Parents, pastors and pre-marital counselors, lend me your ear. The next 5 minutes of reading could prove to be helpful to the people you love and serve.
Let’s talk about the ramp-up to weddings. You already know this, but the emotion, stress, and sexual anticipation couples experience when they’re preparing for a wedding can supercharge the Big day with enormous significance. The brain before the wedding is often singularly preoccupied with navigating and executing this defining moment. This means that the well-meaning hours of premarital counseling, even when it’s done well, can be largely lost. The truth is that marriage counseling while planning a wedding is akin to buying a house, sight unseen. You hear about it at church, from a friend or find it online. It’s known to be solid house in a good neighborhood that you love– it all seems so perfect! You may do some research on the broker’s website and consult people you trust and respect, but your emotional attachment to the house elevates it’s good features and tamps down any concerns. So, you sign the contract and make the purchase. But once you get the keys and move your boxes into the house, a different reality settles in.
As I wrote in chapter nine of I Still Do: “Everyone marries with a dream. Our outlook is profoundly shaped by what we expect to see. And many of us entered wedlock so focused on our dreams that we missed some gorilla-like realities. Think about what really happens when two people stand at the altar and say, “I do,” in the presence of those who love them. Most often, the couple arrives with practiced expectations. They expect overwhelming emotional benefits from this marriage. They’re looking for fulfillment of their needs and an emotional: “You complete me!” experience. As they recite their vows, a cluster of unspoken beliefs and hopes muster in the hidden vaults of their hearts. Locked away for now are deep desires, anticipations, dreams, and unmet needs. They pulse with hope on how the nuptials will fill the empty voids they represent. Only in the days and months following the marriage is the full cost of commitment understood.
Is there a way to hasten the post-wedding wake-up? Here are three quick suggestions:
- Cover the blind spots. The wisest parents, pastors, and counselors will help engaged couples and newlyweds understand what they can’t perceive. It’s important to do more than talk to young couples about communication techniques, financial planning, and the mechanics of sex. We must help them see their real field of vision. I’ve written before on this blog about six surprises that every premarital counselor should cover. Newlyweds need this kind of help. They need at least an initial conversation about the blind spots they can’t see.
- Encourage a review. Invite newlywed couples to return and review their premarital material during their first year of marriage. Encourage them to ask a pastor, older married friends, or a weather-tested couple to join them for this second round of learning. This may seem counterintuitive. After all, couples feel like they have been through it already. But the honest reality is that they encountered their pre-marital training in the haze of pre-wedding chaos. Before they had the keys. So they will discovering something surprising: the review will feel, in reality, remarkably fresh! Moreover, if you encounter a young couple who didn’t have premarital counseling, supply it for them as an investment in their marriage. The first book I wrote on marriage, When Sinners Say “I Do” may be a helpful for this engagement. I’ve also posted lots of free marital material throughout the site. I’m also a big fan of Tim and Kathy Keller’s book, “The Meaning of Marriage.”
- Get newlywed couples together. Finally, churches can convene small groups for newlywed couples. Most newlyweds form relationships and convictions quickly. It’s really wise to recognize this opportunity and serve them with a context for connection and discussion. For leaders and older couples, it’s an opportunity to invest in the next generation of marriages. For them, it’s a time to lay foundations that will last a lifetime. Talk about your win-win!
I believe families and churches can help young couples see reality before the honeymoon phase of their marriage is over. This is the kind of care that Kimm and I needed, but didn’t take advantage of, when we were first married. Whether you’re a pastor, a parent or a counselor, let our mistakes become your lessons. Circle back around to your newlyweds for another round of honest discussion. When reality comes knocking, they will thank you!