by Tim Isbell
#counseling #wedding #premarriage
This web page gathers my premarriage counseling materials, developed over several years. It also includes a resource to help ministers design the wedding ceremony. You are welcome to download and use anything you find here - for free. You probably will never use all of these with any particular couple, but it is a great toolbox. If you are a pastor who needs to do long-distance (internet video) pre-marriage counseling, check out Premarriage Counseling - online. When a couple contacts me for counseling, and I want to take the next step, I send them the link to that web page.
I schedule four premarriage counseling sessions for a couple - each session lasting 90-120 minutes. We invest most of this time in relational counseling, but we also spend some time designing the couple's wedding ceremony. My wife often partners with me in 1-2 of the counseling (especially when those covering sexuality, where at least part of the session she meets with the bride while I meet with the groom).
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 many it is their first marriage; others have were married before. Some already live together. Before we get into any counseling, we need a broad assessment tool to identify the areas most needing counsel.
I found such a tool and used it for many years. It is the Premarriage Awareness Inventory (PAI). It assesses the couple's readiness using a 119 question inventory that the bride and groom fill out separately. It organizes their responses in 10 categories, which I use to frame the premarriage counseling sessions. You can follow the link and learn more about the product, but first, you might want to read the rest of this section.
The 10 PAI (Premarriage Assessment Inventory) categories are:
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 try to give them the tools to do it. 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 don't recommend it!
Automated Profile Assessment. This collates the responses of the bride and groom, groups their answers into categories, AND provides several paragraphs of interpretation/assessment to help the counselor efficiently use the inventory data 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. My practice is to use the Profile Assessment to produce a framework that helps the couple know what they need to work on before the next session (or the wedding. I often do this in a Shared Google Doc format so we can all stay synchronized throughout the sessions.
I generally use a Shared Google Doc to keep the three of us organized thorughout the counseling. Here is the master document that I'm using right now: Premarriage Counseling Pastor's Notes - Master.
In addition to the above, I integrate some strategic mix of the following tools into the counseling appointments, depending on the couple's needs:
... is a resource for how to handle that time when a groom or bride contacts you about premarriage counseling or officiating at their wedding. It's an "intake data gathering form."
... is a tool that I developed to screen candidates before I found myself committed to an uncomfortable wedding (for me, at least). This one belongs as part of your very first sit-down meeting with the couple. The farther you get in counseling a couple, the more difficult it gets to stop the process if you are uncomfortable with the upcoming wedding. This form helps me screen candidates early. If they sign the form and follow through on what they've committed, then I promise them that I will officiate at the wedding- regardless of what happens later in the counseling.
... helps you get that first premarriage counseling session rolling.
... contains all the books from which I extracted resource material, plus a few more. Of course, I don't expect the couple to read all the books. I usually recommend one for them. I usually hand this one out in the first session so the couple can get started reading something relevant to our sessions.
(short sermons for use in a wedding ceremony)
I have four scripture-based exhortations designed for insertion into wedding ceremonies. So in some sessions, I use the scripture(s) from one of these exhortations and also provide the couple a copy of the exhortation. I let the couple choose which exhortation they want in their wedding, so using these scriptures during premarriage counseling helps them decide. Here are scriptures from the exhortations and links to the Google Docs files of the exhortations themselves:
Robin (my wife) developed this resource from A Circle of Quiet, by Madeleine L’Engle. I use this in the first session.
This is an exercise designed to help couples improve their communication skills. This is enormously important in marriage. This concept is written about extensively in the literature, both secular and Christian. My particular source for this exercise is Harville Hendrix book: Getting the Love You Want. Since throughout premarriage counseling you will send couples off to discuss challenging issues, you'll want to package this into as early a session as you can.
This is extracted from John Eldridge's: Wild at Heart. It's the three desires of every guy and the three desires of every gal. And it includes the questions that every guy and gal need to be answered. I don't always use this one; sometimes I use it in the session on Sexuality when I'm alone with the groom.
Some of us have difficulty getting in touch with our feelings. So this resource is simply a list of feelings to help us know how to fill in the blank: "I feel ______." I use this one when we're discussing the Shared Feelings (or maybe Communications) category.
This resource is excellent for the Christian couple, and also quite useful for others. It identifies the "must haves" as well as the "important, but not essential" conditions for a successful marriage. It's from Bill and Lynn Hybels' book by the same title.
This is a great resource to help couples understand marriage in terms of Venn diagrams.
Whenever I'm trying to explain what acts of love are, I use this resource - whether in premarriage counseling or elsewhere. It teaches that every act of love is either an act of work or courage. Its source is from M. Scott Peck's The Road Less Traveled.
This is an excellent guide for how to progress sexually through the courtship season. It includes guidelines for what authentic Christians reserve for marriage. This resource fits well in when you are covering the Sexuality category.
This resource came from a young woman who I counseled, along with her husband, before their marriage in 2005. The article offers fantastic advice on how to make a relationship last year-after-year. It's a must-read if you're early in a relationship, then reread when the bumps come along, and eventually to pass along to your kids and grandkids. This is a great complement to the Larry Wall on Marriage resource.
I make it a point to provide a copy of this for each couple I counsel, whether or not they are already sexually involved or not.
Subtitled: A Guide for Engaged and Newlywed Couples
This is a book by Clifford and Joyce Penner. It's a must-have for engaged or newly married couples, whether or not they think they are competent in the ways of sex. While I don't discuss it in detail with the couple, at the first session I do strongly advise them to buy it and start reading it. This provides a good background for the Sexuality category that I usually leave for the last session.
You haven't finished a premarriage counseling project unless you deal with finances. This resource will help you.
It's impossible to do a good job of Christian premarriage counseling without including this biblical passage. But it's dangerous if not rightly understood. So check out this link, which is an extraction from a sermon I preached on Marriage and Divorce. I strongly encourage you to check out this link before bringing up Ephesians 5 with your couple.
This is a book by Dennis Kincaid. I haven't recommended this book to any couples that I've counseled, but I find it an excellent book to help counselors understand marriage from a deep theological perspective. In our present culture, this is very important. Especially notice Chapter 2: The Level of Intimacy God Desires, Three Metaphors Illustrate God's Purposes for Us. I used Kincaid's concepts in a talk at Stanford University's Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. You can find my notes from that evening at Invitation to Romance.
On this website, I've repackaged the pertinent material on this page along with a few other resources into a web page titled Advice for Couples. It is not designed for pastors doing counseling, but for the couples themselves - including those who are dating, those who are courting, and those who have been married for decades. So if you are a pastor or counselor who deals with such couples, please consider giving them this Advice for Couples link.
So long as I'm gathering all my premarriage counseling resources I may as well include my Wedding Ceremony Master file. At the first counseling session, I give the couple this file and ask them to start selecting the elements they want to include in their wedding. 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.
Hope you find these resources helpful.
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