I heard a little commentary on the radio this week talking about the benefits of pre-engagement counseling. Some people may think it sounds strange to do pre-engagement counseling. but if you’re in your 20’s or older, shouldn’t all the relationships you’re in be taken seriously? If you’re not dating to see if you could marry the person, then why date in the first place?
Gerald and I did pre-engagement counseling either in our first year of dating or slightly after (I can’t remember). At the time though we didn’t actually call it pre-engagement counseling. We met with our pastor (before he actually became our pastor), who had a counseling degree, and he took us through some relationship exercises. One of the main areas we looked at was communication because we’d been arguing a lot and we wanted to fix this.
Here are some benefits of pre-engagement counseling that I’ve discovered (my husband may share my thoughts or have additional ones):
1. We learned about each other’s values. You may know some of your signficant other’s values from dating the person and spending time with him/her, but when we actually had to sit down and think about how we view family, spiritual life, finances (though we skipped this part because we weren’t actually engaged), etc, it helped us to begin to see how our personal values fit together. We’re shaped by our own families, which can be challenging when you marry someone who does things differently and in ways you’re not used to doing them. So we became more aware of these differences in pre-engagement counseling, but once we were engaged, began to see how we could compromise and work together to take our differences and create our own family culture.
2. We learned to communicate better. As I mentioned before, Gerald and I had an argumentative period during our dating relationship. Some people might decide at this point that the relationship is too hard and that we’re too different for this to work, but we decided to stick with it and work through our problems. It’s easy being reminded of active listening and really hearing what the person is trying to say, but it’s harder to put it into practice. During our counseling sessions, our pastor would often ask questions like, “What do you most appreciate about Gerald?” and have me look at Gerald and talk to him as I responded. This was a great exercise because it forced us to actually sit down, look each other in the eyes, and say things to each other that we either don’t communicate as often as we should. At times it made me emotional, but so often we would just say things to each other in passing or on the phone. There’s nothing like telling someone something face-to-face. We also learned how to argue and resolve conflict while dating, which has resulted in less conflict in marriage (so far).
3. We became better prepared for engagement. Getting engaged is a huge step. I wanted it to happen since our first dating anniversary, but it was also scary to think about at the same time. We both took engagement seriously because we take marriage seriously. Marriage is for life. By going through some counseling sessions during our dating years, we saw that we were both committed to the relationship and wanted to make it work. We were also encouraged by hearing from other married couples in our church about how they’ve been encouraged by our relationship. This gave us more confirmation that God was leading us toward marriage. We’d been meeting with our pastor and his wife every so often while dating, but we actually only had one official “pre-engagement counseling session” before actually getting engaged. Then it became pre-martial counseling. We also met separately with a husband and wife from church when we started dating as a mentoring/accountability relationship. Those meetings were invaluable and guided us through our three years of dating.
I don’t think every dating couple needs to have pre-engagement counseling, but if you are thinking about getting engaged or think your relationship is heading that way, I would recommend it. Pre-engagement counseling provides the opportunity to evaluate and look at your relationship in an objective way (since you’re not already committed to marriage through an engagement ring). Although it would still be painful, it’s still better to get out of the relationship before the ring rather than after it’s already on her finger (and even better than after you say “I do”). Pre-engagement counseling also shows how highly you both value marriage. You believe it’s important enough to make sure you’re both prepared to get engaged. Pre-marital counseling is important too, but it can be challenging to go through those meetings all while planning a wedding. It’s stressful! So the sooner you can be preparing for marriage (even before the ring), the better off your relationship will be. Whether or not you actually marry the person you’re dating, the pre-engagement counseling will save you both extra heartache.
Do you think pre-engagement counseling is helpful? Would you consider doing pre-engagement sessions? Leave a comment to share your thoughts.