Systematic and structured pre-marital counseling is not very common in the Scottish Highlands, where I was a pastor for 12 years. I usually spent one or two evenings with young couples wanting to be married, but it was not the done thing to get too personal and practical! I usually “risked” giving them Christian living in the home by Jay Adams, and followed that up with some questions. But that was about as far as I could go without being told to take a long hike in the mountains.

In some ways that was OK. There was still a fairly strong Christian culture and most of the young people had seen healthy Christian marriages in their own homes. On reflection, however, I think it would have helped to have a dose (though maybe not a full dose) of the intensive American approach to pre-marital counseling, which I’ve come to deeply appreciate.

What did you expect?
Over the past few weeks I’ve been using Paul Tripp’s What did you expect?? to help a young couple prepare for marriage. It was the first time I had used this book. But after three weeks and 53 pages I was beginning to wish I hadn’t chosen it! The book has received great reviews, but I found myself rather depressed by Tripp’s early emphasis on the negatives, difficulties, obstacles, and troubles of marriage.

I realize that Tripp is writing in a context of over-idealizing marriage. He is addressing the huge problems caused by unrealistic expectations – hence the title. However, there is also the other common problem of young people (including Christians) being put off marriage by the obvious and numerous disasters everywhere. Why try it, if it’s so bad?

While we must of course guard against giving a Mills & Boon view of marriage, we must also guard against giving the HBO view!

A Christian marriage, while not perfect, is one of the four greatest blessings God has left us in this sinful world (the other three being the Gospel, the Church, and the Lord’s Day). Without falling into false fantasies, I think it’s really important for older Christians to live out their marriages and speak of their marriages in a way that makes young people want to be married, look forward to marriage, and thank God for the privilege of marriage. When marriage is being bashed from every angle, Christians must try to show the advantages, benefits, and pleasures of marriage.

Turning the corner
Thankfully I stuck with this book for another week, because in chapter four Tripp seems to turn the corner to a slightly more positive, practical, and hope-filled approach.

The one thing that struck me above all in chapter four (“Day by Day”) was Tripp’s emphasis on the DAILY habits of marriage. He put this in so many ways: “daily commitments…marriage must be a lifestyle…things that are done daily…moment-by-moment lifestyle…daily lifestyle of your marriage…make those habits a regular part of your daily routine…reconciliation lifestyle…regular patterns…daily patterns…daily change…daily need.”

I think we get the point! And it is a vital point in a quick-fix society.

Memory work
In previous weeks with my young friends, I summarized the chapter and asked a few questions to test knowledge and application. However with this chapter I asked them to memorize the three “daily mentalities” and the six “daily commitments,” and to test one another’s memory. I summarized these points and gave a sentence to aid recall.

Three mentalities (62-64)

1. Harvest mentality (you reap what you sow)
2. Investment mentality (you get a return on investments)
3. Grace mentality (you are to be an instrument of grace)

Memory sentence: Harvest an investment of grace

Six daily commitments (65-67)
1. Confession and forgiveness
2. Growth and change
3. Bond of trust
4. Relationship of love
5. Deal with differences
6. Protect our marriage

Memory sentence: I must confess that growing in trust and love makes a difference to protecting our marriage.

Sticking with it
I think we are going to stick with Tripp’s book. However, on reflection, I think it would be a better book for married couples in their first year of marriage rather than those preparing to be married. In fact I’m going to the bookshop today to get three copies for young couples who married in the past year.

  • John Koopman

    David, I have used the workbook “Preparing for Marriage” by Wayne Mack for the couple along with his book “Strengthening your Marriage” as the basic outline for my ‘lectures’ of 4-5 I found those resources very helpful.

  • Dawn

    Hi Mr Murray!There are over 6 years years since you married Alan & I, 6 life changing, challenging and very happy years. But there have been many times I have spoken about the lack of marriage counselling where we are, Christian marriage counselling. (Not that I have personally felt the need for it, but if we did where would we turn… and the number of marriage break downs over recent years, it seems to be the ‘norm’ sadly). I am also acutely aware of being ‘an advert’ for Christian marriage as there are few around these days.The first paragraph made me laugh, it sounds a typical reaction, sadly. Very ‘closed’ compared to America perhaps, and I agree, we need a good dose of it… if only someone would give it to us!!!Dawn

  • Amanda Kaylon

    Dear Sir,I can’t speak as someone who has been married (I have not) or as an older person (I am only in my early twenties), but I believe that I can still testify to the power that a couple’s outward attitude toward marriage can have on young people. Looking back, I find that my own childhood disdain for marriage (which led me, in my early teens, to dislike the idea of ever being married, myself) was formed in large part from simply hearing my friends’ Christian mothers speak disdainfully of their husbands – and it made little difference whether the disrespect was in jest or in earnest. Young children notice whether or not a couple is displaying joy, love and reverence in their marriage, and in my experience, know that a pattern of unattractive marriages has to reflect on marriage as a whole. Thank you, sir, for specifically addressing the importance of couples living out their marriages as self-conscious examples to young people of the “advantages, benefits, and pleasures of marriage.” Their example does indeed have a very powerful impact.

  • Jodi

    My pastor husband and I do pre-marital counseling as well with couples and have just started to read this book together. We have enjoyed applying the materials to our own marriage, but agree that it might be better given to a couple after the first year or used when counseling couples in need. That being said, what resources would you recommend for the pre-marital time? We are in the midst of revamping our previous curriculum (mostly using Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas) and are looking for solid gospel driven resources. Thanks!And as a side note – we REALLY enjoyed the Puritan Ref Sem conference a few weeks ago. It was a great encouragement to us!