Sunday, October 08, 2017

Premarital Counseling and Marriage as Covenant

In our community we had a "Wedding Chapel" where couples paid local pastors $75 and got an instant wedding. I, and some others, refused to do that. I won't officiate a wedding ceremony unless a couple agrees to meet with Linda and me at least six times for premarital counseling.

We only work with premarital couples who are part of our church family. This gives us more than enough to do. If they are with us, Linda and I love assisting them on the road to marriage.

We are passionate about helping premarital couples enter into a marital covenant with God that will last a lifetime. There aren't a lot of marriages like that, so we feel pretty intense about this. Our experience is that nearly all premarital couples desire a marriage that lasts a lifetime. In order to achieve this they need a lot of help, since it's likely that they lack parents who stayed together and modeled a healthy marital relationship for them. The lack of this creates problems for people who want to get married. In counseling we address this, along with many other things.

Linda and I love getting to know premarital couples! When we finally come to that moment where we're standing before God ,and the man and woman are expressing vows to each other, we can say: We know these two people. That's important to us.

In premarital counseling we have, for years, used the FOCCUS premarital inventory. Couples individually respond to statements like the examples below. The materials are sent in and, for a small fee, processed and returned to a Facilitator like myself. I get a packet of information that works like an MRI of the premarital couple's relationship. It's broken down into categories such as "Communication," "Financial Issues," "Family of Origin Issues," and "Extended Family Issues." In the premarital counseling sessions we work from the areas that have the least amount of agreement on the preferred answers.

Here are some sample statements from the actual FOCCUS inventory.
Here are some thoughts we have about learning about Marriage As Covenant (rather than "contract").
      • THINK OF HAVING A LIFE PARTNERMost couples we work with, when they think of marriage (rather than co-habiting), think of a life partner. But the idea of covenant may not be there, at least intentionally and reflectively. "Covenants" are forever; "contracts" can be negotiated and broken.
      • The FOCCUS material asks covenantal questions. You don't have to be engaged to do this survey. Note: 10% of all who take it decide not to get married and end their relationship.
      • FIND A COVENANT MARRIAGE AND TAKE THEM OUT TO DINNERDo you know of a two persons who have been married many years, and selflessly and sacrificially love each other? Go out for dinner with them and ask them questions about their marriage. Treat them. They deserve it. Note: Linda and I were once hosting the Jewish novelist Chaim Potok for a series of presentations at Michigan State University. In a session with high school students a girl asked him, "Mr. Potok, I don't have any moral values. How can I get them?" Chaim answered: "Find a family that has moral values and hang around them." A lot of the stuff we have been taught has been caught.
      • REJECT THE MYTH OF COMPATIBILITY. Understand, from the beginning, that no two people are compatible enough to weld together for life. So, you won't need to divorce on the basis of "incompatible differences." Expect them. Again, find a successful, long-term covenant marital couple. They've learned how to love in the midst of their differences.
      • SAVE THE SEXUAL (INTERCOURSE) RELATIONSHIP UNTIL COVENANTALLY WELDED TOGETHER. This builds trust, and increases real love which is: loving the other for who they are in Christ and not for the sex they can give you. Contractual relationships are all about what I get; covenantal relationships are all about God first, and the other person second.
    • READ THESE TWO BOOKS BY WALTER TROBISCH. Before I got married (41 years in August!) my pastor had me read these two marvelous books by Walter Trobisch - I Married You, and I Loved a Girl. Prepare to be ushered into another, beautiful, alternative noetic framework.
  • READ MIKE MASON'S BOOK. We strongly suggest reading Mike Mason's famous The Mystery of Marriage. This is all about the nature of covenant relationship.
  • WATCH "SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE," ALONE. The Tom Hanks character knew his wife, inside and out. The Meg Ryan character longs to have a husband like this. And she hasn't even seen his face. Such is the quality of covenant relationship; viz., it grows in an ever-newness of love while the face and body sag and decline.