Pre-Marital Counseling Format

Introduction

The purpose of this course is to acquaint the counselor with the tools used in pre-marital counseling.  This course is intended to be used as a stepping stone to knowledge, not an all-inclusive/comprehensive reference.

In counseling couples before marriage, the counselor should be prayed up and willing to listen to both the couple and the Lord.  It is important that the counselor be willing to listen and help the couple understand the step they are about to take.  Premarital counseling should always touch on each subject, with the couple gaining an understanding of what a marriage is.  Many problems that occur in marriages today occur because of lack of premarital counseling.

Anyone who wishes to become a premarital counselor should understand the importance of the above.  As more couples are counseled, marriages will be stronger and will last.  As more marriages last, the church will be that much stronger, and the Lord will be glorified in this.

Premarital counseling should be at least 4-5 sessions long.  That way, you as a counselor can be able to go over all the points needed to and also be able to see if more counseling, either one on one or as a couple is needed.

There are three crucial areas that cause difficulties in a marriage.

Money

How much debt is okay? Who handles the finances? Do you have two accounts?  How will this be settled before the wedding?  How much will you be able to keep before putting together for bills?  And so on.

Responsibilities

Will both work? If both work, who cleans?  Who takes out the trash?  Dishes?  Household responsibilities? Who dals with the kids? Who makes the “final” decision? And so on.

Sex

How much?  What is acceptable? When may it be withheld? And so on.

 

Benefits of premarital counseling:

Counseling brings reality to unrealistic expectations.  (People often assume their relationship is unique and will not encounter marital problems)

Counseling helps uncover immaturity in one or both of the partners that can spell disaster to the marriage.  Your counsel can facilitate the revelation and discussion of the self-centered tendencies that strain a marriage.

Counseling helps define each individual’s responsibility in the marriage relationship.

Counseling encourages healthy, Godly patterns in the couple’s communication style.

Counseling helps the couple understand the role of sex in the overall meaning of marriage.

Counseling helps a couple know what to expect as they adjust to married life.

Counseling highlights unaddressed issues from families of origin or previous marriages.

Counseling directly addresses serious problems that are likely to destabilize the marriage.

 

For the counselor:

Your approach to premarital sessions should be interactive. This is not a time for lecturing, though there will be opportunity for you to share truths from Scripture and personal experience. Send the couple home from each counseling session with “homework” to do.  This will make the counseling discussions more meaningful and allow you to cover more ground in the time you have together. Emphasize to the couple that you take premarital counseling seriously and that it is not just another motion to go through on the way to the altar. And yet, don’t forget to have fun. A little humor can help even the healthiest couple with the stresses of engagement and wedding planning.

Many couples tend to resist premarital counseling. Their unrealistic view of their ability to survive normal marriage challenges makes them feel invincible.  Encourage their commitment to each other while discouraging unrealistic expectations of marriage. Be willing to set goals for each couple, as well as use homework to help guide the counselee’s towards a better, realistic view of marriage. The Boundaries series of books is excellent material for them to read.

Remember:

People do the things they do, because they believe the things they believe.

 

How many sessions and for how long?

As for the length of counseling sessions, it should be four to five.  One or two will not give the counselor a chance to know all necessary to guide effectively, while more than five will usually just get redundant.  Most premarital counseling programs recommend five sessions.  This would give the counselor enough to complete some measurement instruments and thoroughly discuss them and enough to discuss key areas of married life. As well, each session should last between one and a half hours to two hours.

 

Get to know your counselees. 

Are they saved?  If so, are they serving the Lord?

All counseling should always lead the counselees to a closer relationship to Jesus.  This primary question will always guide you to a better understanding of the direction to go with the counseling sessions.

What is the basic history of the relationship?

This is important because it will guide you into knowledge of how prepared they are to even approach marriage.  Too many marriages today are hastily made, and sorrowfully ended.  By understanding the history of the relationship you, as a counselor, will be able to guide them to a more meaningful direction to prepare for marriage.

Have they set a wedding date?  When is it?

