Pre-Marriage Counseling (Part 1)
In the prior post, I gave a high-level overview of the typical first session for pre-marriage counseling: “orientation” to pre-marriage counseling as well as outlining the biblical view of marriage.
Between Sessions 1 and 2 I assign two books: future-husband reads Federal Husband by Douglas Wilson, and future-wife reads The Fruit of Her Hands by Nancy Wilson; I ask the couple *if they have time* in the midst of preparing/planning the wedding to try to read/skim each other’s books. I ask them to be in conversation with one another about what they are reading, e.g., What do they agree with? What do they disagree with? What was new? What was compelling? I ask them to take note of those types of thoughts and that we’ll discuss them at Session 2. (Note: I haven’t done this yet, but I’ve been contemplating supplementing portions of Federal Husband with chapters from Timothy Witmer’s The Shepherd Leader at Home.)
So, by the time I meet again with the couple for Session 2 they should have read the assigned reading, had their own discussions about the reading material, and they should be prepared for our pre-marriage counseling discussion regarding the mutual duties, responsibilities, and privileges of husbands and wives.
There are three things I emphasize in Session 2: the biblical role/duties of husbands, the biblical/role duties of wives, and, again, the centrality of companionship. Typically the discussion regarding roles/duties is straightforward: we look at the Christ-church principle in Ephesians, and household codes in Colossians, as well as positive / negative examples from OT/NT narratives, e.g., Ananias and Sapphira in Book of Acts is Christ-church antitype. It goes without saying that today there is a great deal of error taught and/or misinformation regarding roles/duties of husbands and wives, but the best way address any of that when it comes up in pre-marriage counseling is to return to Genesis and look at the original purpose of marriage (not good for Adam to be alone = companionship), and the Adam/Eve marriage-relationship (Eve was given to be Adam’s “help-meet”; better translation of ‘ezer kenegdo probably “sustainer beside him” (per Robert Alter), that is, a wife is not auxiliary to a husband but rather a counterpart without rival or comparison. So, with that in mind, I then point to Proverbs 31, and I tell them that in its original context it makes a lot of sense to interpret it as an epic poem about woman as the domestic-warrior she was created to be (and I can’t recall where I read that originally, but I think it was Peter Leithart).
In summary, I strive for simple, practical advice, and I really try to be their earliest cheerleader encouraging them to prioritize their marriage, to be diligent and intentional about cultivating companionship, and mortifying any sin that would denigrate fellowship. Probably the most practical principle I give them, and I forget where I read this originally, is the maxim: Pursue / cultivate anything that contributes to companionship, and avoid / discard anything that does not contribute to companionship. In addition, I try to impress upon them the necessity that they mutually cultivate a high view of marriage, but not marriage in a general or vague sense, but rather their marriage, particularly. Also, sometimes in Session 2 we’ll read an excerpt from “Communication Comes First” in Jay Adam’s Christian Living in the Home, or recently I’ve started pulling highlights from Joel Beeke’s article “Nurturing Intimate Communication with Your Spouse” (PRJ 9, 1 (2017): 265-278). The whole point is that married life comes with a myriad of circumstances, but couples have to be disciplined to have crucial conversations, to talk it out and walk out the details because they are committed to preserving meaningful, real fellowship.
In the next post we’ll discuss Session 3: the duties of marriage and parenting.