Dear Dr. Bill,
I know that there’s a lot of material out there on pre-marital counseling, but what about pre-engagement? How can you be sure you want to say “YES” when someone proposes to you?
That’s a great question. I actually recommend that couples who are have been seriously dating for a while pursue counseling BEFORE they get engaged.
As a Christian psychologist, I believe our churches should be stressing pre-engagement counseling rather than pre-marital counseling. The counseling should be done with an experienced therapist and should include a personality test such as the PREPARE or PREP pre-marital assessment program.
In many churches, pre-marital counseling consists of 5 or 6 sessions with the pastor, discussing things like commitment, finances, and goals for your life together. Although this can be helpful, I believe it’s much more important to examine your individual family backgrounds, communication styles, how you deal with conflict, and other critical issues.
The problem with seeking counseling after you’re already engaged is that you’re much less likely to take an honest look at your relationship. That’s because once you’ve purchased a ring, reserved the church and the reception hall, sent out invitations and found a photographer, you’re pretty much committed to going forward.
There’s a real stigma about breaking off an engagement, so even if a couple is having serious reservations about their relationship, they may not break up because of the pressure they feel to go through with the wedding. This can result in a difficult marriage from the start, and even lead to divorce down the road.
So if you and your boyfriend have been dating for at least six months, and you both feel strongly that you would like to spend the rest of your lives together, find a good counselor and start the counseling process.
Thanks for writing Lisa. If you have a question for me about family issues or Christian living, click the “Questions” link on the Culture Connection page.