the difference between an expectation and a role that God has given. The way I like to talk about the expectation part is: “To enjoy the journey, here are the things that you know you must do. First Peter 3:7 reminds husbands, “Likewise…”—meaning, “Like the example Christ set in 1 Peter 2—“Likewise, live with your wives in an understanding way.” You're going to have to be a learner of your wife, and that's going to go on throughout your entire marriage.
Rob: That's a responsibility.
Getting up at 7:00 in the morning to start a to-do list is not necessarily something that God says a husband has to do.
Dave: Oh,I think that's in the Bible somewhere—[Laughter]—it's got to be there!
Bob: So does Mary Ann. [Laughter] She thinks it's in the Bible somewhere.
Rob: It's helping them to discern: “What are the things that I'm actually asking my upcoming spouse to do? Is it the things that God says, or is it the things that I've just decided in my own mind?”
Bob: Yes; and those expectations—like I said, they're hidden; we're not even aware that they're there.
I remember sitting with a couple, doing their premarital. I asked them the question, “Who took out the trash in your family?” She said, “My dad did”; and he said, “My mom did.” I said, “Who will take it out when you guys get married?” Their default was that the other person was going to do it.
There are all kinds of unanticipated expectations that we bring into marriage. Is there a way to prepare a couple, on the front-end, to say, “Some of these surprise moments are going to happen” and “When they do, here's how to respond to those…”?
Rob: Oh, I believe—absolutely. You know, Romans 8:31-39 is a beautiful passage, describing our security in Christ. As a result of the security that we have in Christ, as individuals, that gives us the freedom to love, and to give, and to serve. Even if there are some expectations that I don't know are coming, I have, as the person, who is holding the expectation, I have the ability to say: “You know, I don't need that,” and “The reason I don't need that is because I have what I need in Christ already. I am free now to either receive this or to give it up.”
Part of enjoying the journey—and figuring out how you're going to do life—is learning about what the person did and what they're good at. Think even about the values or the skills and abilities that each person brings to the marriage. My wife, for example, is an incredible person at fixing things; I'm not! You know, I wish I was the handyman; but the reality is that, if I put in a lightbulb, I'm like: “Babe, you need to come over here and love the fire out of me; because your man just took care of the house.” [Laughter] The reality is—she like redoes the kitchen; well, I didn't know that!
Rob: I didn't know that, going in to it; but it was something that I learned.
As a result of that—that's a picture of, “Wow; look how God has equipped this person to serve and to love,”—that I had no idea was even there. That is something that we can enjoy, watching it change.
I don't have to be wound up about whether or not she takes out the trash or I take out the trash. I get to see the ways in which God has gifted my spouse to serve and to contribute to our family, which at this point is two; and may, someday, grow into something more than two.
Bob: What if neither of you take out the trash?—that could get to be a problem. [Laughter]
Rob: Yes; sooner or later, somebody's got to do it; right?
Bob: At some point, you do have to look at each other and say, “Okay; how can I sacrifice to serve you and to serve us?”—rather than the expectation of—“You're here to serve me and to fulfill my expectations.”
Ann: Is it important for couples to talk about their expectations? I'm recalling one time I met with this woman, and she was about to be married in a few months. I asked her: “What are your expectations of what your marriage will look like? Specifically, what kind of things are you expecting your husband to do?” She had this list—I bet she had 50 things on this list. It went all the way to when he comes in the door: “I want him to drop everything; I want him to find me; I want him to kiss me passionately,”—it was very detailed. My thought was, “Uh oh.” Is it important for couples to talk about that?
Rob: I believe it's very important to talk about that. Again, I want to encourage them to build their marriage on Christ. What I'm interested in them doing is loving Christ with all their heart, because it's then that they're going to be able to love one another. The two great commandments in Matthew 22 are: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Therefore, if the person is really passionate about their relationship with Christ, then they're going to be able to look at that expectation list through a different lens. Rather than: “This is what I have to have in order to be fulfilled,”—as opposed to—“I'm already fulfilled in Christ; and that frees me to love, and to give, and to serve others.”
I'm not asking about the expectations so much that I have for my upcoming spouse as much as I need to be asking: “What does God tell me that I should be doing? Let's focus on what I need to be doing in order to please Him and to create a God-centered marriage, then we'll be able to work out the expectations.”
Dave: When you sit down with a couple—or you have other people doing the premarital counseling for couples in your church—I mean, Chapter 1 in your book talks about Jesus being the center: “How do you enter into that discussion?”
Rob: I think it starts with the first conversation with them, which is actually not over that section of the book. It's an introduction meeting, where we're celebrating the fact that their relationship has gotten to the place where they believe that God would be pleased with them living their lives together.
