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Spring 1990 · Vol. 19 No. 1 · pp. 99–102 

Recommended Reading

Pre-Marriage Counseling

Larry Martens

Wright, H. Norman. Pre-marital Counseling. Chicago: Moody Press, 1977. 215 pps. Premarital Counseling Update 1988, New Approaches and Issues. Moody Press, 1989. 28 pps.

A good book to begin a program of pre-marriage counseling. A rich resource; a handbook. Deals with thorny issues like couples who do not want counsel, or the marriage of a Christian to a non-Christian. Highly recommended for both the experienced or beginning pre-marriage counselor.

Goerzen, Sue, Lois Paff Bergen, and Fred Unruh. Preparation For Marriage: Materials For Pre-marriage Instruction. Newton, KS: Faith and Life Press, 1985. 154 pps.

An Anabaptist/Mennonite perspective, emphasizing skill development in communication, decision-making, and conflict resolution. Describes eight models used by individuals and congregations. Suggests multi-media materials. The manual includes exercises which may be copied and used for one’s own course. Provides a brief biblical/historical section on Anabaptist understandings of marriage. Highly recommended.

Harder, Gary, and Lydia Harder. Celebrating Christian Marriage. Worship Series, No. 6. Newton, KS: Faith and Life Press, 1980. 44 pps.

An excellent resource on weddings from an Anabaptist/Mennonite perspective. Views the marriage ceremony as part of the worship experience. In a society where extravagant weddings are often the norm, issues of simplicity, wedding expectations, involvement of the community of believers, and the use and meaning of symbols and vows are reviewed. Should be read by all couples who are planning a wedding and all pastors who officiate at wedding ceremonies. Highly recommended. {100}

Thompson, David A. A Pre-marital Guide For Couples, And Their Counselors. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany Fellowship, 1979. 80 pp.

This helpful guide provides a six-session structural design for pre-marriage counseling. Prior to each session, the couple answers a series of questions related to personal values, beliefs and family background. These are designed to assess compatibility/incompatibility, strengths/weaknesses and to decide on the wisdom of saying “I do.” Includes exercises to help the couple talk about their relationship, values and background.

Rowlison, Bruce A., and George Hinn. Let’s Talk About Your Wedding & Marriage. Alhambra, CA: Green Leaf Press, 1985. 48 pp.

Particularly helpful for enabling shy, less verbal persons to express themselves openly and spontaneously. Designed for three to four sessions. Includes a “games” section creatively designed for active participant involvement with questions, exercises, and assignments. Includes an excellent “misconceptions” section that helps the couple look at marriage more realistically. Can stand as a complete pre-marriage counseling program, or provide resources and ideas to design one’s own.

Olson, David H., David G. Founier, and Joan M. Druckman. Prepare-Enrich: Counselor’s Manual. Minneapolis, MN: Prepare-Enrich Inc., 1982. 103 pp. (Phone: 1-800-331-1661)

Probably the best inventory available to couples to assess the status of their marital relationship. “Prepare” (for premarriage counseling) and “Enrich” (for married couples) provides the pastoral counselor with a systematic and objective assessment of a couple’s personal and relational strengths and weaknesses and readiness for marriage. The counselor’s manual provides an overview of the inventories and the instructions on their use. Training, which is required, is readily available in both the U.S.A. and Canada. Highly recommended. {101}

Olsen, Martin G., and George E. Von Kaenel. Two As One: A Christian Marriage Preparation Program. Ramsey, NJ: Paulist Press, 1976. 105 pp.

Pre-marriage counseling should, when possible, include group experiences. This program is designed for three sessions of two and half hours each and involves both clergy and laity as group facilitators. Program segments include topics such as love, communication, finances, sex, marriage and faith. Each program segment includes a mini-lecture (content provided), exercises, and a wrap-up session. A workbook for the participants is included with the leader’s manual. Smaller congregations can join with other churches in the community or denomination for the sessions.

Martens, Larry. Life With Promise. Hillsboro, KS: Kindred Press, 1982. 76 pps.

Contains thirteen chapters on theological and practical matters of the marriage relationship. Leading questions for discussion to facilitate communication are appended. Useful as reading assignments for pre-marriage counseling and small group processes.


Churches and pastors increasingly realize that their calling is not to perform weddings but to nurture marriages. For too long it has been too easy to get married. Most people spend more time preparing for a driver’s license than they do preparing for marriage. Indeed, in many cases the church has contributed to the increase of divorce rates by marrying people who are inadequately prepared for marriage. Things are, however, changing.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence, Rhode Island, decided to stem the tide of broken marriages by requiring couples in the Diocese to spend at least 45 hours in formal premarital instruction and to wait a minimum of half a year before marrying. The program began in 1983. After the first six months 700 couples completed the instruction. Some couples decided to delay marriage, and, between 30-40 decided to cancel their wedding all together. {102}

To counter the high divorce rate in Modesto, California, church leaders adopted a community-wide marriage policy to make it more difficult to get married. The policy mandates a four-month minimum waiting period. Couples are required to complete extensive counseling and a concentrated period of preparation for the marriage relationship. Seventy-three ministers signed the covenant representing more than thirty Protestant, Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches and Modesto’s only Jewish synagogue.

These programs emerged out of a concern for permanent, fulfilling and Christ-like marriages. The pastor’s task is to do more than merely formalize the marital vows in a wedding ceremony. The pastor must always be concerned for healthy growing marriages. Wayne Oates, in his book The Christian Pastor, says, “The pastor who does not attempt to give family life education on a group level and marriage and family counseling on an individual level has no right to teach against divorce.” Providing adequate preparation for marriage is a crucial pastoral obligation.

The primary purpose of pre-marriage counseling is to help the couple determine if they are ready for marriage. Couples usually come to the pastor with that decision finalized. They come to set the wedding date and make wedding arrangements. The pastoral challenge in pre-marriage counseling is to assist the couple in focusing on their relationship instead of the wedding. Clearly pre-marriage counseling differs from marriage counseling. In marriage counseling the pastor is concerned with improving the marital relationship through problem solving, and providing a sense of hope and resolution to marital difficulties. In pre-marriage counseling the goal is to test the commitments of the couple and lead them to answer such questions as, “Are we meant for each other?” “Should I marry this person?” “What makes this relationship strong? difficult?” “What concerns do I have about a life-long commitment to this person?” Once the decision to marry is firm one can proceed with enabling the couple to grow in their relationship with each other.

Dr. Larry Martens is president of Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary and Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology.

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