What’s All the Hype About Premarital Counseling?

When is a married person no longer a “newlywed”?

Six months? One year? Well, Cary and I are nearing the 15-month benchmark of being married, and I’d still consider us newlyweds. But 15 months into marriage, you probably think we are well-seasoned pros at doing the whole marriage thing right?!? Not a chance! Everyday is an adventure of new lessons to be learned and growth beyond belief, but we are doing it day-in and day-out and are better for it. It truly wasn’t all that long ago that we were trudging through the season of engagement. And not to be a Debbie Downer, but engagement is the worst season to walk through.

Engagement is tough, counseling makes it easier

I don’t know if it was the fact that I was living 20 minutes down the road from my fiancé. Or maybe that I was struggling to find my first PA job. Or that all my friends had moved away after PA school and I was one of the few left in the city I once felt at home in. There were a lot of factors that contributed to the drudgery of that season. In my heart and mind, I was ready to commit my life to my best friend and get this marriage show on the road, but there are ALWAYS lessons to be learned during times of waiting.

And during that forced season of patience, Cary and I did premarital counseling. Not only because it was a requirement for the church we wanted to get married in, but because we wanted to dig deeper and feel as prepared as possible for this new season ahead. Premarital counseling was an opportunity to talk about finances, family, faith, in-laws, sex, jobs, expectations, weaknesses, goals, and the future with the aide of a pastor facilitating our discussions. We met for five or six sessions about 1.5-2 hours each time and just talked and listened and prayed and talked some more. Premarital counseling provokes you to think and feel for your future spouse in ways you probably hadn’t before. For us, it demonstrated our need to work as a couple rather than just as individuals. It was without a doubt THE BEST thing we could have done to prepare for married life.

Did you read a book during premarital counseling?

We did not. I know many couples will walk through books or devotionals together as part of the process. Honestly, I think I would have liked to have walked through a book with my husband, but he isn’t the biggest fan of reading so I don’t think it would have been very fruitful for us. Every couple is different though, so don’t feel like you have to do exactly what your mentor, parents, friend, or sister did. Do what your pastor/counselor suggests and commit to it. You don’t have to read a book in premarital counseling to spark great conversations.

Did you do a questionnaire?

Yes, we both completed the SYMBIS assessment and walked through our results each week of counseling. SYMBIS stands for Save Your Marriage Before It Starts. It’s an assessment and book series that was started by Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott. Their experience in clinical psychology and family therapy allowed them to create this assessment and book series to facilitate healthy conversations for soon-to-be married couples. Initially published in 1995 with continual revisions and updates, their work in the field of marriage counseling has been transformative. Their marriage is living proof of their work and this assessment has been utilized by thousands of couples worldwide.
We loved SYMBIS and getting to see our similarities and differences on paper. It was a great jumping off point. It allowed us to discuss topics and questions we had in a way that wasn’t confrontational.

What was your favorite part of premarital counseling?

I loved getting to spend time with both our pastor AND our pastor’s wife to hear both their perspectives on each topic. It wouldn’t have been bad or lesser if we’d just had counseling with our pastor, but it definitely enlightened our conversations to hear from both a husband and a wife. One week we broke up as women and men to allow for some more personal conversations. That was extremely helpful to speak woman-to-woman and man-to-man for specific questions and concerns we had or wanted to address. The dynamic of being counseled by both a man and woman was extremely beneficial for the both of us.

What was your least favorite part?

Not having MORE counseling. We were extremely grateful for the time we had, which was more than most. But our conversations were so fruitful and thought-provoking, I always left wanting more. Why? Because sometimes doing the hard things and seeing the blessings that come from it, make you want more and more. My least favorite part was finishing our counseling, because I truthfully didn’t want to stop making gains in our relationship.

Best piece of advice you’d give to an engaged couple?

The piece of advice I heard the most while I was engaged was “savor this season because it won’t last forever”. Well, thankfully engagement isn’t forever. But marriage is! So pour a lot of time and effort into making it a sustainable marriage before you say “I do”. Prioritize praying for one another, being intentional with your time, honoring one another physically, practicing sacrificial love, and slowly but surely learning to leave and cleave your parents. Engagement is the only time you get to prepare for marriage, so start retooling your brain to make decisions together rather than separately. It’s a tough season for a reason, but thankfully it’s only a season. Know that the best is yet to come, and soon enough you will be waking up with your best friend, going on adventures, and creating a life together. Lay the groundwork for a marriage rooted in faith, intentionality, and deep devotion.

Questions? Concerns?

Feel free to email me or leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from any of y’all who are currently walking through this season of engagement and hear how you are managing all the emotions that come with this chapter. It’s a challenge for sure, but you, God, and your partner are in this together! Don’t ever forget that.

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