I often ask a couple of very simple, but important questions. The first one is to the guy: “There are three billion women on this planet, so why her?” I say the same thing to the woman as well: “There are three billion men on this planet; why him?” It puts a context of God into this whole scenario.
And then what I ask them to do is to share their testimony of how they came to know Christ as their Lord and Savior. Have they come to a clear understanding of their sin and their need to repent, and to believe in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ?
That sets the foundation for what we're going to talk about, with Jesus as the center.
What I'm hoping is that, when we have that conversation—what the guy says about his conversion—he's told her many times before. And what she has said about her conversion—he has heard many times before. It's an opportunity for me to figure out, “How God-centered has their dating been?”
Ann: What if it hasn't been God-centered? Where do you go from there?
Rob: We're going to go to the same spot either way—it's just: “How long are we going to camp there?” When you think about the topics that a person would cover in premarital counseling, those are introductions; but that doesn't mean you only get one week. It might be, that if you sense a real lack of spiritual vitality in the couple, you're going to take a break and say, “We're not moving on, because we have some important work to do right here.”
Just as a history could lead you to that same conclusion as well; for example, if there were abuses, or a person came from a very challenging home, or maybe their father or mother really was hurtful to them. That may lead you to spend a little bit more time in one area, simply because of the life story and the life history of that particular person.
A couple that explains how they put Christ at the center of their relationship in dating don't have to spend a whole lot of time thinking about it now; those who haven't done that, that becomes a key point of premarital counseling.
Bob: If you're sitting down with a couple, and your diagnosis is: “This couple is spiritually shallow,” do you kind of complete the course and go: “Okay; you've been through the course. You can get married,”—or do you step in and say—“I can't continue with you”? How do you handle that?
Rob: I wouldn't say that the normal course of action is to say that we can't continue. The normal course of action is to say, “What we're going to try to do is to focus on some areas that we believe you need special attention on.” I tell the couples, right up front: “I care a little bit about the wedding ceremony, and I care a lot about the 50 years after it. Since my greater concern is the 50 years after it, it becomes so important for us to talk about each one of these elements, like your relationship with Christ—like has your dating relationship been built on Christ? It becomes absolutely crucial for us before we can advance further.”
It's one of the reasons why we want time. We don't like it when couples say: “You know what? I'm getting married—let's see—it's May 8th today. I'm going to get married on
May 17th. Can we do the premarital counseling between now and May 17th?” The answer is “No—
Rob: —“of course not.”
Dave: It's interesting—as you sit down with these couples, you start to see symptoms or signs. What do you do?
Rob: We have, on occasion—I don't say it's normal—but we have, on occasion, said that we believe the best thing to do is to put a delay on. In extreme cases, have actually said, “We cannot participate in this relationship any further,”—but that's the nuclear option; that's not the way we like to pastor.
Rob: We like to shepherd gently.
Rob: We like to move people and encourage them to come along, and lead them gently.
And many times, God gives grace for that.
Rob: And even, a couple who's coming in weak, doesn't end weak.
Bob: Yes; well, you stop and think where we all were when we got married; right? I mean, if a counselor was sitting with us, I'm sure they sat there and thought, “Okay; this couple is going to have some issues, going in.”
Ann: They actually said that to Dave and me. We took a test as we came on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ®.
Dave: I don't remember this at all. [Laughter] They were wrong!
Ann: It was called the Taylor-Johnson—do you remember? Did you take that?
Bob: Oh, sure. Yes; right; yes.
Ann: So we took that. Rob, you may not be aware of that.
Rob: Oh, I know that test exceedingly well. [Laughter]
Ann: Okay; well, you come to the dominance area—and the counselor looks at both Dave and me and goes—“Oh, no!” [Laughter] We were like: “What?!” We'd only been married a few months.
Dave: When the counselor says, “Oh, no!” you know it's bad.
Ann: Yes; he goes: “Well, Ann, you're really strong and high in the dominance; and Dave—you guys are right together. You guys are going to have some huge fights!”
Dave: I remember him saying that. I remember looking at him like, “What's this guy know?!” [Laughter] He was exactly right; I mean, he had wisdom. We were just being immature not to listen to that.
Bob: I think—here's the point: we were all young, inexperienced, naïve. You sit with these couples—I'm sure you think, “Oh, God's going to need a lot of grace in this situation for them to be able to make it work.” But that's what God does—He pours out grace on couples.
That's why, in your counseling, it's less about technique and “Do they have their communication skills down?” I mean, you talk about communication, and finances, and you talk about intimacy; but you keep coming back to: “Where's Jesus in the midst of all of this?”—because, that way—whatever issues come up in the marriage—if they keep coming back to Jesus, that will get worked out; right?
Ann: And every chapter's titled that: “Love, with Jesus at the Center,” “Problem Solving, with Jesus at the Center.”
