In honor of the fact that today is our 8th wedding anniversary—and in honor of the woman to whom I have been delightfully attached for over 12 years—I wanted to do a quick post following up on recent pre-marital counseling sessions we did together.
We had the opportunity to meet with a young couple to talk about marriage before they tie the knot in June. It was our first time doing it, and it was a tremendous blessing both to get to know them and to think about our own marriage through the process.
As we didn’t necessarily expect to be doing this while here in Cambridge, all our marriage books (and our own pre-marital counseling notebook) were left in storage in the States. So we had to put together something ourselves. While what we came up with is far from perfect, we found it worked well and was simple enough to serve as a framework to build upon, depending on the amount of time one might have with any given couple.
Obviously there are tons of books on marriage, counseling, marriage counseling, and pre-marital counseling. But what we needed was more of a structured, biblically-informed framework with open ended questions to foster discussion, as we only had limited time with the couple (only 3 hours). I did not come across a resource on the web that is concise and flexible, so I offer this as a starting point.
In this particular case, the couple was not explicitly approaching things from a Christian perspective, so what I offer below is less a full-blown Bible study on any of the major topics and more a general approach that is informed by our own biblical presuppositions and could be extended quite easily to include more direct biblical content and teaching, as the case requires. I’ve included a few suggestions along those lines.
- What is Marriage, and What is it For?
- What does it Mean to Love One Another?
- What are Your Preconceptions about Marriage?
- What is Each Spouse’s Role? How do they Relate to One Another?
- How Should Two Married Grown-ups Communicate?
- What is Your Vision for a Family?
- How will Your Finances be “Married”?
- How will Your Faith Shape Your Marriage?
Part 1: What is Marriage, and What is it For?
- Tell us your story. How did you get to this point, and what made you decide to take the step of marriage?
- What is the purpose of marriage? Why does it exist? Do your definitions differ?
- What do you think marriage accomplishes? What do you hope to achieve through marrying one another (i.e., that you wouldn’t be able to do just living together)?
- What is the basis of marriage? Love? Being in love? Personality fit? Common interests? Challenges with each.
- 5 years from now, what do you hope your marriage will look like? What about 25 years?
- What do you each think are the top 5 things that make for a successful marriage? Do your lists match up?
- Of your friends or family members who are married and roughly in your same age group, what do the “best” marriages look like? What makes them seem to work?
- What are the biggest fears you have about marriage?
- Suggestions on biblical teaching: marriage as a binding covenant; Gen 1–2 (creation, Adam & Eve, pre-fall marriage); biblical teaching on the grounds of marriage versus secular views; Luke 20:34; Heb 13:4; Rev 19:9; role of marriage in sanctification
Part 2: What does it Mean to Love One Another?
- When you were growing up, how did you know your parents or other relations loved you?
- When you’re down or upset, how do you want to be treated? When you are excited or successful, how do you want to be treated?
- When you want to show love to the other person, what do you do? (And for the other partner: what do you actually want them to do?)
- When do you most feel acceptance and worth from the other person? (When they do or say _______…)
- What do you like best about the other person?
- What do you think the other person struggles with the most? Or what do they dislike about themselves the most?
- What do you like least about yourself? How do you think the other person views that aspect of your own life?
- What does ‘in sickness and in health’ mean to you?
Part 3: What are Your Preconceptions about Marriage?
- What were your own parents’ marriages like? How does that impact your expectations of what your own marriage will look like? Are there any issues from your childhood/adolescence that would shape your preconceptions about what marriage should be like, or how husbands/wives are to act, and so on?
- Is marriage “to death”? What is your understanding or view on the [biblical] grounds for breaking the marriage covenant? How has your experience in your own family shaped that view?
- Describe your relationship with your future in-laws. Any concerns there?
- How do events, experiences, etc. from your prior dating relationships (and your own dating relationship with each other) shape how you view marriage?
- How do you think your culture, education, jobs, etc. shape how you view what marriage is to be like? E.g., pressures to do certain things, be a certain way, etc.
- Suggestions for biblical teaching: divorce/remarriage (Matt 19; Mark 10; 1 Cor 7); biblical case studies of impact of extended family relationships on marriage (e.g., Abraham/Isaac/Rebekah); “unequally yoked” doctrine
Part 4: What is Each Spouse’s Role? How do they Relate to One Another?
- What does it mean to be a husband? Wife?
- How are the two roles similar and different? On what do you base your views of marital roles (culture, books, religion, laws, etc.)?
- When you come home from a hard day at work, what do you expect of the other person? What do you expect of yourself? Do those expectations match up? Why or why not?
- How do you handle conflict now, and how do you think that may or should change in marriage? How do you handle stress, crisis, happy times, etc.?