If they have already set a date, and are wanting to “do the right thing” in getting counseled, be careful of prejudgment.  Carefully guide them in the areas this course will set forth, so they can approach the wedding correctly.  Always find reasons for the wedding.

Ask them to individually describe their family histories.  How well do they understand the impact of their families of origin on their current behavior?

They may not understand that they are “marrying the family”.  By understanding the family histories, the couple can know ahead of time where difficulties lie, and can effectively be able to deal with them ahead of time instead of as a crisis.

What life crises have they experienced?

As a couple gets to know each other, the past crisis experiences can help them to learn to help and uplift each other.  If there has been death, divorce, financial, or other crises in the past, they can deal with it before and put it aside instead of having to deal with it magnified during another crisis when married.

What other significant dating or live-in relationships have they had?  How and why were they terminated?

Openness about past relationships will allow healing if needed

Understanding the past and how it was dealt with will give you and the counselee’s knowledge of how to work through their relationship.

Has either of the counselees been married previously?  Are there Children? What are the custody arrangements?

See the section on children.

What are the strengths of this relationship?

Strengths always give a foundation to build on.  The more strengths, the more solid the relationship.

In what areas does this couple have the most problems?

Identifying problem areas will always help in guiding the counselees to a more solid relationship because they can learn to deal with them now instead of later.

Reasons for marrying

8 reasons couples want to marry.

  1. Pregnancy – about 25% of all weddings occur when the bride is pregnant.   Through God’s grace, draw these couples towards forgiveness and restoration.
  2. Rebound from a failed relationship.
  3. Rebellion against parents and an attempt to control their own lives.
  4. Escape from an unhappy home environment.
  5. Loneliness—expecting marriage to solve relational issues.
  6. Physical appearance of spouse, to satisfy a person’s own sexual needs, or gain society’s approval.
  7. Social pressure—“You shouldn’t be single-it is normal to be married.”
  8. Guilt and pity for the one you marry.

If you as a counselor feel that any of these motives lie behind a couple’s decision to marry, directly address your concerns with them.   If a delay in the wedding is necessary, you should be willing to work with the couple either directly or through a referral until they are ready to marry or decide to cancel the wedding. If you are a pastor, in an extreme case, you may refuse to officiate at a couple’s wedding.

 

Finances – before and during marriage

Whose bank account?

Finances are probably one of the top reasons for marital strife.  By determining at the beginning how to set up finances; a couple has begun a process that will help their marriage when times are difficult. One of the primary principles of a marriage is that the two become one.  If both have bank accounts, after marriage how will they handle the finances.

As a counselor, you will need to have a good understanding of budgeting and how to handle money issues.

Questions to ask each of the counselees are:

  1. How was money handled before by the family? Was is used responsibly?
  2. Does money provide security, self esteem, validation?
  3. What is your current financial condition? Major bills, credit cards, savings?
  4. Do you currently have a budget? Have you ever tried to budget, and what happened when you did?
  5. Can you give me a list of bills vs. income?

By getting to the root of the finances, you bring the counselee to a point of seeing where they are financially.  If the need is there, you can refer them to a financial counselor.

Common misuses of money you can identify are:

  1. Anesthetic. Spending money to numb self to emotional pain.
  2. Emotional gratification. Spending money give a high, makes you feel good when you see all you have bought.
  3. Validation. Spending money is a sign that you are successful, someone to be reckoned with.
  4. Escape from self discipline. Money is an entitlement, shouldn’t have to account for it since you work hard for it.
  5. Security. Had nothing growing up, money reassures me that I and not poor.
  6. Idolatry. I can put my hands on money, so I can trust it.  I can’t trust what I can’t see.

Bills before marriage.

Have each of the counselees list all bills they are bringing to the marriage.  This will help them evaluate the financial state they will be in after marriage.  By presenting this, they can better set up and budget and be prepared to meet obligations before they become a financial crisis.  By discussing what is owed be each before the marriage, they can be dealt with before and are out in the open.

For homework, have each counselee track their expenditures, no matter how small for two weeks.  Then they can see how the money is spent, and also can help in setting up a budget.