Bob: —“with Jesus at the Center”; right; yes.
Rob: You know, in 1 Corinthians 13, we're told: “Love is patient; love is kind; it's not jealous. Love does not brag; it is not arrogant. Does not act unbecomingly. It does not seek its own; it's not provoked. Does not take account a wrong suffered.”
When I talk with the couples that are going to get married about this passage—and I send them off to do some homework on their own and then to come back—and I ask them about the text: “Tell me, what was your impression of this passage? Talk to me a little bit about your understanding of love now.”
Here's the answer that I'm looking for—and it gets to the point you were making—the answer I'm looking for is: “There's no way on planet earth that I can possibly do this.” It's not that: “I love this person so much that I'm just like Jesus,”—it's not even close to that! Instead, what it is—is that: “There's no way, without the grace of God operating in my heart every moment of every day, that I'm going to be able to do that.”
Bob: The first time I ever did premarital with a couple—the first night we were together—I said: “Get out a piece of paper. I want you to write down your definition of love.” I got two pieces of paper back that were like Hallmark® cards; right? You know: “Love is a warm walk on the beach,”—and just all this stuff/love is this whooshy stuff. I said, “Okay; great,”—I just folded it up.
At the end of our premarital, I said: “Get out a piece of paper. I want you to write down your definition of love.” And here's what I was looking for—a simplified answer, which is: “Love is commitment and self-sacrifice. If you can be committed and die to self—‘Greater love has no man than this; he lays down his life for his friend (John 15:13).’ He's committed.”
I remember handing back to that couple: “Here's what you wrote the first night,”—they'd forgotten all about it. They started reading and they laughed. I thought, “Okay; we've made some progress.” If they look at their own stuff and go, “Yes, we were puppies.” You know, love is blind; but marriage is an eye-opener. They saw: “We had a romantic view of love. Now, we have a more biblical view of love.”
Rob, that's what you keep trying to lead couples to in your book, Tying the Knot: A Premarital Guide to a Strong and Lasting Marriage. Again, this is something that anybody can take a younger couple through—I know that churches are using this; individuals are using this as a guidebook. We've got copies of Rob's book, Tying the Knot, in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center . You can order it from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, the book is called Tying the Knot: A Premarital Guide to a Strong and Lasting Marriage by Rob Green. Order online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call 1-800-358-6329—that's 1-800-”F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
I don't know how many of our listeners know this, but really, this issue of marriage preparation is how FamilyLife began. The original Weekend to Remember®marriage getaways were all engaged couples—not married couples—engaged couples; so this has been central to who we are, as a ministry, from the very beginning.
The President for FamilyLife, David Robbins, is here with us. Premarital preparation is something that can't be taken for granted. This is important; isn't it?
David: It is. Meg and I love doing it with other couples, who are about to be married. But really, this whole conversation just takes me back to my own pre-marriage counseling. We had a pastor who took us through a workbook that was actually done by FamilyLife.
It's Preparing for Marriage, which is still a resource that we have. It's such a great resource; because it alternates biblical wisdom, and then there's chapters on practical exercises.
Today's conversation is such an important conversation—that we think about investing in pre-married couples. It takes me back to the expectations worksheet in Preparing for Marriage—I remember filling it out—and you don't know the expectations you have until you really list them out. It's just one of those practical exercises—I remember being asked point-blank questions—that I go, “I didn't even know that I had an expectation for that.” And then I remember having the date with Meg, where we talked about it—
David: —and going, “Ooh, I really didn't know I had expectations…”
Bob: Things like: “Who balances the checkbook in marriage?” “Who takes out the garbage in marriage?”
David: Those are the easy ones, Bob; yes. [Laughter] But expectation without communication equals conflict; you know? You go into marriage, not even knowing you have these.
I just want to echo today's conversation—whether it's Tying the Knot—getting that resource; Preparing for Marriage is another resource for pre-marriage couples. Whatever you do, get people having these types of conversations so they can be better prepared as they enter into marriage.
Bob: And as married couples, you are competent to sit down with an engaged couple and talk about the journey that's ahead for them. These kinds of resources can help, but you can do this.
David: I think the body of Christ needs us to do it, and the next generation needs us to do it.
Bob: Well, again, if you want information about the resources we have available to help you get engaged with younger couples—things like: The Art of Marriage; or the Preparing for Marriage workbook; Rob's book, Tying the Knot—go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, and the information is available there. Or call us at 1-800-358-6329, and someone on our team can help you with whatever it is you're looking for.
We hope you can join us back again tomorrow. Rob Green's going to be here again, and we're going to talk about some of the challenges that parents face when their adult kids are pursuing marriage—like: “What do you do if your son or daughter is engaged to somebody and you've got concerns?”—how do you handle that as a parent? We'll talk about that tomorrow. I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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