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Premarriage Counseling

by Tim Isbell

#counseling #wedding #premarriage

This web page is a resource for pastors who do premarriage counseling. It also includes a resource to help ministers design the wedding ceremony. You probably will never use all of these resources with any particular couple, but if you do much work in this area, you'll probably use them all. If you are a pastor who needs to do long-distance (internet video) pre-marriage counseling, check out Premarriage Counseling - online

My typical counseling calendar includes an introductory meeting followed by four sessions. Each of these five meetings lasts about 90 minutes and occur a week or two apart. We invest most of this time in relational counseling, but we also spend some time designing the couple's wedding ceremony. My wife sometimes partners with me in 1-2 of the counseling (especially those covering sexuality, where she sometimes meets with the bride while I meet with the groom).

Premarriage Counseling framework:

Premarriage Awareness Inventory

Most pastors receive requests for premarriage counseling from a wide variety of brides and grooms. Some are mature Christians, some are cultural Christians, and some are heading into unequally yoked marriages. For some, it is their first marriage and others were previously married. Some already live together; some are celibate. So I use an assessment tool to identify the details of the couple's relationship and to determine what areas need what kind of help.

The tool I use is the Premarriage Awareness Inventory (PAI). At the end of our introductory session, if the couple and I decide to go forward then I give them access to this online inventory. It asks each of them to separately answer 119 questions. Then the PAI automatically organizes their responses in 10 categories, providing a helpful PAI Assessment for each area. I use this assessment to frame the four counseling sessions.  

The 10 PAI (Premarriage Assessment Inventory) categories are:

  1. Beginnings/Expectations
  2. Communication
  3. Shared Feelings
  4. Personality/Relating Styles
  5. Conflict Resolution/Problem Sharing
  6. Family/Friends
  7. Finances/Legal
  8. Sexuality
  9. Lifestyle
  10. Religion

My goal is not to resolve every problem in our sessions, nor even to discuss every issue. My goal is to identify every area the couple needs to process before the wedding, and I introduce them to the tools to do this. They will walk out of most counseling sessions with relational work to do, including some challenging issues to discuss between themselves. The PAI is an excellent tool to expose every area where the couple's marriage is vulnerable.

I purchase the Automated Profile product, for each couple. This product includes both the Basic Inventory for the bride and groom and also the Profile Assessment, all for about $26 (January 2017). It's cheaper in packs of 5. You can pass the cost along to the couple. The supplier offers an Administrator’s Portfolio to help you navigate the system and a short online book, titled A Good Beginning, that provides the couple some background reading for the topics covered in the inventory.

Basic Inventory. After I complete the online purchase, the vendor sends an email to both the bride and groom, connecting each one to an online inventory questionnaire. You can purchase this Basic Inventory separately from the Automated Profile, but I strongly recommend that you buy the assessment!

Automated Profile Assessment. This collates the responses of the bride and groom, groups their answers into categories, AND provides several paragraphs of interpretation to help the counselor efficiently use the inventory during the sessions. All this happens online, though when I've had a question I found the company very responsive to email and phone conversations. 

The sessions. My practice is to use the PAI Assessment to produce a framework that helps the couple know what they need to work on before the next meeting. A typical session looks like this:

  • Getting Started, 15 minutes. Includes a question or two, a resource or two, and scripture.
  • Interactive counseling session, 60 minutes. Includes working through a subset of the 10 PAI categories, integrated with resources from Advice for Couples.
  • Wrapup, 15 minutes. Summarizing the session, confirming the next appointment, and prayer.

To keep everything organized, I generally use a Shared Google Doc. Here is my current master document: Premarriage Counseling Pastor's Notes - Master

The Wedding Ceremony

Here is my Wedding Ceremony Master file. If I am also officiating at the wedding ceremony, I give the couple this file to the couple in our first counseling session and ask them to start selecting the elements they want to include. Then we spend some time in each counseling session editing it into the form that fits their wishes, the facility where the ceremony will happen, and my capabilities. The link also includes a selection of exhortations (short sermons) that I use in weddings.

Hope you find these resources helpful.



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