When they bring this in, pay close attention to areas where expenditures were unnecessary or out of proportion to the income.

Responsibilities during marriage.

By discussing how the Lord wants them to become one, they can set up accounts in both names, and be responsible for handling them together.  The husband is always the one responsible for problem solving.  If a financial situation arises, he is the one to take the initiative to resolve it.  Never should the wife have to resolve financial situations, no matter who caused it.

An example would be if the wife is the one to pay the bills because she is the one more financially sound, and a check should bounce, the husband is the one to take care of it.  No matter why it was returned, as the head of the house, and the head of the family, it is his responsibility to take care of calling whoever is required and make what ever arrangements necessary to get it taken care of.  This also means that he cannot “take it out” on his wife.  It would have been his responsibility anyway, so she is not the one to be blamed.

The couple should have a budget set up before marriage.  That way, they will have open eyes to what is their responsibility before they get married.  By setting up a budget, they can also set how different situations can be handled before they arise, and have sound principles to fall back on if there comes a difficult time.

Using the homework, you can assist in setting up a budget, paying attention to tithes and offering, debt reduction, pocket money, and savings.

Setting Biblical principles in the budget keeps the counselees thoughts on how the Lord is primary in their relationship.  Putting tithes and offerings first, sets the precedent of the Lord first in their lives.

By building debt reduction into the budget, it provides a means to get out and stay out of debt.

A small amount of “mad money” should always be included into a budget.  It provides a morale booster as well as keeps encouragement higher.

Any budget should also include savings, even if it is only a few dollars a week.  By setting up a savings account, the counselees will be able to provide when an emergency arises.  But they have to remember that an emergency is just that, a time when a crisis has arisen that needs immediate response.  A death in the family, an accident that requires immediate payment, not a weekend trip out of town…

Responsibilities

  1. Who is supposed to do what?

Household chores can be one area the counselee will chuckle at.  However, when it gets down to the marriage, how the toilet paper hangs can be a major crisis.  Discussion of household responsibilities is paramount for a happy marriage.

  • Who will take out the trash?
  • Who will do the dishes?
  • Who will vacuum?
  • Who will wash the clothes?
  • Who will clean the toilet?
  • Who cooks when both work?

These questions are things that many couples fight over.  If both work, who does what to help each other?  By getting the counselees to discuss things as simple as this, they can see that it is important to at least one of them.

Children, Have any or wait?  How to discipline?

Many couples never discuss children, or think that it can be discussed later.  However, if one does not want children and the other is, later is too late to discuss it.  By bringing it up now, the couple can openly find out how they view having children.  Also, along with this is birth control.  It is the responsibility of both to take care of it.  It is not just the woman… All forms of birth control should be discussed.  The one form of birth control that is used today that is not acceptable is abortion.

One of the difficulties today is in punishment of children.  Be ready to discuss the Biblical principle of using a paddle to correct and discipline.  Punishment is not child abuse, but can lead to it is used improperly.

”Applying the board of education to the seat of understanding is Biblical.”

Contrary to today’s ideas, a young child does not understand a discussion of right and wrong, but do understand punishment for wrongdoing.

Step children

In a marriage of partners where one or both have been married before, or there are children coming into the new marriage, steps must be taken to make sure that they are brought in with love.  It is not the children’s fault for their being put into a situation they have no say in, and both partners need to work together. The one thing that causes many problems is discipline of step children.  Both partners must agree ahead of time that there is a set way to discipline.  And they cannot allow the children to use them against each other in this.

If the children come in with the woman, the man must accept them as if they are his.  He must not over punish them, or use them as a means to vent frustrations.   Paddling must be done without anger and must be done with love.

Consistent punishment is necessary.  Never should punishment be done without thought.  As the children grow older, they should be taught discipline, not an angry response to something they did.  Never go back on your word on punishment, nor make unreal or unrealistic punishment statements.

Responsibility of the husband is to discipline.  The man should be the leader/head/priest of the family.  And as such, he is the one to do the discipline.  However, the wife must also be willing to follow the guidance of the husband.  If the child needs discipline and the man is not home, the wife must also enforce the discipline.  And she must do it consistent with the husband.

