Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Premarital Counseling?

Getting married? Have you thought about pre-marital counseling? Here are 4 tips to help you maximize your pre-marital experience from the couple who helped prepare Chip and Joanna Gaines for marriage.

Over the past 28 years, we have journeyed with thousands of couples, including Chip and Joanna Gaines, through marriage preparation. As the wedding countdown begins for you, we hope marriage will be as rewarding and fulfilling for you as it has been for us.

Before we dive in, we would want you to consider using a term the church has used for centuries – marriage preparation – instead of pre-marital counseling.

Think of marriage prep more as educational not mental health/wellness. Additional individual or couple counseling may be needed to deal with past hurts or issues like anxiety, sexual abuse, depression or father wounds, but this requires a trained licensed professional.

Marriage prep walks through contemporary issues, sharpens skills, and features Biblical principles that guide you through living out your solemn vows.

Here are our 4 tips:

1. Consider the Pressure

Chip was so ready to be married. But it wasn’t only Chip’s inner desire that drove him—it was the external pressure he was facing from singleness, grandparents, family, church friends, etc. to give Jo her “ring by spring.”

These pressures—both internal and external—all build up. They push us. They pull us. They distract us. They are like a car riding our rear bumper on the freeway, pushing us to go faster.

It is good for us to slow down and think through where we are headed. To be intentional. To ask the right questions. To contemplate the questions behind the questions. Marriage prep prompts this.

God isn’t intimidated by our questions. He welcomes them. It is through this that we see God working. Faith is developed.

It requires faith and intentionality. Don’t shortcut the process.

Driving questions:

  • What is pushing me to get married? What excites me the most?
  • Are our parents for or against it? Does it really matter?
  • What do I need to know to have a meaningful and satisfying marriage? Why are dynamic relationships valuable to life?

2. Consider the Foundation

Marriage prep helps you to “know thyself” and be secure with who you are before you enter a sacred commitment. You see, your core values shape your foundational assumptions of a healthy marriage.

In searching for answers to life’s questions it’s best to look at the model of humanity, Jesus. Reading about His life, we find several “marks of adulthood” that did not exist during his childhood. His conduct in the book of Luke helps us see that in response to hard questions He is able to think and communicate about important life issues, without getting caught up in childish games.

Later in Jesus’ life, we see several other marks that identify Jesus’ maturity:

  • His conduct was acceptable and appropriate.
  • He considered others as more important than self.
  • He was trusted to do what He said He was going to do.

Jesus entire life was to give a correct opinion of God.

And as we mature, that same integrity should increasingly mark our character as well. For if you’re going to love someone for the rest of your life, doesn’t it make sense to be able to be mature and to take responsibility not only for your own life, but to look out for the other?

Jesus said, “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought…You’re blessed when you get your inside world–your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.” (Matthew 5:5 & 8, The Message)

Marriage prep can help you get your inside world put right. It’s foundational!

Driving questions:

  • What is it you believe to be true about life? What drives you? Helps you determine right or wrong?
  • How do these influence your current relationship?
  • Do your actions match your beliefs?

3. Consider the Expectations

Expectations. We all have them whether they’re written down or floating in our head.

Unrealistic expectations can be destructive and discouraging in a new marriage. Often the focus is on the veneer—the thin, polished, surface stuff. Instead of focusing on the veneer, focus on character, values, calling, and personal beliefs about God and life. Marriage prep helps a couple go deeper and gets you on the same page regarding things that matter most.

God’s expectations for marriage include:

  • Sanctification:  Marriage will change us for the better.
  • Servanthood:  Marriage enables us to serve someone else.
  • Spiritual growth:  Marriage places us under the mutual spirit of love.
  • Model:  Christians need to see marriage as a picture of Christ’s relationship to the church.

Thankfully, like a teacher encouraging students to ask questions, James offers this, “Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God—who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly—and it will be given to him.”

Wisdom. True insight into life.