- What are your views on careers with respect to each spouse? Both working spouses? Stay at home mom? Stay at home dad?
- Scenario: One of you gets a great new job offer in a different city that would require a move, but the other likes his/her current job and doesn’t want to switch cities and jobs. How would you go about making that decision?
- Suggestions for biblical teaching: Eph 5:15ff; Col 3:18ff; revisit creation/Adam-Eve doctrine; sanctification within the marriage relationship; “Proverbs 31 woman” (realities and misconceptions); biblical view of sexuality within marriage (e.g., 1 Cor 7; Song of Songs)
Part 5: How Should Two Married Grown-ups Communicate?
- How would you describe your communication patterns today, both as individuals and as a couple?
- Internalizer, externalizer?
- Conflict-avoider, conflict-seeker?
- Where have you had the biggest struggles with communication?
- Where do you think you are doing well in communication?
- When do you find yourself having the hardest time communicating? When you’re tired? When you’re being selfish? After work? When your bills are due?
- How well (or poorly) do you have disagreements? How do you approach them, how do you solve them, and how do you go about reconciliation?
- Suggestions for biblical teaching: various passages on anger; edifying one another with words (e.g., Phil 4:8ff)
Part 6: What is Your Vision for a Family?
- What is your desired family size? Are you in the same ballpark? Why or why not?
- Discipline philosophy. What’s the goal of discipline? What are you trying to address (root heart issue vs. outward conformity)? How were you disciplined as a child? What do you think are appropriate vs. inappropriate forms of discipline? Who bears the main responsibility for it?
- How do you see your role in raising your child in the “fear and admonition of the Lord”? What does that look like? Were you raised in such a way?
- How involved will your in-laws be in parenting, both from a day-to-day care perspective and from a parenting philosophy perspective?
- What is your perspective on schooling (homeschool, private, public)? Where are you aligned, where are you different? How does that relate to your peer group, and are there any potential issues/pressures there?
- Suggestions for biblical teaching: “discipline” as teaching/training, not punishment (positive discipline: encouragement, rewards, training/instruction; negative discipline: disincentives, consequences, verbal-corporal); proverbs on discipline (but be balanced; proverbs are not guarantees of outcomes)
Part 7: How will Your Finances be “Married”?
- How is your financial “house” right now? What are your current patterns regarding debt, saving, spending? Do you have any red flag issues on either side?
- What is your family’s financial background? Do you come from wealth or poverty or something in between? How does that shape your view of money? Are there massive differences between your two backgrounds, and, if so, have any possible issues surfaced due to that difference?
- Money philosophy: What is money for? How should it function in your relationship? What is your goal with money short-term, long-term? What is your target standard of living, and how does that relate to the husband’s salary … and the wife’s salary (if applicable)? What is your view of tithing? Is one of you relatively more anxious about money than the other, and how might that play out in your financial “marriage”?
- Practicalities: Who will manage the budget? What is your plan for bank accounts?
- Scenario: Assume you have a surplus of $500 every month between your top-line salary and your living expenses. How would each of you divide up that $500: giving away vs. saving vs. investing vs. spending on pleasures?
- Are you on the same page regarding life insurance, retirement planning, etc.?
- Suggestions for biblical teaching: parable of the talents (Matt 25:14–30); some basic principles of biblical stewardship (but probably would not have time to do a full-on Crown course, but you could draw a few things from it)
Part 8: How will Your Faith Shape Your Marriage?
(Note: This section is a blend between questions that are more appropriate for a non-Christian or new-Christian couple, while others are more geared towards a Christian couple. In many cases, these topics could be integrated throughout the prior six sections, but in other cases it may be beneficial as a specific conversation.)
- What is your personal faith perspective/worldview? Is that a significant part of your relationship?
- How might your spirituality play out in your marriage … and parenting?
- Where do you derive your morality, how does that influence your decision-making within marriage and parenting (e.g., views on monogamy/fidelity, divorce, discipline, etc.)?
- What role do each of you have in encouraging the spiritual life of your spouse? What are some practical ways you do that now, and how can you do that in marriage?
- What is the role of God’s grace in marriage? Where does the power to forgive your spouse come from? In your own relationship, how might the repentance / forgiveness / reconciliation cycle work?
- What does it mean for a marriage to be “Christ-centered”?
- What are your goals for fostering a family atmosphere of worship (both as a couple and, Lord-willing, with children)?
- What is the state of your spiritual relationship to one another now? Do you pray together (why/why not; what are the risks of that level of emotional intimacy before marriage)? Do you both have a personal walk with the Lord? How might you nurture that in marriage?
- Suggestions for biblical teaching: many!
This is a bit off the beaten path with regard to what I normally post, but working through this was beneficial for our own marriage, if nothing else.