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Pre-Marital Counseling: Our Experience & Tips for Engaged Couples | Virginia Wedding Photographer

Wedding Tips

Wedding planning is more than just rentals and florals. There is a whole checklist of stuff you “have to do” before the big day. Marriage license, finding your first apartment together, talking about how to handle first holidays, etc. It’s a lot. Much of it can and should be discussed in pre-marital counseling, but I think this step of the wedding planning process is not discussed enough.

Engaged couples are often left on their own to figure out how to obtain and maintain pre-marital counseling. At least that was our experience. And if you’re a part of the Christian community, hopefully that isn’t your experience. You should be able to go to your church and receive pre-marital counseling. I say should. But that doesn’t always happen. Our experience is unfortunate proof.

Our Experience Trying to Start Pre-Marital Counseling

Kevin and I knew we should get pre-marital counseling. But at the time we were still getting settled in a new church and didn’t know many people in that community. We had some criteria for pre-marital counseling in mind, and it was harder to meet than we expected.

First, we wanted to be counseled by a married couple. If that was a pastor, we wanted his wife involved too. We hoped they had a fair amount of marriage experience under their belt so we could glean from their lived experience and wisdom.

Second, we wanted to be counseled by a member of a strong church. Kevin and I both hold our faith to be the most important aspect of our lives. So we had high bars for the counselors’ theological beliefs.

Lastly, and least important of our criteria, we hoped the counselor could also officiate our wedding.

Because of this, we went to churches first. I emailed the pastor of my parents’ home church. Twice. No response. Then I emailed their campus pastor of the location I had attended after college. He responded, but told us he doesn’t offer pre-marital counseling.

Both of these experiences were deeply disappointing, and even hurtful. As a believer and follower of Jesus, I expected my church to jump at the chance to mentor a young couple into a holy and sanctifying marriage. But that wasn’t what happened. It leads me to further frustration with the church at large, but that’s a conversation for another day.

Meeting Our Pre-Marital Counselors

Eventually, we began getting more plugged into our new church here in Washington, D.C. So Kevin and I decided to ask the pastor how we might get pre-marital counseling. Unfortunately because our wedding would occur almost 5 hours from D.C., we lost hope that we’d have a pastor from our church officiate our wedding. But we were still desperate to begin counseling.

Our pastor first invited us to a class he taught about relationships. It was called “Yoked” and the six week study is still to this day one of the most valuable time investments we made in our marriage. We then were assigned a married couple from our church who would meet with us regularly as our pre-marital counselors. Austin was a Deacon of the church, and he and his wife Bailee had been married 7 years when we began meeting with them, with a young daughter. Kevin and I took a step of faith and met with them. From that first meeting, we knew God had placed them in our path for a wonderful reason.

Today, the Dover family is one of our closest allies and friends. They have walked us through so many concepts and experiences throughout marriage. They even gave the speech at our wedding reception in lieu of Best Man/Maid of Honor speeches. And luckily another pastor from our new home church was able to officiate our wedding.

What We Learned from Pre-Marital Counseling

Our experience was a slow and discouraging start, but eventually we landed in a great place. We learned a lot both from our senior pastor’s Yoked class and our friends Austin and Bailee. We still meet with the Dovers fairly regularly, and it has provided such sweet support in these early months of marriage.

From our experience, here are the tips I give to newly engaged couples seeking pre-marital counseling.

1. Acknowledge you NEED pre-marital counseling.

Do not skip this step. Some of the best investments you can make into your marriage are not even monetary. It’s a time and emotional investment. But so worthwhile. Approach it with open hearts and minds and be sure to give it the effort you both deserve.

2. Seek counseling through your home church.

I’m hoping both you and your fiancé have a home church community. If you don’t please do your due diligence in finding a Bible-teaching church! It could be the most important first step you take as an engaged couple.

Kevin and I had a hard time finding a home church at first, but once we did, we were fully plugged in. It feels even sweeter knowing we both fell in love with our church. It makes it feel truly “ours.” Embrace that journey as a couple!

Going to a home church for your pre-marital counseling is the most natural thing you can do. Our church is meant to be our support system. We should be involving our church community in every aspect of our lives. They should be apart of our marriages, childrens’ lives, careers, etc. So seeking counseling from that community is beautiful. It’s how the church was intended to work.

3. If Your Church Doesn’t Offer Pre-Marital Counseling, Hold Them Accountable.

This was the most disappointing discovery of our pre-marital journey. Having churches and pastors ignore and turn us down was deeply discouraging. If this happens to you, call it out! Email your pastor, call the church office. Remind them that pre-marital counseling is how we invest in and disciple the next generation of wives and husbands. If they don’t have the proper resources to do this very basic service, that should be spotlighted in the very next members meeting.

Be an active participant in your church community. Your voice can help the community improve and follow God’s model for the church family. Pray through your response. Be respectful. But be direct and advocate for your spiritual wellbeing (and that of others following behind you).

4. Engage in Counseling Before the Engagement (if you can) AND After the Wedding

Pre-marital counseling is a bit of a misnomer in my opinion. I believe couples are better off seeking pre-engagement counseling! You should have hard discussions before making meaningful commitments. Engagement is a sacred season of life, where you’re beginning to build a future together. You’re planning for forever. If an engagement is broken, there are deeper feelings naturally involved. Consider beginning counseling as soon as you begin chatting about marriage with your boyfriend/girlfriend!

Similarly, don’t let the investment end after the wedding day. That first year of marriage can be a bumpy ride. Having a support system and a go-to during this period can help incubate your relationship as it grows stronger. It’s been so valuable for my husband and I, and we highly recommend it.

5. No topic is off the table.

Come with questions! Come with concerns. Make sure you arrive with your mind and heart open to receive others’ wisdom. This is a time to be vulnerable and communicate with your future spouse openly and honestly.

I highly recommend using this time to discuss family dynamics, kids, holiday arrangements, spending habits, financial goals, parenting preferences/styles, childhood traumas, sex and intimacy expectations and hurts, etc. etc.!

This person is about to be your spouse. So if you can’t discuss these things with them, you should dig into why. That’s not to say you have to reveal the deepest parts of your heart in front of your counselor. But you should at least hint that there are issues in certain areas you’d like to explore as a couple. They can guide you through it and give you tools to get started.

If you’re an engaged couple and have not yet begun your pre-marital counseling journey, what are you waiting for? Your marriage is for a lifetime. The wedding is just a 24-hour day like any other day. You won’t regret spending this time investing in your relationship.

For more wedding planning and relationship advice from your friendly neighborhood VA wedding photographer, check out the below posts!

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