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Posts Tagged ‘marriage preparation’

Story by Rachel Allee. Photos by Worthington Photography.

In 2013, eight couples exchanged vows during their wedding ceremonies at FBC. Church policy requires couples who have their weddings at the church to undergo some form of premarital counseling before the wedding day. Steve Booth, Associate Pastor, Ministry of Formation, and Lynn Turner, Senior Associate Pastor, Ministry of Community, along with other members of the pastoral staff, invest hours each year helping engaged couples (including the many who choose to have their ceremonies at other locations) dig to the bottom of vital issues that can derail marriages.

Callout-weddingsSteve and Lynn are trained and certified in Prepare/Enrich, an online relationship inventory and assessment tool. They use it to measure engaged and married couples’ strengths and weaknesses and to provide valuable feedback and teach relationship skills. Though not all the staff ministers use Prepare/Enrich, Lynn and Steve enjoy the program and consider it helpful.

bride300px“I have found it to be really thorough and a good stepping off point when we‘re starting off with couples,” Lynn says. The Prepare/Enrich online survey assesses couples in ten core relationship areas, such as finances, spiritual compatibility, and extended family relationships. The survey categorizes the couples’ separate answers into areas of compatibility and incompatibility, and then suggests exercises to shore up the weaknesses. “If they are really struggling with, let’s say, three out of the 10, then there are some suggested things they can do to work on those specific areas and it gives biblical references and scriptural background for how they can incorporate the Bible or the spiritual nature of some of those things into them,” Lynn says. She requires at least four sessions of an hour and a half each: one to introduce and discuss the material, two to work through the results, and one to discuss wedding day plans.

Time after time, Lynn has witnessed the benefits of premarital counseling in the lives of couples. Some have contacted her later and admitted that issues that popped up during counseling turned out to be sticky spots in their marriages. One couple even came to the decision to postpone their wedding and work through some issues that arose during counseling. Lynn encouraged them to get the help they needed, and after a year and a half, they contacted her to say that God was leading them back into marriage.

Steve agrees that premarital counseling has a way of uncovering bigger issues. Common topics that often present problems, like finances, intimacy, or future plans for having children, are usually symptomatic of deeper issues, such as a lack of self-awareness. If there’s time, he likes to help trace an issue back if a counselee doesn’t understand “why something gets kicked up in them every time a particular issue comes up. It might be related to the family of origin or some wound along the way, and they’re just not tuned in enough to know that’s why they get hooked and respond in a certain way to their fiancée.” Another deeper issue is communication and conflict resolution. Often, Steve says, “Couples can’t hear each other. They’re talking a lot. There’s a lot of conversation, but they are not really hearing each other.”

Couples can be fearful of counseling sessions, but Lynn likes to tell them that there are no right or wrong answers. Honesty is the best policy, and it’s best to remember that the real work comes after the vows have been said, though that doesn’t negate the value of introducing potential hot-button topics before the wedding day.

Melissa Brooks, who married her husband, Justin, at FBC in 2009, is open about the benefits and limitations of premarital counseling. “Although I appreciated the premarital counseling because it forced us to think about topics that we may not have discussed openly with each other … the real work of a marriage happens long after the wedding,” she says. “Once babies and houses and job changes and money and extended families start to work their way into the marriage, it leaves your relationship vulnerable to circumstances you never would have imagined. Marriages are hard, even for the best matched pairs. You’ve got to work at growing together and toward God in your marriage or it becomes very, very easy to grow apart.”

Steve agrees that a better support system for married couples is needed at FBC, and he hopes that Prepare/Enrich can be implemented church-wide in the future. “Think of it as a checkup program,” he says. Couples would take the Enrich part of the inventory (designed for those who are already married) and then meet together for video feedback and discussions one night a week over multiple weeks. “We are way overdue for offering something to our couples that allows them to focus in on their marriage,” he says.

In the meantime, the FBC pastoral staff does its best to provide a safe, healthy environment for couples to explore some of the unknowns of marriage. Lynn offers up a piece of advice she frequently shares with her counselees: “What if every day, every night, after you get married, before you put your head on the pillow, you turn to the other person and say, ‘How could I have made your life easier today?’ In that way you open the door and give the other person permission to say things that maybe you don’t want to hear. There’s something about that that draws you together. It keeps things open and honest.”

Editor’s note: If you or a family member was married at FBC, please share one of your memories in the Comments box below.

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