Eric Scalise, Ph.D.
I once told a group of counseling students I did not really believe in premarital counseling. After the awkward pause and allowing the confused expressions to settle in, I smiled and said, “That’s because I believe in pre-engagement counseling.” Engagements, in my opinion, are primarily for planning a couple’s joyful celebration and giving family members and friends enough time to coordinate their calendars and travel plans—not for “working out” issues of compatibility and connectedness.
Outside the decision to accept Christ, marriage is probably the most significant relational decision someone will ever make. It should be entered into carefully, diligently, with wise counsel and utilizing biblical principles. Sadly, many individuals spend more time and give more thought to the next car or home they buy, rather than who their lifelong partner should be. Listen to the wisdom of Solomon: “A wise man will hear and increase in learning, and a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel” (Prov. 1:5) and “Without consultation, plans are frustrated, but with many counselors they succeed” (Prov. 15:22).
Couples considering marriage need to have open and honest communication during their courtship and leading up to an actual engagement. Let’s take a look at some common questions that are often asked:
- When choosing a marriage partner, is there a biblical mandate?
Scripture seems to be silent on the matter other than choosing a believer. Marriage and singleness are both acceptable in God’s eyes. The question that should be asked is, “Are the two individuals equally yoked?” Second Corinthians 6:14-15 says, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership has righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?”
- What factors influence the choice to marry or remain single?
There are a number of factors that often come into play including: job/career goals, waiting for the “perfect” mate (compatibility and values), fear and hesitation over high divorce rates, the level of family support and recognizing the possible need for personal growth and maturity.
- Why do some people choose wisely and some unwisely?
Without taking the time to explore potential “potholes,” a lack of preparation can derail any future marriage. Certain issues that are never addressed or resolved can cause problems down the road, such as codependency dynamics (the need to find others who must be rescued and/or fixed), an unplanned pregnancy (leading to marriage vs. adoption or another solution), uneven levels of emotional and spiritual maturity, the need to correct/change family of origin concerns and one’s Christian convictions or the lack of them.
Before Saying, “I Do,” every couple should assess their readiness for marriage (or remarriage). This intentional assessment should also cover the major aspects of any healthy marriage and take an honest and transparent look at goals, dreams, desires and expectations. Here are key categories and some important questions that need to be asked:
- Your Spiritual Relationship
- What is your biblical model for marriage and your understanding on the roles of husbands and wives?
- What does spiritual intimacy mean to you?
- Have you discussed your church/denominational experiences and/or doctrines?
- How do you envision spiritual growth needs/interests becoming part of the marriage?
- What are your fellowship, ministry and service-related desires and goals?
- Your Emotional Relationship
- Do you enjoy one another’s companionship and are you best friends?
- How comfortable are you in being transparent with one another?
- Are there any “secrets” (e.g., history of addiction, depression, criminal behavior, etc.) that need to be brought out into the open?
- Do you share the same core values?
- Can you accept and appreciate your personality differences?
- Your Communication Styles
- Do you make decisions together with a win/win approach?
- Are you aware of each other’s primary love language?
- Are you free to share differences of opinion or areas of disagreement?
- Do you resolve conflict in a healthy way without excessive anger, threats and/or violence
- How do you practice forgiveness with one another?
- Your Social/Leisure Life
- Do you have fun together?
- Do you have some common interests?
- Do you have some common friends?
- Is there freedom to have sufficient alone time?
- How are your social calendars planned out and decisions made on priorities?
- Your Job/Career Goals and Issues
- What impact do any current educational and/or training commitments have on the relationship?
- How do you feel about your partner’s chosen field/profession?
- Whose career path should/will take precedence?
- What is the potential for disruptions, moves, long work hours, etc.?
- How will you manage/balance work and family schedules?
- Your Financial Needs, Values and Goals
- Are you committed to a budget that looks at both immediate and long-term needs?
- How will budget decisions be made in general? On high dollar items?
- Will you have joint or individual banking accounts or a combination of both?
- How will any current or future debt be handled?
- How will assets that are brought into the relationships be handled?
- Your Extended Family Dynamics
- Can you accept each other’s extended family members?
- How do your families and especially your parents, feel about the relationship?
- What role will family traditions play in marital life?
- Have you discussed any potential cultural differences/nuances?
- Have you discussed any potential relational boundaries that may need to be established?
- Your Child Rearing Goals and Philosophy
- Have you discussed if and when you may try to have children and how many children you desire?
- Have you discussed the use of birth control?
- Are there any potential infertility issues and if so, have treatment options and/or alternatives such as adoption been discussed?
- How will household rules and expectations be decided and enforced?
- Are there any blended family issues that could potentially create problems?
- Household Responsibilities, Duties and Environment
- Has the type and location of living accommodations been discussed such as urban vs. suburban, detached family home vs. apartment or townhouse, etc.?
- How are household responsibilities decided?
- Is there a commitment to an equitable distribution of chores?
- Will the home environment reflect the interests, wishes and ideas of both partners?
- Will there be individual/personal spaces within the home environment?
- Your Physical Intimacy
- Are you physically attracted to each other?
- Are you committed to sexual purity?
- Is there any history of pornography use/sexual addiction with either partner?
- Is there any history of childhood sexual abuse that may impact marital intimacy?
- Are there other physical, emotional or biblical factors to consider?
Couples can certainly discuss these topics together and often do. However, should they become “stuck” and/or if significant emotional responses/reactions arise in a particular area, then the services of a competent pastoral or professional counselor should be sought out. Practicing due diligence before walking down the aisle often helps ensure a less chaotic and more stable life as husband and wife. If you are contemplating marriage, may God give you true joy in the journey.
Eric Scalise, Ph.D., is the former Vice President for Professional Development with the American Association of Christian Counselors, as well as a current consultant and their Senior Editor. He is also the President of LIV Enterprises & Consulting, LLC, and a Licensed Professional Counselor and Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist with more than 36 years of clinical and professional experience in the mental health field. Specialty areas include professional/pastoral stress and burnout, combat trauma and PTSD, marriage and family issues, leadership development, addictions, and lay counselor training. He is an author, a national and international conference speaker, and frequently consults with organizations, clinicians, ministry leaders, and churches on a variety of issues.