Almost sixteen years ago, on the final day of a short-term mission trip to Europe, Dave Powell proposed to me. In Prague. Overlooking the Saint Charles Bridge. Birds were chirping. A violinist played in the background.
I’m not exaggerating. It was a seriously romantic setting.
We came home from the trip, and in the spirit of wanting to build a good foundation for our marriage, bought a few premarital counseling books.
They were mediocre (and I’m being kind). The questions seemed forced and fake. The only benefit we gained from the books was that at least their chapter titles spelled out topics we should discuss (ranging from money and in-laws to chores and sex).
I wish a new book by two of my friends and Fuller colleagues, Dr. Cameron Lee and Dr. Jim Furrow, had been available when we returned from Prague. In Preparing Couples for Love and Marriage, Cameron and Jim provide a tool that while geared for pastors to use in their premarital counseling could also be used for couples as a conversation guide.
According to one study of 50,000 couples, just under half of the couples studied could be classified as “unhappily married." [David H. Olson, Amy Olson-Sigg, and Peter J. Larson, The Couple Checkup (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008), 21.] Leaders who want to help husbands and wives either develop a stronger marital foundation or make mid-course corrections would be wise to develop five skills identified in the book as crucial in counseling sessions with couples:
Skill 1: Pay attention to process
Skill 2: Model attentive listening
Skill 3: Get comfortable with silence
Skill 4: Stay on task
Skill 5: Refer when appropriate
While the entire book provides a framework to develop these five skills, my favorite part of the book is the “Conversation Jumpstarter” Jim and Cameron offer. This “Jumpstarter” is comprised of a simple series of questions to help couples uncover similarities and differences in the way they view family roles and responsibilities, affection, money, children and parenting, relationships to extended family, and spirituality.
As a leader who periodically performs weddings and interacts with couples, one of my favorite parts of the book was that it not only gives questions to ask couples, but it also helps leaders know how to help couples debrief those experiences. Pastors are encouraged to ask questions such as: What did you find most helpful about the exercise? What was the most difficult? What, if anything, did you learn about themselves or their relationship?
As a spouse myself, I appreciated the reminder to “lead with the positive” when it comes to potentially heated conversations with my husband. As Jim and Cameron explain, there’s a big difference between beginning a discussion with “We spend too much time with your family” and “I think we get along well with your family, and that’s important to me. At the same time, I sometimes wish there was more time for us on vacations and holidays.”
Imagine how different young people would be if their parents were experiencing more intimate and transformative marriages. I’m glad this book is setting couples, as well as leaders who counsel couples, on a journey toward more lasting and life-giving relationships.
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