A conversation today prompted me to publish this blog post that has been sitting in my draft folder for a while. I try to never post something that could be seen as aimed at any individual. Dan currently has several couples in the pre-marriage process and I didn't want this to be seen as directed at any of them. It isn't. But, the conversation today centered around why pastors require pre-maritial counseling and whether or not we believe it helps.
Yes, I'm a mother of 2 young kids and no wedding planning in sight but today I'm talking about weddings. I'm a big proponent of marriage. I love what happens when God joins two lives together. Marriage is a big deal to me. It wasn't until after I was married and watched a friend go through planning a wedding that it hit me how much time people spend planning a wedding but not planning for their marriage.
I have to be honest up front when I say that planning my wedding didn't totally consume me the way it does some people. I had a very limited budget that my parents worked very hard to provide. The amount I could spend dictated very early on what I could do and could not do. So, plans were made very quickly and we stuck to those plans. Our wedding had about 450 people in attendance and it was so nice. The generosity of several friends made it seem like we spent about triple of what we actually spent. It really was so perfect. I have zero regrets about the day.
Dan and I both struggled with who to ask to marry us. We had been on staff at several different churches and had relationships with several pastors. We eventually decided which pastor to ask after talking to several of them. They all had one thing in common...PRE-MARITAL COUNSELING! Some of the pastors did the counseling themselves. Some required Licensed Professionals. But, they all required it. I will forever be grateful for this early gift given to our marriage. I truly consider this to be the first wedding gift received even though it was required. Fast Forward 14.5 years later and we still value the things Ken Anderson taught us during those sessions.
Since Dan has been a Pastor, he has always required marriage counseling before he performs a wedding. He doesn't do that to be mean. He does that because he cares about marriage. He used to do the counseling himself but he realized that was a disservice to the couple. His degree isn't in counseling. His degree is in Ministry. He could offer some personal examples of ways to have good/bad marriages but his advice was just that...advice. It didn't come from proven methods and techniques. It didn't take into account different personalities and backgrounds. It didn't consider family of origin. It was approached solely from the point of knowing Jesus and honoring Him. While that is a KEY part of marriage, it isn't the only thing that helps you through horrendous in-laws, job loss, instability, financial troubles, expectations or looming divorce.
So, he started referring couples to licensed counselors and requiring that before he would perform the wedding. Based on things we have heard from other pastors, he was prepared to make some people unhappy with this decision. Usually, the biggest reason for unhappiness is money. Seeing a counselor requires money. One wise pastor said to us "If a couple planning a wedding isn't willing to spend a few hundred dollars on the future of the marriage, then they aren't serious about what comes after the wedding!" I think he was right. It's hard to understand a couple saying they can't afford $400 in pre-marital counseling when they are planning to have an open bar at their wedding and pay for alcohol for their guests. Or, to spend $2,5000 on photography of a wedding that might not make it past the third anniversary. That sounds harsh but it is reality. The counseling will get you through the 3 a.m. fights when you can't bear to look at each other but that $4500 worth of catering is LONG gone!
Dan recently had an older couple ask him to marry them. When I say older, I mean in their 70's. When they found out he required counseling, they chose another pastor. It didn't hurt his feelings or make him angry. But, he also didn't change what he believes is a very important thing. I admire him for that. He actually married one couple that had some significant issues with going to counseling and he gave them a pass. He regretted it from day one. They were divorced soon after marrying. Counseling could have possibly saved them from ever walking down the aisle. He regrets that decision and it made him more resolved in his ideas about counseling.
I was talking to a friend who was divorced when she married her current husband. He was on his second marriage. He met her when he wasn't divorced from his current wife. He had small children. His relationship with them was practically non-existent. He moved from their town in a different state to her town in MS to be near her. It was only 4 hours from them but to them, he abandoned them for her. To this day, those kids have never forgiven her. They have kids of their own now and their relationship with their father never improved. My friend and her husband have dealt with Alcohol abuse, money problems, major marriage problems, in-law problems and just about any other problem you can imagine. She was there when I planned my wedding. She was part of it. She says she wonders what would have been different if her pastor would have required counseling for them. I, to this day, wonder the same thing!
What about you? Did the person marrying you require counseling? Did it help? Do you feel it was worth it?