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Premarriage Counseling

by Tim Isbell

This webpage gathers the premarriage counseling materials I've developed over several years. It also includes a resource to help you design a 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 couple, but they are a great toolbox.

I generally schedule 4 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).


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 yolked marriages. For many it is their first marriage; others have been married before. Some already live together. Before we get into any real premarriage counseling we need some sort of very broad assessment tool to help us identify the counseling areas each couple needs.

I found one of these and have 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:

  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 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 $30 (March, 2011).  It's cheaper in packs of 5.  You can pass the cost along to the couple.  The vendor also provides an Administrator’s Portfolio to help you navigate the system (included with registration) and a short online book, A Good Beginning, that gives members of the couple a little background reading for the topics covered in the inventory ($~15 one-time fee for multiple uses).

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!

Profile Assessment.  This collates the responses of the bride and groom, groups their answers into 10 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 handout that helps the couple know what they need to work on before the next session (or the wedding).

  • 15 minutes - prayer and to bring in some biblical perspective.
  • 30-45 minutes - work through some of the other resources you'll find below on this page.
  • 45 minutes -  work through 2-3 PAI categories.
  • 15 minutes - develop the wedding ceremony.

A typical counseling session  breaks down something like this (though not necessarily in that order):

I use the PAI online. These resources are also available in print form from Logos Productions. 651-451-9945.  The online version does all the compiling of responses and creation of assessment commentary for you. Using the paper version means you will need to do some of this work yourself. 

In addition to the above, I use the following:

First Contact Checklist 

... 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 sort of an "intake data gathering form."

Premarriage Counseling Commitment 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 in 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.

First Session Starter Questions

... helps you get that first premarriage counseling session rolling.

Premarriage Reading Suggestions

... 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. 

Scriptures & Exhortations 

(short sermons for use in a wedding ceremony)

I have 4 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:

  • John 15.4-12 from Lifesigns (based on a book by Henri Nouwen)
  • Matthew 7.24-27
  • Ephesians 5.21-35
  • 1 Corinthians 7.1-6

Can I Trust This Love

... is something Robin developed from A Circle of Quiet, by Madeleine L’Engle.  I generally use this in the first session.

Mirroring

... 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.

Eldridge's 3 Things

... is something I extracted from John Eldridge's: Wild at Heart.  It's the 3 desires that live in the heart of every guy, and the 3 things that live in the heart of every gal... and the questions that every guy and gal need answered.  I don't always use this one; sometimes I use it in the session on Sexuality when I'm alone with the groom.

Feelings List

... is for those of us who have difficulty getting in touch with our feelings.  It's simply a list of feelings that we can choose from and then fill in the blank, "I feel ______."  This is a good resource for the session when you're discussing the Shared Feelings (or maybe Communications) category.

Fit to be Tied

... is a synopsis of the "must haves" and the "important, but not essential" items that need to be in place before a couple decides to marry.  It's from Bill and Lynn Hybels' book by the same title.

Larry Wall on Marriage

This is a great resource to help couples understand marriage in terms of Venn diagrams.

Acts of Love

... teaches that every act of love is either an act of work or courage.  It's source is a concept from M. Scott Peck's The Road Less Traveled.

12 Stages of Intimacy

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.

Premarriage Sexuality 

... was a recent separate post on this site a few weeks ago.  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.  There is also a webpage with the same material here.

Getting Your Sex Life Off to a Great Start

Subtitled: A Guide for Engaged and Newlywed Couples

This is a book , by Clifford and Joyce Penner, is from my Premarriage Reading List.  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 any detail with the couple, at the first session I do strongly advise them to buy it and start reading it.  This way provides some good background for the Sexuality category which I generally cover in the last session.

Budget Categories for Newlyweds

... is helpful for the session when you discuss Financial/Legal issues.

Applying Ephesians 5 

... is an extremely valuable biblical passage IF rightly understood. But it's dangerous if not rightly understood.  Anyway, this link 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. 

Let's Start with Jesus

... 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.

Advice for Couples

On this website I've repackaged the pertinent material on this page along with a few other resources into a webpage titled Advice for Couples. It is designed not 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.


The Wedding Ceremony

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.

Blessings,

Tim



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Subpages (1): Larry Wall on Marriage
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