Marriage prep provides space to reflect on whether your expectations are realistic in regard to your future relationship, and the wisdom to know that Mr. or Mrs. Right is not a superhero nor a savior. Learn to accept them.

Driving questions:

  • What are some expectations you have for marriage? Do these match God’s?
  • What are the questions I am asking of our relationship? Are they the right ones?
  • Why does disillusionment come when the honeymoon is over? How can disillusionment lead to fulfillment and satisfaction?

4. Consider the Options

The days prior to a wedding can be hectic. One of the biggest mistakes many couples make is collecting great resources and then becoming overwhelmed by the amount of information gathered. Oftentimes the resources are placed on a shelf only to be retrieved during a major crisis several years later – often too little, too late – when the damage is done.

We highly encourage couples to participate in marriage preparation through one of these options:

  • 8 session study on preparing for a Godly marriage – we have written a Bible study workbook, To Have and To Hold, published by LifeWay. It is a great resource for couples leading up to their vows.
  • Weekly Class – Often done in a small group setting with a leader couple facilitating discussion. The idea is to provide a springboard of conversation for the engaged couple.
  • Weekend Retreat – This is a condensed version of a class done in relaxed retreat setting. Before and after the retreat a couple will work through course content.
  • One-on-One – Meet individually with a pastor or mentor.

So, as you prepare for your marriage, make time in your calendar. Grow in your understanding of Jesus Christ as family becomes a priority. Allow the Holy Spirit to be Teacher, Instructor, Guide, Counselor, and Coach as you discover Biblical principles that govern the way life can be lived to the fullest.

As you meet at the altar, may your wedding day fulfill your dreams; but more importantly, may you be adequately prepared to fulfill your vow – and enjoy the process. Have fun!  The BEST is yet to come!

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Is It Easier (and Cheaper) Having a Son’s Wedding?

5 Things I Now Know About Being the Father of the Groom

Our family had two weddings in six weeks. People often said, “Well, at least one of them is a guy!” or “Aren’t you glad your son’s wedding is second?” As if to imply having a son get married is a breeze, and giving your daughter away is financially and emotionally disastrous.  After being the Father of the Groom, here are 5 things I know.

1. It isn’t cheaper

Nothing about a wedding is cheap. Let’s get this straight, you may save a buck or two when your son gets married compared to your daughter’s wedding, but our culture has somewhat tried to divide the wedding cost.

A rehearsal dinner is not cheap, and we had a simple bar-b-que by the lake that more resembled a family cookout than a stately dinner.

Add in the marriage license, officiant’s fee, corsages, boutonnieres, the bride’s bouquet, groomsmen gifts, and the DJ or band, and you are broke.

In fact, paying for a wedding is the opposite of kidnapping. They take your wallet hostage and demand to send your kid back.

From my experience, it is worth the cost to celebrate your son’s covenant with his new bride.

2. It isn’t less emotional

I felt some of the same feelings as I did when my daughter got married, plus when my beautiful new daughter-in-law and dad walked down the aisle, I empathized with her dad. So, my emotion was compounded.

They walked from behind a beautiful rustic old barn, beneath towering Adirondack pines, and down a long-sloped path. Absolutely gorgeous.

You can’t prepare for those moments.

Then you glance at your son, and memories flood of his childhood cancer days, t-ball practice, ER visits, teaching him how to water ski, and talks on our back deck.

Reflection has a way of diving deep into our soul.

I promise, with all that we have been through with our boy, it was highly emotional.

Life was designed by God to connect Spirit, mind, and emotion as we experience the fullness of life. As a man, I work hard to keep my emotions limited to sporting events and anger. The rest of the time I stuff my emotions just as our rugged macho culture has taught me.

However, going through my son’s wedding reminded me how important it is to teach the next generation about Jesus. Especially when it involves emotions.

3. You are overlooked

Other than the jokes, you are basically just another guest. At times, I felt like I was outside of the snow globe watching this majestic moment. But at other times, I had so much responsibility that it was overwhelming.

