One of the best things my wife and I did while dating was pre-engagement counseling. Many are unfamiliar with this concept but it can be beneficial. The distinctions below are from common wisdom and obviously not Biblical mandates. Some of these concepts would ideally be fulfilled by godly parents, but with the breakdown of the family, fewer children are raised in homes where they will get wise counsel to help choose a spouse.
Divorce has become more prevalent and accepted in our society. For that reason it makes sense that we should take extra precautions to prevent bad marriages. I had a friend who got divorced. He later said, “I knew we weren’t supposed to be married while we were engaged. But too much money had already been spent on the ceremony and reception. Invitations had gone out. It would’ve been too embarrassing and hard to break the engagement.” This story is a great example of why pre-engagement counseling can be such a helpful thing.
How’s this any different than pre-marriage counseling? Pre-engagement counseling should ideally focus on answering two main questions. Should the couple in question get married? If so, when should they ideally do so? Pre-marriage counseling should come after engagement and focuses on how to be married. How to deal with sex, money, conflict, in-laws, etc.
I tell couples who are dating to start pre-engagement counseling once they both reach a place where they think I’m in love and ready to get married. This whole concept is built off multiple Proverbs (12:15; 13:10; 19:20) that counsel us to seek counsel. One of the major topics in Proverbs is choosing a godly spouse. It stands to reason that this decision, one of the most important of our lives, should be saturated in godly counsel.
It’s best to find an older wiser couple that knows both of them well. This is often not possible. The second best option is an older, wiser couple that knows at least one of you well. This can be godly parents or a pastor, elder, mentor, etc. It could be done by one person, but it’s ideal to have a married couple.
The first thing that should be done is to hear both of the dating couples’ testimonies. The Bible teaches that a Christian shouldn’t marry a non-Christian. If one person is a Christian and the other isn’t, they obviously shouldn’t be married. It’s amazing how many Christians can ‘fall for’ someone who may be moral but isn’t a Christ follower.
Secondly, questions should be asked to see how spiritually mature they are. Are they pursuing Christ more than they are pursuing each other? Are they serious about fighting sin? Do they look to Christ for ultimate fulfillment and not to each other?
Clarify if both have a Biblical picture of marriage, the role of husbands and wives, and the seriousness of the vows they want to take (Genesis 1:25-31, 2:15-25, Ephesians 5:21-33). Biblical passages on how divorce should only be sought as a last resort in rare situations should be discussed (Matthew 19:3-12, 1 Corinthians 7:15). It’s helpful for the married couple to share honest stories about the hardships of marriage.
It’s important to ask questions about their families of origins. This helps everyone better understand the assumptions and desires they are bringing into marriage and how differing expectations may clash. If the woman’s mom was a stay at home mom, she may desire and expect the same for herself. If the man’s mother worked a career, he may want his wife to do the same.
We tell couples that pre-engagement is really a conversation between them that we are facilitating. It is time to take the gloves off. No question is unacceptable. Like a house inspection before buying a house, do your due diligence because the commitment is so huge and long term.
The couple should tell each other about their past sexual history. It’s not wise to go into graphic detail but they should be free to ask any question.
We also ask the couples to tell us about each other’s weaknesses. If they can’t really share anything about the other person that bothers them, this is a sure sign that they have on “love goggles” and aren’t in any state of mind to make a life-long commitment.
The process may last a few weeks to a few months depending on the needs. Most meetings should be all four people together. It’s best to have at least one meeting where the men meet alone and the women meet alone. In this meeting any concerns can be brought up that someone may not feel comfortable sharing with the whole group.
Sometimes couples should be advised to wait and mature more before engagement. Other times couples may need to hear that they shouldn’t be married. When everything looks good, I usually tell the guy alone so that he can retain some degree of surprise in popping the question.
My wife and I had known each other for years and had been dating for months when we both thought we were ready to marry. I got advice from my parents. My wife lived with a mentor and her family after college. We asked that couple to do pre-engagement. We had some hard conversations with them about marriage but I’m glad we did. My parents and the other couple agreed we should get married.
Our first year of marriage was hard. One thought God used to strengthen both of us was, This wasn’t our decision alone. We weren’t two young emotional kids deciding to marry alone. Four of the godliest, wisest people we know signed off on this. They weren’t emotionally invested like we were. They were objective. This truth gave us a lot of hope that helped us turn a corner and pull out of a seeming dead end. Pre-engagement has been and can be a huge help to dating and married couples.