If I Were Doing Your Premarital Counseling

My calendar includes lots of Post-COVID weddings and I’m officiating at least two of them. In some cases, the couples were “paper married” during the pandemic and now it’s time for the “big wedding” (also known as “the God wedding” in our family although the LORD blesses courthouses weddings too.)

I’ve officiated in hundreds of weddings and I’ve always found premarital counseling to be less than satisfying, often because it’s an afterthought once the reception venue has been reserved and the flowers have been ordered. I like PREPARE-ENRICH for premarital counseling, but what I’d really like would be for couples – in the weeks and months before their ceremony – to select one of the following questions to discuss in depth over the course of a whole week or a whole month.

Consider it a date. While sipping coffee together on a Saturday morning, choose one of these questions and discuss thoroughly. The point of premarital counseling – at least for this pastor – is to ensure you have discussed what’s important in depth.

I don’t care if you want four children or no children – but I care that you two make that decision together. Please don’t save the “Do you want children?” conversation for after the wedding. Yes, circumstances shift and decisions we make in our 20s or 30s do not make sense perhaps in our 40s or 50s. But please- if you are planning a life with someone- make time to have a Question of the Week (or Month) prior to the wedding. Here are some suggestions:

  • For Christians and anyone who celebrates Christmas, do you set up a real tree or an artificial tree? White lights or colored lights? If Christmas always means the smell of fresh spruce and it’s can’t be Christmas without those fat colored bulbs, speak up now. Battles have been fought over lesser issues.
  • What holidays will be important for you to continue to celebrate together when you are married? And why? What do they mean to you? If you were raised Christian but your grownup self doesn’t care about Easter Sunday, make that clear. If you were raised Hindu, is Diwali essential for you? Do you fast for Ramadan if you were raised Muslim? Keep in mind that – if children are in the picture – you might not care about the faith of your childhood until you have children of your own. What will it be important for you to teach your children about faith traditions?
  • How do you like to spend your birthday? And please don’t say that birthdays don’t mean that much to you, when deep down in your heart, you are crushed when there’s no cake.
  • What kind of surprises do you like and what kind do you hate? Most of us agree that a bad surprise is a surprise credit card bill for $500 worth of cute shoes. Many of us disagree about surprise parties. Discuss.
  • What do you intend to be your first earthly allegiance? Say it out loud. Will your first earthly allegiance be your spouse? Your parents? Your job? Your BFF from college? I have firm opinions on this one: if you are committing yourself to be someone’s partner for life, that person is your first earthly allegiance. It’s important for you to be each other’s #1 person.
  • What are you willing to do to save your marriage during times of stress? Seek counseling? Move in with your in-laws? Defy your parents in favor of your spouse? Yes, these are hard conversations perhaps, but it’s good to talk about. You don’t have to commit to anything right now, but – if things got really hard – what would you be willing to do? Talk worst case scenarios for a minute. Then treat yourselves to some ice cream to recover.
  • What would make you leave the marriage? (Remember that “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health” part of the traditional vows?) This is another one of those tough questions, but it’s important to hear each other say it. I’m tempted to share sad stories here, but I’ll spare you.
  • What do you imagine your golden years will be like? Do you hope to retire to the beach? Do you plan to keep working until you die? Do you dream of settling down in a retirement community with golf carts? (Again, this conversation may change dramatically through the years, but please circle back to this from time to time. Two of my parishioners got divorced after their 50th wedding anniversary trip to Hawaii because one had always assumed they’d retire to Florida and the other one had no intentions of moving to Florida. It was not good.)

So, here are eight questions for the next eight weeks or months. If you are planning to be married, feel free to engage in DIY Premarital Counseling. Don’t be afraid of conflict. You love each other, right? It will be okay.

5 responses to “If I Were Doing Your Premarital Counseling

  1. Mary Marcotte

    Great questions! I think I told you my daughter and now son in law exchanged ‘10 things you should know about me ‘ every day for the first 6 weeks of their long distance courtship. For their first Valentines she printed out all these exhales as a gift. It was enough to fill a three inch binder to overflowing. Eleven years and two kids later they still communicate well.

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  2. Patrick Retton

    I still remember our marriage counseling session with you at Guapo’s in Shirlington over sangria! We still have all of the paperwork and questionaires too! A little over ten years ago.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. That post-50th breakup is a stunner. Who would have thought they hadn’t talked about that beforehand.

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  4. Love this. “What are the deal breakers” is an important question. Nobody wants to even THINK about it let alone talk about it – and many don’t know what their dealbreakers are – until after the fact. Thanks for this, Jan.

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