One of my friends asked me what it’s like to be the Father of the Groom, so I told him to leave me alone, and when he did, I asked him why he was ignoring me.

That’s what it is like.

It’s crazy.

This tension explains the duplicitous feelings I felt throughout the whole process.

Over the last year, I have learned that to be a good dad of married children I must weave my way through the tension of knowing when to be fully present and when to go off radar while still being supportive.

4. You have NO say

A few years ago, I watched a TV show. The father was instructing his son regarding the upcoming wedding.  He said, “They will ask your opinion, but always say ‘no’ twice before you say ‘yes.’ That way they think you care.”

Meanwhile, in the other room, the mother is advising the bride-to-be, “My husband wants to think he is in charge, but he is not. So, give him three choices. He will say “no” twice before he finally says “yes.” So always make your preference third.”

For the wedding plans, we dads are merely followers.

It is a good life lesson, because I am not in charge of my son’s new family.

That is his job.

My job is to offer prayer, support, and encouragement.

Also, not a bad Spiritual lesson to be reminded that I am not the one in charge.

5. Yet, you matter.

Although you might be an emotional and financial wreck feeling overlooked with no say, we Fathers of the Groom matter.

Looking back, my dad was so important to our family, as was his dad, and his dad.

Multiple studies have shown that an involved father contributes to the emotional well-being of their child and provides a strong resource throughout life. From my experience, I have learned that a grown son needs a dad, or father figure, just about as much after the wedding.

Rites of passages, like getting married, are significant mile markers that provide an opportunity to actually pass the baton to the next generation.

The greatest legacy I can pass on to my son and daughter-in-law is found in Colossians 2:6-7

“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”

The reality of Jesus was passed on to me from my dad as his father and father-in-law taught him to be deeply rooted in his faith.

I know I matter because God has designed my role as a dad, Father of the Groom, to be one of great significance for the Kingdom.

Dads, the next generation needs us. Even if we seemed to be overlooked at the wedding.

Who Gives this Bride Away?

3 Things I Learned From the Longest and Hardest Walk I’ve Ever Taken

Two of my children were married within six weeks. My youngest daughter’s wedding was first.  She asked me to officiate the wedding. I tried to prepare for everything. 

Secretly, I snuck into the church several times, well actually five times, to simulate that “walk” down the aisle with my baby. Each time, I ended up crying uncontrollably. When emotion hits me, my throat tightens up and I can’t talk.

I could not mess up this incredible privilege.

Now more than ever, I believe one of the most overlooked segments of a wedding is the transfer of the bride from father to new husband.

My fifth “ceremony simulation” was the morning of the wedding while the groomsmen were playing golf. The sacrifice of not getting to play a game I love was worth it, since it was the first time I made it through without being a blubbering mess. Then I sat at the altar, smiled, and reflected on these three things I learned while practicing the longest and hardest walk I would ever take. 

1. I wanted to fully accept my future son-in-law.

When my daughter was young, I valued what she valued. If she liked dance, well, guess what, even though I wasn’t fond of dance recitals, I really got into it. 

But this was different. A boy had come into my daughter’s life, and I was supposed to “give her away.” Just like that.

This boy was much different than me – smarter, taller, more handsome, and a better athlete. My nature is to compete with people like that, and conquer them. Not accept and appreciate them.

I wanted their marriage to thrive, thus, I needed to show Koby that I fully accepted him. Thankfully, accepting Koby is really easy. The best part is that he is crazy about my daughter and our God.

And I wanted him to know I loved him, and I was so proud of him. He needed to hear that often.

BUT accepting him as the person to whom I am “giving away” my daughter—well, I am not going to lie, that was tough.

I privately told Koby at the altar “Hey, she’s yours! Thank you for loving my daughter. I am so proud of the man you have become, and I wouldn’t want to give her away to anyone else.”

