Pre-marital counseling may the least effective of the things pastors do. Most require it before agreeing to perform a ceremony, but couples are so focused on the wedding itself that meetings with the pastor can be perfunctory at best.
That is unfortunate, because post-marital intervention is one of the most common duties of a pastor.
Often the post-marital issues are relatively simple problems that could have been avoided—or navigated with less stress—if both partners had understood some basic facts about marriage.
If I could get 30 minutes with every young person who was considering marriage, I would ask them these basic questions.
If they aren’t answered before the wedding, they certainly will be afterward.
1. Were you happy before you met?
A romantic relationship can bring a big boost to self-esteem. It feels great to have someone lavish attention on you.
The need for positive attention can be a trap however, causing a person to give their heart to someone who does not truly value them. Only when you feel content within yourself can you enter into a relationship on equal footing.
This is a greater danger for people who have previously experienced rejection by a parent, a friend, or lover.
If that describes you, then listen carefully. You are deeply loved by God. You are his precious child. He created you and endowed you with incredible worth. You are already amazing!
If you do not feel content and worthwhile before the wedding, you probably won’t afterward. You must be emotionally healthy in order to form a good marriage.
2. Is marriage a 50-50 partnership?
Many younger couples view marriage as a 50-50 arrangement. “You make the bed; I’ll do the dishes.” They believe that if they do “their part,” their spouse should meet them halfway.
That is a good description of partnership but an inadequate view of love. Love requires complete sacrifice. It means putting the needs of the other person first, not half the time but always. This kind of commitment cannot be based on romantic feelings; it is a decision.
Often, one partner is more willing to make that sacrifice than the other is. That leads to a one-sided marriage in which one spouse is constantly giving—emotionally, sexually, financially, and even in practical ways such as household management.
Be alert for this pattern in the early stages of your relationship. If not identified and changed, it will become more pronounced. Eventually, the “giving partner” will grow frustrated, become angry and distant, and perhaps choose to leave.
Be a 100 percent giver in your relationship, and expect your partner to be the same.
3. Do you like each other?
All relationships start with attraction, and that is most often physical attraction. You think she’s hot. She loves the way you walk or those cool blue eyes. Those are good things!
However, attraction alone will not sustain a marriage. To be happy together, you must genuinely like each other.
Do you enjoy his company? Does she think you are smart? Do you get her sense of humor? Do you respect the way he conducts himself? Do you like one another’s friends? Do you enjoy being together? Do you have trouble thinking of things to do together besides having sex?
It is possible to fall in love with someone that you don’t like. That makes for either a brief, stormy marriage or a long boring one. Don’t marry someone you don’t enjoy spending time with. A lot of time.
4. What do you want from life?
When you become serious enough to talk about a future together, that is exactly what you should be talking about—the future.
Marriage is like a house you are building with another person. You must have a common vision for what that house will look like and how it will function.
For your grandparents, that vision was perhaps more obvious. People in that generation took it for granted that the husband would have a career, probably working for the same employer his entire life. The wife would manage the home, bear children, and they would work toward retirement together.
Now every couple must navigate all of those decisions for themselves. What kind of work will you both do? Will you have children? Where will you live? How important is money to you? What will your relationships be with your families of origin? Will you go to church? Will you move far away? What do you want to have accomplished by the time you are thirty? Forty? Sixty?
It is vital that you have a common vision for your life together. You can renegotiate that later, and probably will. But when two people have different views of what matters in life it is very difficult to forge a marriage.
5. What do you think about God?
The faith question is part of the discussion of life’s vision and goals, but it deserves special treatment. The Bible specifically mentions this point with regard to marriage, and with good reason.
Nothing forms your vision for life more than your faith does. It shapes every decision from career options to ethical choices to methods of child discipline. If you don’t see eye to eye on this huge question of meaning, there will be tension in many other areas.
And it is sad to live with someone who doesn’t fully understand you or respect what you believe—and vice versa.
6. What do you most need from one another?
Most people follow the Golden Rule and treat their partner as they would like to be treated. In fact, men and women almost always want something slightly different from their spouse.
What men need most from their wives is respect. A husband must know that his wife believes in him, respects him, trusts his judgment, thinks he is capable, and is proud of him. When a man feels that from his wife, he is secure and confident—and he’ll do anything in the world for her.
What women need most from their husbands is love. A wife needs to know that her husband values her, protects her, is willing to provide for her and sacrifice for her, guards their marriage, an is 100 percent faithful to her sexually and emotionally. When a woman knows that about her husband, she will be willing to follow him and sacrifice for him.
Of course, both spouses usually desire both love and respect from one another. But love, as defined here, is often the dominant need in women and respect the primary driver for men.
When both partners are giving and receiving what they need most, the relationship will thrive. When one or both partners do not receive what they need, they withhold love or respect from their partner. The relationship spirals downward.
Many thanks to Emerson Eggerichs for describing this concept so clearly in his helpful book, Love and Respect, a resource I recommend for all prospective couples.
Women, be sure that you truly do respect a man before giving your heart to him. Then demonstrate that respect through your words and actions. If you don’t, you will not be happily married to him, and you’ll probably find that he doesn’t love you in return. Also, watch carefully to be sure that he demonstrates his love toward you.
Men, begin your relationship by valuing, respecting, and protecting your partner. Likewise, be alert for signs that she doesn’t completely respect who you are—your intelligence, decision making, strengths, and chosen work.
A partner who does not love and respect you when you are dating will not do so as a husband or wife.
7. Is it normal for the passion to fade after the wedding?
Dating is filled with passion and anticipation. Married life can become dull routine, and many people expect that or at least accept it. That may be typical, but it doesn’t have to be the case for you. It is possible to keep your passion for one another going throughout your lifetime.
If you want to be crazy lovebirds for longer than a few months, follow this advice I heard from an older man who had been married for more than 40 years. Before his youngest son marched to the altar, this godly dad pulled him aside and said, “Son, you’ll keep her the same way you got her.”
Don’t stop giving your best attention to your spouse. Keep dating even after you’re married. Talk every day. Look your best for one another. Plan to spend time alone together. Treasure one another. Keep no secrets. By doing so, you’ll keep your passion alive.
These days many people choose not to marry, believing that the institution itself is outdated. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The commitment of a man and a woman pledged to one another before family and friends, is the gateway to one of life’s great joys. Enter it carefully, wisely, and and your life will indeed be blessed.