As I wrote in my previous post, I find the processing of planning for my wedding to be extremely stressful (since that post, Sean and I found a coordinator to help). I’m not being dramatic when I say that it has contributed to a spike in my blood pressure. There have been numerous times that I have considered going to the justice of the peace and making it official without all the hoopla. In the midst of endless decision making over dresses, venues, and menus, it is easy to put more focus on the wedding than the impending marriage. I have read virtually all of the 3lb glossy wedding magazines that have been published since I got engaged in February. They are all chock full of helpful and creative suggestions to transform me into a bride, but say almost nothing about how to be a wife. What happens when the “big day” and the honeymoon are over?
Long before I met Sean, I knew that if I ever got married that I wanted to prioritize preparation for the marriage over the wedding. I never had detailed fantasies about walking down the aisle, yet premarital counseling was set in my mind as a non-negotiable. Over the years, I’ve heard horror stories of couples that made it all the way to the altar, only to realize that they somehow missed having fundamental conversations with one another. Often this lack of transparent communication leads to significant problems and even the dissolution of marriages. Sean and I have always been honest and open about money (including my mountain of student loan debt), our backgrounds, and our expectations for married life. Yet, we both felt that in order to build a sound foundation for our future together, we could benefit from having more guided and structured conversations.
At Sean’s church (where he has attended since childhood and where his parents were married over 40 years ago), the successful completion of premarital counseling is required of all couples that wish to get married there. When we began counseling, we were not sure that we would use the church as our wedding venue, but we both had huge respect for the pastor, whom Sean has known for some time. On the first of our eight sessions, Sean’s pastor asked us if we had our wedding plans set in stone. He indicated that if we were the kind of couple to pursue the event, regardless of any major issues being uncovered during our time together, then his brand of counseling would not work for us. He was clear that he did not want us to view counseling as a means to an end, but as a vital component of becoming married. Although we had a date in mind, we agreed that if we hit any serious roadblocks that we would be willing to postpone for the sake of our union. From there, we embarked on what has been the most enjoyable and meaningful aspect of getting ready to get hitched.
Each session began and ended with prayer and centered on a particular theme. We covered topics like money management, conflict resolution, self-awareness and intimacy. Sean’s pastor challenged us to look at our respective pasts to acknowledge any negative patterns or habits that could threaten our relationship. He gave us homework assignments, some that we completed together and others we did separately. For one of our tasks, we had to write out our definitions of marriage, why we wanted to be married and why we specifically wanted to marry each other. I do not know if I have ever been more touched than when Sean read aloud all of the reasons he wants me to be his wife.
Ultimately, premarital counseling met my expectations in that it allowed us to learn more about each other and ourselves. It also exceeded my hopes in how it brought us closer together. As a result of our counseling, we are more open and have deeper conversations than we have ever had. Our experience with premarital counseling was so positive, that we decided to continue the process in our own way. We meet twice a week to read books that we have chosen (some were recommended to us) that are related to marriage. One of the books has a bible study that we are doing together. For this study, we have to read, journal and then discuss our responses. Each of our meetings is so rich. They have even allowed me to see wedding planning (which I generally dread) as a part of our formation of becoming husband and wife. If I could offer any advice to those endeavoring to marry, it would be to find some form of premarital enrichment, be it counseling, readings, or mentoring from a couple whose marriage you admire (or a combination of all three). It is soooooooooo worth it.