The child must know consistency in their life, and must know that they are loved.   Discipline shows both.

Ultimate responsibility always falls to the man.  It is God’s directing that he be the head of the family, and therefore, take responsibility for all things that happen.  The man must be willing to pray and seek the Lord’s guidance in all aspects of child rearing, and he must be willing to do what the Lord directs.

Sex

The word that scares many Christians yet is a vital part of our lives.  Many times a couple comes to counseling, and the one area that is left out is the sexual union of marriage.  Many of today’s marriages fail because of false or mistaken ideal and ideas of sex in marriage.

Premarital sex

If a couple is already living together, then as a counselor, you will need to guide them into a relationship that is not involving sex.  They should strive to abstain before marriage.  If they can control their urges now, they will be more able to control themselves in all areas after marriage.  Sex before marriage is selfish and does not consider the partner.

Marital Sex

Discussion of marital sex is important.  Too many think that it will all work out.  Instead, it becomes a point that can destroy a marriage.

As a married couple, what they do in the marriage bed is for their God-given pleasure.  As long as both agree, then what they do is acceptable.  The sexual union of a husband and wife is for more than just having children, it is for enjoyment.  As long as both enjoy it, it is acceptable. If someone says “no,” then they should stop or just not do that thing.

It is important that the counselees have discussed the sexual side of marriage.  It is not good if they have preconceived ideas and then find that the other does not agree.  Discussion of methods and times should be done so there are no surprises in the marital bed.  If one thinks once a week is plenty and the other thinks twice a day not enough, there will be problems.   By being open about it now, there will be no surprises.

  1. There are certain obligations which a man accepts when he marries, whether he is aware of them or not:
  2. Safety
  3. Comfort
  4. Love
  5. Sex
  6. Companionship
  7. Protection from temptation
  8. We are going to talk about the obligation which involves sex
  9. Sexual temptations are difficult to withstand because they appeal to the normal and natural desires that God has given us.
  10. Marriage provides God’s way to satisfy these natural sexual desires and to strengthen the partners against temptation.
  11. Married couples have the responsibility to care for each other; therefore, husbands and wives should not withhold themselves sexually from one another, but should fulfill each other’s needs and desires.

Discussion

Be willing to discuss what the counselees need to discuss.  It is imperative that the discussion be directed in healthy ways.  It should never become embarrassing to any at the session, yet should be tastefully done.  As the counselor, you must be in control here, and guide the discussion.  Suggestions and ideas must be kept clean and in Scriptural context.  Song of Solomon is a good book for each to read, to show that enjoyment is a major part of the loving relationship.

It may well be that one or both may want to spend a session alone with the counselor to discuss things that they may be embarrassed to discuss openly.  While this may help that person, every effort should be made to get both counselees talking about this.  Perhaps one could wait outside for a part of the session, and then come in, or one could be a little early for a short discussion.  However, the major thing is that this discussion must be done with much prayer.  Many counselors have been caught in a trap they built be allowing the counselee guide this part of the session, and they get into a situation they cannot handle, or actually get involved with the counselee.  If there is any hint of unethical conduct, the counselor must request someone else to step in.

Discussion of techniques, positions, or other parts of the sexual union must be handled carefully.  Never put yourself in a situation that can be construed as improper.

It is possible to do some of this in a written format, where each counselee can put on paper what they expect, and then use that for discussion.

  1. Divorce

Put very simply, divorce is never the better option, but it may be necessary. Proper premarital counseling should all but put divorce out of the mind of those who are counseled. The goal is to encourage the couple to learn to identify ways to find solutions for the problems they will inevitably have. Discussions of divorce should always be done from that point of view.

The counselees should see divorce as a very negative thing, and should never be threatened in a marriage out of anger. Once the words come out, it may change things for the worse.

Encourage them to:

  1. Try to work out a solution between themselves.
  2. If that does not work, they should go to a pastor, or mature Christian for advice.
  3. If that still does not work, they should go to a trained counselor (not a friend, relative, or acquaintance, or someone else).
  4. They should follow the instructions of the counselor.

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