Imagine telling your friends, "We're going to pre marriage counseling."
What kind of responses could you imagine getting back in return?
"Oh, that sounds so quaint."
"Sorry, are you guys having problems?"
"Why? Things look like they're going so well for you."
The reality is, most people don't think of it. Maybe it's made a requirement as part of their church, but it really feels like a formality.
Because counseling sounds like "fixing a major problem," most people just don't do it. After all, if you and your betrothed-to-be were having problems, you probably wouldn't be getting married.
The path to marriage is, for most, paved with general happiness. Maybe there are some who are having a very rocky relationship and, despite that, still want to get married. Okay, they clearly do need pre marriage counseling. I get that.
But for most people who attend the pre marriage counseling sessions that I lead, they are in great, healthy relationships.
So why bother?
It feels like buying life insurance, right. It's something you do just in case.
Most people don't willingly buy life insurance. It just doesn't seem worth the expense for something that could maybe happen.
But at what point does life insurance actually become a priority?
When you have kids.
When I had my two daughters, life insurance suddenly mattered. My wife and I had to ask the gruesome question, "What happens if we were to die before they are fully grown adults?"
The answer becomes apparent. We start to add up all the things they could need if we were to die tomorrow while they were just getting out of diapers. So while we no longer had to include the massive expense from diapers, there was so much more we knew we needed to be available for them if we were no longer around.
Kids were the trigger.
So even though the prospect of death didn't increase that much more dramatically after having kids, the concern and impact did. That was the tipping point.
Is there a similar tipping point that most young couples are completely overlooking before they get married?
One of the them is the same thing: kids.
This doesn't let those couples who know they won't have kids off the hook, but let's stick with the kids for now.
Kids represent one of the biggest stresses in your life. Okay, yes, for some of you yet-to-be-marrieds, you still believe they are your greatest source of joy. But wait till reality hits you.
Actually, don't wait till reality hits you.
The point of this post is to share that the decisions, discernment and discussions that you have before you get married should absolutely be stress-tested against the scenario of having kids.
Because finding out once you have kids that you guys aren't going to work is too late. The wheels will be falling off of a car going sixty miles per hour, so this is not the scenario where you want to turn to the other person in the passenger seat and say, "Um, maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all."
Pre marriage counseling is sort of like the drivers ed of marriage.
Seriously, most kids think the class is dumb and the DMV test stupid and pointless. So while it doesn't really prepare you for all the craziness of driving in the real world, it covers the basic so that when something does happen, you might be able to deal with it.
Rationally, the benefits of being prepared versus unprepared seems pretty clear.
Yet, still, many people don't want to invest in it.
Because they don't believe the risk of the bad thing happening is high.
Back to the case of life insurance, people mostly don't buy it because they can't imagine it will happen to them. And, if it were to happen to them, they don't consider the consequences to be that serious. Single person dies? Tragic, but the impact doesn't warrant taking out life insurance.
A parent dies with a young child? The impact is big. So even while the probability is small, the "bad thing" becomes big enough to do something.
So let's go back to marriage. We know that if a marriage goes south, the impact can't be good for children. Then the real reason most couples don't take part in pre marriage counseling is because they don't believe things will turn south. They can't believe they don't really know whom they are marrying.
And heaven forbid, they don't believe they could be making a mistake marrying each other.
Here's what I think is a far more realistic view: it's surprising when a marriage turns out well!
If you think about the fact that you are taking two distinctly different people who are imperfect and melding them into the hot-pot of children, career, sex, and just plain old life, I'm surprised anyone stays married.
It's too hard.
It's too stressful.
It's too easy to find other options.
The unrealistic view of mankind and their innate brokenness is putting blinders on.
In fact, when you take this perspective, I would ask the question differently, "Why aren't you going to pre marriage counseling?"
Here are some questions I would ask:
- How do you know each other that well to know they'll stay with you?
- How do you know there aren't deeper triggers or unresolved issues?
- How do you know you guys are on the same page for handling conflict?
- How do you really know their financial background and attitudes to money?
- How well do you know the way they think about parenting and raising kids?
How do you know?
It's easy to keep things fun. There are plenty of distractions. Your relationship could be mostly having take out, watching Netflix together, and going to the occasional concern or hike. That's fun. It's awesome.
But the modern age of distractions and entertainment only really exists for single people (darn you single people!) I'm sort of kidding (only I'm not).
Learning who the other person is when things get really tough, and not just baby-poop-all-the-time-tough. I mean inner-demons coming out during a financial and medical crisis kind of tough.
This is when it really matters, and there's no take-backs once you're in it.
Now, I don't want to sour your life together. And the point of pre marriage counseling is not to make you think of all the doom and gloom.
But it is to make you aware that you are entering into a covenant relationship with another broken, imperfect person, just like yourself...who is also different in every possible way.
While getting to know someone in person to go along your marriage journey is always preferable, there's nothing wrong with starting with an online pre marriage counseling course. In fact, because it's more convenient and less costly than in person pre marital counseling, I would encourage it as the first step.
Instead of binge-watching Netflix as part of your next date, why not considering watching something that can help you develop a relationship that sticks?
It'll be easier than getting life insurance!