Premarriage Counseling is not first about the marriage

That sounds crazy doesn’t it?  It sounds as if the counseling is completely disconnected to the reason for counseling – the marriage.  However, let me suggest 5 themes of Scripture that are more about marriage and life than many young couples realize.  

Help them understand that their walk with/worship of Christ will shape their life with each other

Every believer in Jesus knows that Christ has paid the penalty for their sins.  Every believer understands that Christ dwells in them.  But not every believer responds with love, obedience, commitment, and care in response to Jesus.  Wise is the person who considers first their own walk with the Lord before marriage and then considers the walk of their potential spouse.  We are not talking about perfection, but we are highlighting the importance of a proven track record of living for Christ.

Many young couples do not see the connection between how a person follows and worships Jesus and how they will function in the most sacred of all human relationships – the marriage.  I don’t blame them.  When I got married 17 years ago I didn’t either.  But let’s resolve now to do all we can to help the next generation.

So help your counselees cultivate the spiritual disciplines.  Help them worship the Lord in new and greater ways during this engagement time.  It will greatly help them prepare to walk with the Lord together after they are married.

Their willingness to grow to be more like Christ will be an indicator for how willing they will be to change when they get married

This second concept is related to the first, but it has a different emphasis.  Everyone who gets married must change.  As couples move closer to one another annoying habits, communication problems, role reversals, and differences of opinion become much larger than they were in dating.  In fact, sometimes a young person will say, “the person I dated is NOT the same person I married.”  There is probably some truth to that.  I would argue that it is very difficult to know the various ways a person needs to change until he or she has been married for a little while.  But you can do this … you can help them understand that there are ways that God wants them to change.  As a result, the couple should anticipate the need for change and welcome it. If we were to put fancy terminology to this point it would be the need for “progressive sanctification.”

Their understanding of Christ’s love for them will impact how they love each other

There is no greater example of unconditional love than the Lord Jesus.  Not only were we rebellious and sinful before we were saved, but we are also rebellious and sinful after we are saved.  In the midst of our rebellion, the Lord loves us anyway – albeit sometimes with discipline.  In marriage, what happens when one person sins against his or her spouse?  It is in moments like these where the love of Jesus is difficult to model.  It is easy to love when things are good, but it is much more of a challenge when we have been hurt. So couples need to understand that they have the responsibility to love in both the joyous moments and the frustrating moments.  Their willingness and ability to accomplish this difficult task will be somewhat dependent on how much they have meditated on Christ’s love for them.

How they serve the Lord will reflect how willing they are to serve one another

Another important concept relates to service.  Young couples love to spend time together.  They love being around one another.  As a general rule, they enjoy serving one another.  However, almost all of the service has occurred on “their terms.”  In other words, they dictated the times and places for service.  In marriage, the times of service are not necessarily on our schedule.  They come at inconvenient times, they come when we are just a bit irritated with our spouse, and they come when we want to be served.  Helping young couples see the importance of service to one another in the challenging moments will help them prepare for a life together.

Their dependence on the Lord in life will play out in their willingness to fulfill God’s instructions for marriage.

I regularly ask my premarriage couples to read 1 Cor 13 and summarize biblical love for me.  They talk about a number of the characteristics found in 1 Cor 13 but rarely do they get the main point.  They miss the reality that they, on their own, cannot do 1 Cor 13.  The Lord has given us a standard that we cannot possibly meet without his help.  A husband cannot love his wife like Christ loves the church.  A wife cannot submit to her husband as to the Lord.  Both of those tasks cut against our natural tendencies toward selfishness and independence.  Marriage, given the requirements in the Bible, is an impossible task on one’s own. So help them see that their ability to do what the Bible requires is how closely they are to the Lord Jesus (He told his disciples in John 15, “without me you can do nothing.”).

By the time a young couple has decided to marry, they have overcome many obstacles in their relationship.  But many have not thought about the issues of dependence on the Lord, importance of service, commitment to worship, love like Christ, and the need for change. These simple lessons could save a lifetime of struggle.  In the next article we will consider some of the practical truths that should also be part of your church’s plan to prepare young couples for marriage.

Rob Green
Pastor Rob Green oversees Faith Biblical Counseling Ministries. A seasoned counselor, Rob also teaches others how to counsel--through FBCM's training conferences and Faith Bible Seminary's MABC program.