Trust the Process: The Case for Pre-Engagement Counseling

I began an argument in a previous article on why pre-engagement counseling makes more sense than pre-marital counseling. You can read that article here: Center Stage. While I do believe in pre-marital counseling, I offer a few reasons why it makes sense to put your relationship under the microscope before the proposal. Process over content is one of these reasons.

Process over Content
Premarital counseling is often structure driven. Let me explain. Many counselors have a road map laid out for pre-marital counseling. The trip might look something like this: First you meet as a couple, then as individuals for one session. You each take a personality test or two. The final five sessions focus on topics designed to cover essential conversations such as finances, sex, family dynamics, and kids. I like to make sure couples experience a conflict together in session as well. A road map provides a solid structure to cover the hot topics which contribute to most divorces.

The pitfall in such a structure-driven undertaking is that good counseling is process driven. And the process takes time. What do I mean by process? Process has more to do with the way we talk rather than what we talk about (content). It is like taking apart a wristwatch to study and alter the mechanisms and how they function rather than adjusting the clock face. Out of our own personalities, experiences, choices, and family history, each of us has a systematic way in which we relate. In a relationship, our style of relating interweaves with another’s. Without our knowledge, we learn a dance. The steps of the dance become so ingrained we often follow the same moves regardless of the situation. So whether you and your significant other are discussing directions to a party, how to cook filet mignon, or car repairs, your dance, or process, plays out as the foundation for how you communicate.SMR-ad-freePremarital counseling needs structure. It is important to discuss the hot topics which often lead to the demise of a marriage. A wise counselor can pick up on a couple’s process through structured conversation. My experience, though, is the deeper process takes more time than four to nine sessions. To uncover the dignified and depraved stories of our hearts beneath layers of self-protection takes energy and commitment. A few sessions of premarital counseling, especially when content driven, rarely has time to take down your defenses, much less deal with the glorious ruins hidden underneath.

It is the difference between helpful and transformational. The starry-eyed gaze of premarital couples often blinds them from the gravity of the choice ahead of them: commitment for a lifetime. To send a couple into marriage with a few structured conversations might be like a carpenter who goes to build his first house. On his way out the door, a colleague hands him a few extra tools. The novice looks the tools over. Some of them he has seen before; others he has not. While he would like to take the time to receive instruction on how to use each one, punctuality demands that he hurry off to the job site. He begins to build. His colleague’s tools, the ones he can figure out how to use, are indeed helpful. Contrast this carpenter with the man across town who subjected himself to an apprenticeship prior to launching his own business. This man was not just given new tools. Rather he underwent a deeper transformation through his apprenticeship which offered knowledge, skill, and practice into who he became as sole proprietor and the work he completed in his new business.

Traditional premarital counseling can be helpful, but rarely lacks the time, energy, and commitment to be transformational.
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I have premarital couples leave my office after eight sessions and tell me what they received was beneficial. And I believe them. On the other hand, though, I have walked alongside married couples who have told me their weekly counseling over six months (or more) has transformed their marriage. Granted, other factors play into the equation. Still, I am convinced honoring a couple’s process, giving it time and space to surface and become malleable, creates the best chance for connection and deeper transformation in the foundation of the relationship.

Photo Copyright: bialasiewicz / 123RF Stock Photo


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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