Preparing for Marriage

by James Rudy Gray

Two of my daughters were married within the last six months. As a result, I have recently been thinking more diligently about the whole institution of marriage today.

Home is the bedrock of society. We must have good and godly marriages in order to build strong homes and even good churches.

However, at least half of the marriages in America end in divorce. What is wrong? I am convinced that we are not, as the church, preparing young people for marriage. Pre-marital counseling should be required for every professing Christian couple planning to be married. Why? Preparation precedes blessing. No one would build a house without preparation. No one would take an exam in school without any preparation. We should not marry without preparing for it.

I require at least six sessions of counseling with the couples who want me to officiate at their wedding. We talk about commitment to Christ and to each other. That is the foundation of a Christian home. That must be established before going any further in the process. The goal of the Christian life is to glorify God and the goal of a Christian marriage is the same. Christian couples can be taught that marriage is a ministry and that happiness is a by-product, not the goal, of a godly marriage.

God's design for marriage is intimacy, and that involves so much more than sex. Sex is not unimportant and I always spend a session or more talking frankly with a couple about it. There are, however, at least eleven other categories of intimacy that a couple can experience in marriage. Spiritual intimacy, in my opinion, is the most important. This is where a couple does not simply attend church together but they actually share the things of God together. They pray together, study together, and talk about Scripture and how it applies to their lives.

In addition, I typically discuss birth order, male-female differences, communication, friendship, and finances. I am often surprised at how much young couples know about these areas. More frequently, however, I am shocked about how little they know in these areas.

A key question I ask two engaged people is "Do you love her (or him)?" They always answer "yes." Then I simply ask, "What does that mean?" It is surprising at how many are stumped by that question. The overwhelmingly majority equate loving someone with the feelings they have for that person. I often make the distinction that loving is about commitment and liking is about feelings. We actually need both in marriage, but you can love your mate even when you may not like him or her very much at the moment.

Love is the fruit of God's Spirit and a characteristic of His nature. First John 4:8 says that God is love and 1 John 4:19 says we love because He first loved us. Corinthians 13 describes love but the Greek word agape defines it. Feelings are unpredictable and undependable. They are not wrong or bad, but they are inferior to love. Love will empower a person to stay in a marriage and support his or her mate in sickness and in health and for better or worse.

 Knowing how our families of origin have shaped us is invaluable for a man and woman entering marriage. We are like the people who raised us more than we consciously realize.

Finally, I try to spend a session in premarital counseling on finances. Too many of today's young couples enter marriage thinking it is okay to carry debt. I try to teach them that a good goal that will help them in their marriage is to have no debt except the mortgage on their house. What about a vehicle? My recommendation to them, is, if possible, to pay themselves the equivalent of a car payment before they buy a car. Then, after a few years of that kind of discipline, they can "borrow" the money from themselves and pay themselves back. Money is the number one problem in marriages today and debt is very often a cancer to the relationship.

Marriage is God's design. We will be influenced to one degree or another by our culture, but we must be committed to following God's design and applying God's truth to this most important of all human relationships.

James Rudy Gray is certified as a professional counselor by the
National Board for Certified Counselors, and is a member of the
American Association of Christian Counselors. He pastors
Utica Baptist Church in Seneca, S.C.

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