Premarital counseling’s primary purpose is to prepare a couple for a lifetime commitment to each other. A couple genuinely seeking counseling wants their counselor to dispel any illusions and remove the blinders so that they enter into marriage with their eyes wide open. Counseling can help the couple develop the skill of adjusting to circumstances beyond their control – which is the number one skill to have in your marriage toolbox – for a lifetime marriage.
The best time to begin premarital counseling is not before the wedding. Before the wedding is too late. When a couple is fully engaged and planning their wedding, they tend to have blinders firmly in place and counseling is marginally effective at best. The best time to seek premarital counseling is around the time you are getting engaged. A better name for premarital counseling is “pre-engagement counseling”. This is the time when the couple is deciding whether or not to get married. The couple is still open to feedback and information prior to making a final “yes or no” decision. So much time is spent planning and preparing for the wedding. Few couples are wise enough to take the time, before the wedding planning starts, to build a strong foundation for their marriage.
The best preparation for marriage is to discover and dig deep into the couple’s issues up front. Traditional pre-marital counseling covers several topics, but only at an introductory level. At New Reflections Counseling, Matt Pavlik teams with couples to identify core strengths and weaknesses. Then, the majority of the time is spent focusing on strengthening the relationship at its weakest points.
How do people end up choosing an unhealthy person to date or marry? In my experience as a counselor, it is skipping over the time in a relationship when objectivity is at its highest. Let’s consider an example to illustrate this idea.
Sally, 24 years old and a recent college graduate, needs to find transportation quickly so she can get to work every day. She looks around and takes a car for a test drive. She likes the color, feels comfortable sitting in the car, the car looks to be in good shape, and the car handles the road with ease. It is love at first sight! She comes back the next day and the next, taking the car on drives. Each time she takes the car out for longer drives. Sally is in love with this car!
Sally plans the date of purchase (the wedding), signs the financial papers and finally drives the car away never to return because she is now the proud owner. From this moment forward, everything is different. Sally must drive this car everywhere she goes. She needs this car to take her to work every day. She has to take the car in for maintenance to get the oil changed, rotate the tires, etc. Her whole perspective on the car changes from being a distant admirer, to an up-close admirer, to an up-close owner.
Then it happens. Sally is all set to drive to work one day and the car refuses to start! It’s only been four months since she purchased it. When Sally is the owner, the seller is not responsible for the car – she is. She makes arrangements to take it to a mechanic and finds an alternate way to work. The mechanic calls her later that day with the news, “Your car needs $477 worth of repairs to get it working again. There’s also an oil leak. It will eventually need to be fixed and it will be at least $2000.” “Whoa,” reels Sally, “this car I love is costing me dearly!”
This could happen to anyone. Even if a person is careful to select a mate, there are no guarantees. Our relationships will always require hard work. However, it is possible to do our part to avoid unnecessary heartache. It would be nice to think God would always prevent us from buying a car that needed a lot of work, but He does not. At least He does not all the time. And He is less likely (or we are less able to hear Him) if we are not praying and asking Him to help us make the decision.
Let’s take a closer look at what Sally could have done differently to reduce the likelihood of getting a lemon (but note that once you have a lemon you make lemonade). First, it is positive that she took the car for many test drives. This provides opportunities to experience the car and see how it performs in more than just one drive. However, if Sally has already determined that this car is the one for her, she has already lost most of her objectivity. So while continuing to spend more time with her selection, she is only “falling more in love” which means she is increasingly more likely to overlook any flaws.
Flaws are not bad; no one is perfect. But, some people are closer to being ready for marriage than others. If you marry someone who is farther away, you will need to invest more effort up front to have a working relationship. When someone like Sally is “in love,” he or she will more easily overlook flaws. This can happen because Sally let herself be in such a need to find a car that she is desperate to have the first one that appears to make her feel comfortable. Desperation directly results in a loss of objectivity. The longer she spends with the car, the more attached she becomes to it.
Attachment and passion are subjective. This is good because they can keep a couple together – after they have committed to each other. But before marriage and before going on too many dates, it is important to stay objective and evaluate a potential mate. This requires patience and being tough, some would say. When you are first meeting someone, this is the time you are most objective. The longer you know someone the harder it is to be objective. That is why it is so hard to break up with someone the longer you have spent together – you’ve already formed an attachment. Staying objective early on prevents you from getting into a relationship with a person who is not ready to be in a relationship – due to “maintenance needs”.
The process of selecting a date or a mate is a subjective one. It is supposed to be. But for these very reasons, it can also be a daunting one. Seeing a counselor during this time provides the added objectivity to help you sort through your values and feelings so you can make a wise decision. I am available to help you find the right person and be the right person.