I am continuing my series on pre-marriage counseling by talking now about some of the practical issues that I like to address with young couples.
If you remember, the first post was designed to encourage churches to require premarital counseling because it is so helpful in the lives of the couple. In the last post I highlighted some Scriptural themes that put the whole marriage into a larger biblical context. We discussed themes such as the importance of worship, Christ’s love for them which frees them to love each other, becoming more like Christ and seeking to obey the gospel, serving the Lord and each other, and dependence on the Lord recognizing that they cannot do what is required on their own.
In this post and the next two, I would like to talk about the practical issues that I discuss when working with couples about to be married.
#1: Take out the Trash
I don’t mean how they deal with garbage. I am talking about their pasts. Every person comes to marriage with a history, a life-story. In that life story are wonderful memories, great experiences, and blessings. But often there are some painful memories, some things that they wish were different, and maybe a few skeletons in the closet.
I want to know two basic questions about their pasts:
1) Have they handled their past biblically? Have they confessed and repented for their sin? Have they learned how to trust the Lord for their innocent suffering? In other words, I want them coming to the marriage without any issues following behind them. For more information on helping your counselees deal with their past please see Steve Viars’ book, Putting the Past in Its Place.
2) Have they appropriately explained their past to the fiancée? I don’t believe that one person must give all the details about their past to anyone. However, there are some issues that should be known before one enters the covenant of marriage. I ask couples to divulge to one another information about (a) sexual history (e.g. intercourse, masturbation, pornography, etc); (b) criminal records; and (c) life long struggles (e.g. drugs, alcohol, etc.).
Asking couples to take out the trash is not easy – especially if there is a lot of trash. On the other hand, I really want them to adopt the mindset of Paul found in Phil 3. Dealing with the past now will equip each person to be in the best possible position to handle the marriage well.
#2: No Trespassing
I speak here of physical standards. Young couples are attracted to one another. That is a good thing. We should be a bit concerned if they were not. However, physical attraction has three very real dangers; (1) The Lord says that purity is his will (1 Thess 4) (2) Physical affection can encourage a person to be blind to (or overlook) very significant issues in the other person and (3) physical affection can create an environment of selfishness that will result in a disaster once the couple is married. This is not about being a scrooge or “old school.” This is about helping them learn to please God and serve one another in a very practical way. Thus, I ask couples to bring me a copy of their written standards.
We do not have a set of standards that we are looking for per se, but here are some of the basic categories that we hope the couple covers:
- A commitment to personal purity apart from one another. In other words, we hope that they have the desire to be pure and holy before the Lord whether with their fiancée or apart for him/her.
- A commitment not to intentionally arouse desires that cannot be righteously fulfilled before marriage. I would assume that there are a couple specific examples associated with this category.
- A commitment to seek accountability for purity as a couple and as an individual.
- A commitment to encourage one another in purity.
Pleasing the Lord in our purity should be motivation enough, but I also like to remind young couples that should the Lord tarry they will have 50-60 years of marriage. Thus, it is better to be self controlled, patient, and sacrificial in the 3-4 months before the wedding then it is to wish you were more self controlled for the 50-60 years of your marriage.
The next post will continue this subject by discussing expectations and problem solving.