Center Stage: The Case for Pre-Engagement Counseling

In debate class, I used to have the toughest time. I had no problem arguing a point. My problem was that, in most cases, I would be able to champion both sides of a topic and their accompanying supporting points. While my opponent would contend for the case against my position, my mind might secretly agree with her. Guess it is no surprise I became a marriage counselor.

The dynamic at work in debate class years ago resurfaces when it comes pre-engagement and pre-marital counseling. I believe in both. They each have their strengths and limitations. In the end, the former may work well for one couple while the latter better for another couple. But if this was debate class, and a cold-hearted instructor forced me to choose a side, I would opt for a couple to seek counseling before the proposal.

I have chosen four reasons why. Over a series of four articles, I will make the case for pre-engagement counseling.

Center Stage: When a casual dating relationship becomes serious, life may intensify. But this intensity does not compare to the all-consuming pressure which arrives once the ring is around her finger and the countdown to the wedding day begins. I remember the afternoon after I proposed to my wife. She wanted to go to Barnes & Noble to look at planning books and bridal magazines. I wanted to enjoy the fresh air of excitement and anticipation. But the clouds of stress and pressure inevitably blew in. The to-do list had begun.

In that season, a mentor of mine wisely advised me to practice and repeat the following phrase, “Yes, dear, that sounds wonderful.” He knew my fiancée would be overwhelmed for six months, and the best thing I could do was support her in the many decisions she would make. In the dating phase, the focus is the relationship. In engagement, the relationship usually matters far less than the wedding. And for good reason. There is much to do and often far too few minutes to do it in. It can feel like your compatibility matters less than the choice between a chocolate fountain with strawberries or a pie bar.

A danger in premarital counseling is the therapy becomes one of the many tasks to check-off. Flowers, check. Dress, check. Guest list, check. Six sessions of counseling, check. One of the benefits of pre-engagement counseling is the relationship gets center stage. Let’s compare it to an actor in a musical. In the dating phase, your relationship is front and center for everyone to see and admire. The lead role has his name and bio larger than any others in the program. It is he the audience goes home talking about. In pre-engagement, the relationship is still the main character. The focus is discovering whether the two of you can weather the storms of real life without the tornado of wedding planning. The minute you have a wedding to plan, though, our lead actor gets demoted to one of the villagers who sings in the chorus and wears dull-colored costumes to blend him into the background. The relationship becomes “a thing” rather than “the thing”.

When you choose pre-engagement counseling, you attend to the needs of your relationship before the wedding preparations kick it off stage.

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Luke Brasel writes about relationships, intimacy, parenting, and Christian spirituality. He is passionate about the intersection of theology and the human heart. He has a counseling practice in Nashville, TN where he helps people follow their pain to understand their story and recover their heart. When he is not counseling, teaching, or writing, he is learning more about life and love from his wife and twin daughters. You can read his blog at and follow him on Twitter.

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