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As a pastor and a military chaplain I am asked to perform a flurry of weddings each year.  It is absolutely wonderful when a couple wants to tie the knot.  I want them to have a strong and beneficial marriage.  That is why I require a minimum of four marriage counseling sessions before the big day.

Some couples fall into the trap of spending more time planning the wedding than their married life together.  A wedding ceremony can last 20-45 minutes, but the marriage is intended to last for the rest of their lives.  In an age when 50% of marriages end in divorce, couples need to build a solid foundation for their marriage to succeed.  Making time to strengthen your relationship before you tie the knot, will help it stay tied.

Pre-marital counseling has some distinct benefits for couples.  Here are a few reasons you should get marriage counseling before the wedding bells chime:

1.  Strengthen communication skills

You can learn how to listen to your spouse and speak effectively with each other.  This does not happen by accident.  It will take time, effort, and practice.  While better communication skills may seem like a catch phrase, couples who learn the skills can resolve issues more quickly and avoid serious fights.

2.  Discuss roles and expectations

What will married life look like after the ceremony?  Don’t expect this to take care of itself down the road.  Now is the best time to discuss expectations.  Topics should cover a wide range of issues to give transparency and depth.  Who will make the morning coffee?  Will you have a joint checking account?  Will you be a one or two income household?  Does your spouse plan to go back to school?  Where will you worship?  Marriage counseling is a great place to start or continue the conversation.

3.  Identify past relationship problems

We can learn from our past.  Discussing past relationships can allow a couple to eliminate destructive behaviors.    This time of discovery can show why a past relationship failed and help you build strategies on staying together.  It is also important to discuss the role of your family.  How and what did you learn about marriage from your parents?  There are likely good and bad examples, but this is the time and place to share those lessons.  No one is doomed to repeat past mistakes if we identify what went wrong and make a plan for success.

4.  Learn how to fight fair

Couples get into arguments.  That is a given fact of life.  We live in an imperfect world with imperfect people.  Verbal fights, arguments, and conflict will happen.  I can’t prevent you from fighting, but you can learn to fight fair with each other.  Take the time to educate yourself on these skills.  Learn what to avoid, how to cool down, and move toward solving the problem as a team.

5.  Strengthen your faith

Ecclesiastes 4:12 shares, “a rope of three strands is not quickly broken.”  There is incredible wisdom in having God as the third strand in your marriage.  Allow His love to surround you, teach you, and draw you closer to your mate.  Learn to follow God’s plan for yourself and your marriage.  Live within the covenant of marriage.  Make faith a priority in your marriage.  Worship together and reach new highs through Christ.

6.  Build a marriage map

Marriage is a life long commitment.  So it is important to discuss where you are going and where you want to be as husband and wife.  What should your marriage look like?  Marriage counseling allows you to discuss a plan for now and much later in life.  Do you want to have children?  How many children seem like the right fit for your family?  Will someone stay home during that time?  Will you continue to have a date night after the baby arrives?  Make time to discuss your goals and plans.  This is an exciting time to chart out a direction for your future together.

Books and Manuals

While no one likes to talk about homework, I encourage couples to read a book after our first session.  It will be the topic of discussion for our second session.  My personal favorite is Gary Chapman’s, The Five Love Languages.  There are several different marriage workbooks and programs out there.  Pastors and counselors may use another device, but take the time to strengthen your faith and your relationship before you say, “I do.”

What homework did you have for marriage counseling?  Are there additional books that have helped your military marriage?  What books would you recommend to a couple before they tie the knot?  Feel free to list your books and suggestions in the comment section.

May God continue to bless you and your marriage.

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