Asking the Right Questions: 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 the previous article here: Center Stage and Trust the Process. 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.

The Right Questions in the Right Order

It is important to answer the right questions in the right order. There are natural and healthy questions which arise in dating. Engagement comes with its own different questions. Let’s compare some hypotheticals from each camp.

Questions in the dating phase: Are we good friends? Do I enjoy doing the same things as her? Would he be a good father? How does her theology affect the way she makes decisions? Do I respect his character? Would I be excited to follow him if his job took us to Nowheresville, Kansas? (No offense to Kansans. It is just so flat and, with the exception of Wicked, The Wizard of Oz and all those flying monkeys left a bad impression on me.)

Questions in the engagement phase: There are the practical questions. Where will we live? How will we derive income? Will we use birth control? And there are the wedding questions: Who will marry us? Where will we marry? Who should we invite? What is our budget?

While the practical ones matter, and the questions about the ceremony/reception feel significant at the time, they pale in comparison to the questions which lead us to decide whether or not to spend the rest of our lives with someone. In the moment, practical questions about the wedding and immediate life afterward feel momentous. They take center stage. But two, five, or ten years down the road, your wedding pictures will gather dust in the attic of your second home. Then it will be the questions about compatibility and friendship which will matter most. Furthermore, the engagement fairies have been known to sprinkle on couples pixie dust which takes away the ability to be objective. I don’t really care if he plans to hunt every weekend; how great will I look in this dress! Okay, maybe a bit extreme, but you get the idea.

The questions that arise in dating are of higher priority compared to the questions about the wedding and immediate life afterward. The dating questions become simpler, too, when one considers they do not have a deadline attached. Ever notice how a deadline changes your perspective? A friend of mine cannot function without a deadline. The intrinsic stress creates an atmosphere which allows him to produce. In college he would wait until the night before a paper was due to sit down at his computer. He graduated with a 4.0 and today carries the same mentality as a professional. Such a strategy might succeed at work. But I would not recommend strategic procrastination when it comes to choosing a spouse.

You do not want to still be answering the essential questions while you are engaged. Pre-engagement counseling offers the opportunity to define and answer the most important questions with knowledgeable help.

Are We Best Friends?

As an additional note: Of all of the questions which need to be answered prior to engagement, I am becoming more and more convinced the most important is this: Are we best friends? I don’t have any statistics to quote. I have no prescription for how you can tell. I do have hours of experience with couples. While every couple has their own trials, the ones founded and bonded in friendship seem to sail the often choppy seas of marriage with more ease. I am not saying attraction does not matter. It does. If friendship is the boat in which you float, attraction is the wind in the sails. In an attempt to shed light on the importance of friendship, ask yourself this: If we were not attracted to one another, would we still be friends?

Ask and answer the right questions in the right order. Pre-engagement counseling is the chance to subject your relationship to the fire, to answer essential questions before the deadline of a wedding can swoop in to steal your attention.

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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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