Premarital counseling helps couples prepare for marriageWritten by Sarah Ottney | Managing Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
Engaged couples spend countless hours and thousands of dollars planning their weddings, but most spend far less time preparing for the marriages that follow, say area counselors and religious leaders who offer premarital counseling.
“It’s so easy to get caught up in all that activity,” said deacon Joe Malenfant of Maumee St. Joseph Catholic Church. “Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for receptions and parties. But it’s very easy to focus on the hall, the caterer, the dress, the tuxedos, the limo and all of those things and forget that’s planning for the wedding. What we’re trying to do is plan for the marriage.”
Ryan Osier, owner of Reiso Resources, which specializes in relational counseling, agreed.
“[Marriage] takes work,” Osier said. “Couples think it will just naturally happen and that is a misconception. We will spend years and years getting our education for a career we want for 20 to 30 years, but we won’t do much for our relationships we say we want for the rest of our lives.”
Osier has spent 10 years developing a relationship assessment that helps couples see how each perceives love and their relationship.
“We don’t force couples to do it, but I have found this eliminates having to do eight to 10 sessions,” Osier said. “It narrows it down in one or two and gives you a good picture of what’s going on.”
The assessment evaluates the person on agape (unselfish or security love), eros (chemistry or erotic love) and phileo (compatibility or friendship love). Most people are naturally stronger in one area, but ideally the three will be balanced equally, Osier said.
“There’s nothing like being intimate with your friend and there’s nothing like being vulnerable to a person you are passionate with,” Osier said. “When you start bridging it all together, relationships will last through all times, stages, children, death — whatever comes your way, you can make it work.”
Just as President George W. Bush didn’t know his presidency would be defined by 9/11, no one knows what challenges their marriage will bring, Malenfant said.
“I ask couples, ‘Where was Bush on Sept. 10, 2001?’ He was in Toledo with [Mexican president] Vicente Fox and they were talking about immigration. The next day everything changes,” Malenfant said. “That’s what marriage is like. Anybody getting married really doesn’t know what the issues of that marriage are going to be. What we’re trying to do is help them build that foundation so that whatever the issue is, they can get through it.”
Many churches, including St. Joseph’s, require couples to go through premarital counseling.
“A lot of couples will come in and you can tell we’re sort of a hoop for them to jump through,” Malenfant said. “But most end up appreciating that it gave them a time to think and be reflective. I would encourage it to anyone getting married, whether it’s through the Catholic Church or wherever.”
Premarital sessions often raise issues that may be uncomfortable, but are important to discuss, such as children, finances, sexuality and faith, Malenfant said.
“My job is not to tell you to get married or not. I see my role in this as a discussion starter,” Malenfant said. “In every marriage there are issues that will probably never be resolved, so you need the good communication skills and so forth so you are able to work around them and not let them be destructive to the relationship.”
Premarital counseling also allows the officient to get to know the couple better, Malenfant said.
“It’s great because we build a relationship,” Malenfant said. “I don’t just show up and do their wedding and forget their last name or whatnot because we’ve spent a lot of time together.”
Couples getting married at CedarCreek Church go through a pre-marriage mentoring program, meeting with a married couple for several months and working through a book called “Saving Your Marriage Before it Starts” by Les and Leslie Parrott. Couples who have been married before use the book “Saving Your Second Marriage Before it Starts.”
“We’ve tried different things, but to have one couple sit down with an engaged couple, we find they open up so much more and become so much more honest,” said Donna Eoff, community care pastor at CedarCreek’s Perrysburg campus. “The mentoring couple usually makes themselves vulnerable with what they’ve struggled with in their own marriage. We’ve found the couples gain awareness and are more willing to get some help later if problems surface. They come away with a plan for how to handle things when things do go awry.”
Zak and Emily Hermiller of Perrysburg went through CedarCreek’s pre-marriage mentoring in 2011.
“My husband and I had dated for about five years before we were engaged so we knew a lot about each other, but really diving into God’s design for marriage, talking about how we’re supposed to love and respect each other and having these mentors was super impactful,” Hermiller said. “You’re communicating so much — reading the book together, answering questions separately and then going over what your answers were. It was cool to find out things about each other and come to a common ground.
“The No. 1 thing that was communicated through it was to talk to each other,” Hermiller said. “Not to go to your sister or your best friend, but to always communicate with each other first. I think that’s been huge in our relationship and our lives.”
Eoff said she wishes there had been a premarital counseling requirement when she married 45 years ago.
“I bet we didn’t even spend 15 minutes with this pastor that married us,” Eoff said. “We know we can never truly prepare someone for marriage, but we just like to plant a lot of seeds that shows them it’s a lot of work, but they don’t have to do it alone.”
Toledoans Tim and Kelly Keefer dated for two years and were engaged for two years before marrying in 2011. Neither are religious, so they met over the course of several months with Maumee-based counselor Dianne Haslinger.
“Tim and I were both older, very set in our ways, very independent,” Kelly Keefer said via Facebook. “It was going to be hard combining our worlds and we knew it. We wanted to learn the best way to become a couple and still keep our independence. … We really just wanted to learn how to make our relationship the best it could be.”
One major topic was handling arguments and disagreements, Keefer said.
“We really did already have a great relationship, with very open communication, but our fights were horrible. We could communicate great as long as everything was happy, but if something made us unhappy, we both had issues getting it across how or why,” Keefer said. “I can honestly say we have not a huge fight like we did before we saw her. It has changed our communication immensely. We definitely learned more about each other.”
Mark Haskins, vice president of program operations with Lutheran Social Services of Northwestern Ohio, said many couples decide to do premarital counseling because they want the input of an uninvolved third party. Some end up deciding not to get married after all, he said.
“We start with what the clients are looking for in terms of their goals and then we go from there,” Haskins said. “We just ask questions, challenge them. It gives you an opportunity to put things on the table.”
Church leaders who are not certified counselors said they will refer couples to a professional if issues arise that they feel are beyond their skills.
“Sometimes we quickly need to know our limitations,” Malenfant said. “There have been couples where I have said, ‘You really need to see a trained professional counselor’ and then I make recommendations and they either do or they don’t. We don’t force them.”
Even if marriage counseling is not required, Eoff recommends considering it.
“Your wedding day is not the end. It’s the beginning,” Eoff said. “Put some time into it. You can discover a lot of things about each other even going through books on your own. Just doing something is worth all the time you invest in it.”
Tags: CedarCreek Church, Dianne Haslinger, Here comes The Guide, Joe Malenfant, Lutheran Social Services of Northwestern Ohio, Maumee St. Joseph Catholic Church, Premarital Counseling, Reiso Resources, Ryan Osier, Wedding