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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

"To Knot or Not to Knot?" A Case For Pre-Engagement Counseling

I've had lots of opportunities to do premarital counseling in my years as pastor and counselor. 

I've always realized though, that by the time most couples arrange for their first premarital appointment, it's almost too late to be asking the critical question of whether it's wise for them to get married at all. Usually their wedding date has already been set and the couple is well on their way to the altar. 

Some years ago I began encouraging seriously relating couples to arrange for pre-engagement counseling--or at least talk things over with a pastor or other counselor before actually announcing their engagement. That idea spread, and numerous couples began to ask for such sessions. 

As a part-time counselor at Eastern Mennonite University, I introduced an annual workshop called “To Knot or Not to Knot?” for steadily dating but not-yet-engaged couples. This three-hour seminar began with a discussion panel made up of a recently married couple, an older couple, and a divorced person, each honestly sharing what they had learned from their own relationship. The female attendees then met for questions and conversation with the women presenters and the males with the male panelists. Each couple then completed a discussion exercise using sample questions from a premarital inventory. 

A special focus of the workshop was on distinguishing between normal differences and polar opposites. Most people agree that opposites do attract, but in real life, opposite traits are sure to cause serious frustrations. This is especially true if there are drastic differences involving matters of faith and values. 

Not surprisingly, some of the young adults involved in these sessions decided against becoming engaged. This was usually because one or both were already having serious reservations and needed help either to work through some major conflicts or to end the relationship. Not a happy prospect, to be sure, but far better than having a major disruption or a divorce later.

Will pre-engagement and premarital counseling guarantee that every couple will enjoy a happy, lifelong marriage? I wish. But if it helps even a few couples avoid the heartbreak of a later divorce and establish more stable relationships, it would certainly be worth the effort. 

(adapted from chapter three of "Lasting Marriage: The Owners' Manual") 
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