2. I wanted to offer my blessing.

Prior to his proposal, Koby nervously took me to breakfast to ask for her hand in marriage. I could have made the poor boy extremely uncomfortable by:

asking some really intimidating questions,

powering up,

            and letting him know who has the upper hand.

Instead I followed the advice of a mentor: 

            Make it fun and easy.  Be sure he hears,

                        “YOU HAVE MY BLESSING.”

From the onset of their marital relationship, I wanted to offer what my parents and in-laws provided me.

Symbolically, we were standing at the alter after a long, emotional walk down the aisle to present them to become husband and wife. And this young couple needed to hear both families say, “You have our blessing.”

We are behind you.

My daughter and son-in-law needed to hear me say, “This Holy union has my stamp of approval, and today we are setting it apart in order to declare this marriage sacred.” A sacred marriage, as our friend Gary Thomas says, that is much more about holiness than mere happiness. That is much more about

God’s redemptive work,

the gospel-freeing message of Jesus,

and the picture of Christ and the church.

My job as a dad is to uphold this ideal and pass it on to the next generation, so the generation to come will experience God’s blessing.

3.  I wanted them to leave father and mother and cleave unto one another. 

Ephesians 5:31 reminds us,

“For this cause a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 

As parents, we pray for our kids from the time they are born. But raising kids is a weird deal. Early on they are 100% dependent on us. However, over the next 18+ years we are moving them toward independence. Then all of a sudden scripture commands them to “LEAVE” us? 

First I’m supposed to “give her away” and God wants them to “leave” me.

No wonder I was crying during my simulated walks.

However, I have officiated enough weddings to know that parents are strategically placed on the front row—symbolic perhaps. It hit me that my role becomes one of having a 50-yard line seat to become their biggest fans as I cheer them on. Yet, I cannot play the game of life for them.

The “oneness” that Scripture calls a mystery requires something bigger than ourselves. That’s one more reason why we need a Savior. And I know enough to recognize that LOVE must be the bonding agent for anyone to get meaning from marriage. Jesus reminded us that this “love comes from God.”

As they “left father and mother,” I wanted my newlyweds to grasp they needed something much bigger than themselves to navigate life – the One True God.

Men, we play a significant role in our daughter’s life from the day they are born. Every daughter needs a dad who offers acceptance, approval, and support. So even if you are years away from walking down the aisle, invest deeply.

Our culture needs Godly men to step up for the sake of marriage.

Even if it’s an emotional journey.

More Than Vows:  God’s purpose is bigger than the ceremony

I will never forget the feeling of my last bridesmaid walking down the aisle, leaving only me and my dad. The moment I had anticipated for a lifetime was finally here. I wanted our wedding to be more than a mere formality. I wanted to soak in every moment of it.

When my dad placed my hand in Byron’s hand, calmness and assurance replaced all anxiety. That day we began the process of the two becoming one. As the Bible says, “they are no longer two, but one flesh.” (Matthew 19:6, CSB)

Living Out the Vow

As we write these words, three children (one of which had childhood cancer), twelve moves in five cities and almost 40 years of ministry later, we realize how crucial it is to grasp God’s purpose and plan for marriage.

During our engagement, our expectations of marriage reflected reasonable and God-given desires. We wanted companionship, affection, and security. However, oftentimes our motives were self-centered. Unfortunately, too many couples enter marriage with a “consumer mentality.”

Understanding the Purpose

God’s purposes for marriage are much higher and greater than our own. In Genesis 2:18, God said “it is not good for the man to be alone,” He created Eve as an answer to that aloneness.

Even though Adam had a perfect relationship with God, a perfect environment, and had all the possessions he wanted, there was still a void of intimacy. Blending two individuals into oneness was the Divine goal. They were made to become suitable helpers, counterparts who could balance and back one another in every way.

Unfortunately, too many couples enter marriage with a “consumer mentality.”

Becoming One

God ordained marriage to be an earthly picture of Christ and the Church. Jesus Christ’s love for the Church, according to Ephesians 5, is sacrificial and unconditional. He laid down His life to present the church, His bride, as whole and complete.

