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But before we can look at that we have to look at the process of getting married – how this happened in the past and how it has changed.
Typically 20, 30 or 40 years ago you would have a situation where people attend church, perhaps regularly, maybe not, but they have a church to which they “belong”. At some point in their lives they fall in love and decide to get married. The choice is obvious, if indeed there is even a choice: Meet with the local pastor and schedule the date with him. He then provides a short (or lengthy) counseling course over several weeks to prepare the young couple for marriage. And so it ran, regular as you like.
Fast forward to the present and the all too typical situation is no longer typical – it’s quite frenetic. If we are going to church its just one of myriad social activities – Work, Facebook, travel, email, conferences. We have cellphones making us available instantly all the time. So in the first place the single generation is far more likely to meet and fall in love with someone outside their own cultural or religious leanings. Once they do they rarely rush into marriage but rather move in together and live that way for months or even years. So by the time they get around to the subject of marriage they’ve all but lived together as a married couple for some time already. So they go off to see the local pastor and that’s where it gets complicated.
The first difficulty is that there is an issue that one or both have been pretty poor in attending church regularly. Or worse, they have different religious backgrounds. Both of these make for an awkward moment. Either the pastor refuses or he insists on the regular pre-marital counseling course and commitment to the church. The couple have already experienced life together and don’t feel it is totally necessary. Also neither want to “convert” or make a commitment they don’t feel so they decide that this is not the route for them.
So back to the original question: Should a couple get counseling before they are married? The simple answer is, yes. However it’s not that simple.
The first barrier in getting gain from anything is to recognise that there IS something to be gained. Enforced counseling or going through the motions will be time and money poorly invested.
And the truth is there is much to be gained from counseling, assuming of course that the counseling is of a high standard. What is the key factor in creating a successful marriage? What is a successful marriage – how is this defined by each partner and how does this relate to the other partner? What gets a couple through the stress and conflict that can arise in a marriage? How do you “keep it fresh” in the years that follow the honeymoon?
These are important issues and they change constantly – we are always growing (or should be) as individuals and with this growth comes change. What you think about life today is different to how you thought about it 10 years ago. Will your spouse change with you? How do you ensure you change and grow together?
Done right counseling is no wishy-washy, “let’s talk about our feelings”, type of activity. It’s a nuts and bolts look at the future partners will make together. And speaking as someone who has been married 21 years and counting – it’s a fantastic ride with wonderful rewards.
So, yes, counseling is important but make the decision together and demand you get everything you can from it.