Likewise, when a husband and wife love each other as they do their own bodies, nurturing and caring for each other, they live out the beautiful picture of Christ’s oneness with the Church.

Grasping the Key

In order to have a healthy marriage, each of us must focus on becoming the person God created us to be. As author David Egner states in his book What Is the Promise of Marriage?,

“The issue is not just what our Lord says about marriage. Solutions are found by discovering what He has said about basic issues of faith and character and then applying those perspectives to the seasons of marriage.”

Marriage like no other relationship transforms us.

What an incredible privilege to be married!

God’s Timing – Is it a cliché or an opportunity?

It’s tough enough to wait as an individual, but it’s compounded as a married couple.  Waiting?  Why do we have to wait so much for God? 

Why the wait?

Do you remember what it was like to wait before you got your driver’s license? Graduate from high school? Turn 21? At the time it seemed like forever.

But now the questions have gotten more serious…

            …Why can’t we get pregnant?

            …Why won’t God provide a job I love where we can make ends meet?

            …When will God heal our marital brokenness?

Why do we have to wait so much for God?

But can you imagine waiting 400 years, as the Israelites did for their release from captivity?

They’d been stuck in Egypt as slaves. The land promised to them by God seemed like distant history. And so after over four hundred years, they wondered where God was.

What is god up to?

Then, as they groaned in slavery and daily cried out to God, He heard them and remembered His covenant with Abraham.

God began applying pressure to Pharaoh by sending Egypt a series of plagues, making it clear that whether or not Pharaoh wanted to let the Israelites go, God had other plans. Finally, Pharaoh told the Israelites to leave, which is exactly what they’d been waiting for over 400 years—the promised land.

is married Life a Promised LanD?

To most of us at one time or another, married life looks like a Promised Land flowing with all kinds of wonderful things.

When we want something in our marriage so badly, imagining the “good stuff” in that Promised Land comes easily. But as the Israelites soon found out—and as you may find facing tough issues—the difficulties getting from point A to point B can make the journey more than you bargained for.

The truth is, it will take some wandering, doubting, and perhaps even circling back around, as the Israelites did in the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land. Patience with this meandering path can be difficult, and too often we hurry ahead in our minds to that destination we want to reach so badly, forgetting all the ground that lies between here and there.

when will we see the big Picture?

From God’s perspective, the pressure we experience along the way is part of what makes “the good stuff” of our lives very good. For He uses those pressures in our lives to help clarify both where we are and where we’re going.

What happens along the journey affects what that destination looks like when we finally get there.

‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to take Him at His Word
Just to rest upon His promise,
Just to know, “Thus saith the Lord!”
(Louisa M. R. Stead, 1882)

Can Two Really Become One Spiritually?

Most of us are looking for a simple formula to follow God. It is sad, but true, that many Christians are often just religious enough to be miserable, thus God’s ordinances become legalities that exasperate us.

Then we bring these intentions into a marriage where the Scripture declares “and the two will become one flesh” (Mark 10:8, CSB). It begs the question – Can two really become one Spiritually? 

If someone pulled us aside during our engagement and told us that becoming one spiritually would be one of the greatest challenges in our marriage, we would have denied it.

If someone pulled us aside during our engagement and told us that becoming one spiritually would be one of the greatest challenges in our marriage, we would have denied it.

When the honeymoon was over, we began to realize the complexity of growing together in Christ. Reluctantly we have recognized our struggle is due to

individual selfishness,

     ego,

          and pride.

What adds to the difficulty is that spiritual growth takes place daily. In other areas such as money, in-laws, and even communication, a couple can take a break for a couple of days. Only when you begin to understand yourself, and more importantly God, will you begin to understand and experience how two can really become one Spiritually.

In our thirty-seven years of marriage, we can point to three areas that have assisted in this “two becoming one” process.

Practice Oneness in the Disciplines of the Faith

Shortly after our wedding, our faith journey felt like it was on a treadmill. We were busy doing things for God and attempting to impress God. Yet, completely missing Jesus in the process.

We began to realize that discipline brings freedom. The inner spiritual disciplines that we practiced unleashed God’s Spirit in our lives. Experiencing as a couple the disciplines of Sabbath rest, solitude, simplicity, prayer, fasting, and Bible study, can take you off the treadmill and move you forward toward Spiritual oneness.

Understanding True Agape Love

As we strive to become less ego-centered and more Christ focused, we realize how much our marriage relationship facilitates spiritual growth. Our relationship is a constant opportunity for us to live out the truth we believe about God.

Spiritual oneness is one of the toughest issues Christian couples face in marriage because it requires dying to self, but the perks are well worth it.

Spiritual oneness is one of the toughest issues Christian couples face in marriage because it requires dying to self, but the perks are well worth it.

Oneness Benefits

Scripture calls the two becoming one a “mystery.” A good mystery is known by only those who stay connected to the plot. God is in the business of making Himself known a piece at a time.

Spiritual oneness:

  • deepens our conversation and thought level.
  • deepens our intimacy.
  • increases our commitment and compatibility.
  • increases our capacity to express love for one another.

To personally unleash the Spirit of God in your life is the greatest thing you can do for your marriage.

Why is Valentine’s Day Sometimes Awkward?

One of our buddies lightheartedly says Valentine’s Day is a mere holiday created by Hallmark. If he is right, it worked. Approximately 150 million Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged annually, making Valentine’s Day the second most popular card-sending holiday after Christmas.

Approximately 150 million Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged annually.

It is a day that celebrates romance. A day set aside to openly express our love and appreciation. Yet, for married couples it often brings awkward pressure.

Our first year of marriage, Byron tried to be so creative. He planned a week of surprises. The day before Valentine, he gave Carla a set of hubcaps. Yep, HUBCAPS! Long story, but it made sense…sorta.

It was fun. And our car needed them?!?

Except the next day in Carla’s office all of the women received flowers delivered to their desks. Byron had planned a romantic dinner, but Carla was so hurt. “ALL the women got flowers…I got hubcaps!”

In defense of Byron, he showered her with meaningful gifts all week, but the last gift was hubcaps. The dinner was ruined with conflict.

We had disappointingly missed each other.

Why is Valentine’s Day so awkward? How can couples take full advantage of such a special day?

Understanding Valentine’s Day

Why celebrate Valentine’s? Various legends say:

  • Valentine was a priest who was put to death for continuing to officiate weddings for young soldiers,
  • or the church wanted to “Christianize” a fertility festival,
  • or it marked the beginning of the birds’ mating season.

Although the truth is murky, the age-old stories emphasize St. Valentine as a heroic and romantic figure.

Make it Personal

There is evidence that the church has been involved in this romantic day for centuries. Why? Not sure, but we suspect it’s because God is love.

God is for meaningful relationships.

God is for romance.

He is in the business of teaching us to love. And we need the help.

Holidays and celebrations help guide us into new perspectives by

  • creating a communal remembrance.
  • slowing us down to think.
  • helping us re-center on what matters.

Therefore, the best way to enjoy Valentine’s is to take a communal event and make it personal. More importantly, determine what works best for you as a couple.

Suggestions for Expressing Your Love

If you have been dating for a week or married for 60 years, hopefully you have learned to express your love by speaking your spouse’s love language—not yours. Thank you, Dr. Chapman.

[If not, take a quiz at http://www.5lovelanguages.com.]

Here are four simple thoughts:

  • Be creative. Do something out of the ordinary that truly communicates your love.
  • Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Be you, and make Valentine’s week fun.
  • Allow Valentine’s Day to be a reminder of Jesus’ sacrificial love for us.
  • Most of all keep an element of surprise for your sweetie.

So, take full advantage of “the month of love” by letting the one you love know it. Our recommendation is to avoid giving hubcaps or toasters as you make it a special day.