Recently, Corrie and I have had the privilege of providing premarital counseling to some of our engaged friends. We feel honored that friends see our marriage as a model to follow and see us as people who can provide wise counsel.
Because we’re not licensed counselors or therapists, we take a very practical approach to counseling and always encourage engaged couples to seek out some form of counsel from older marrieds as well. That being said, we’re excited that couples our age or a little younger than us are seeing the value in a hearing from a perspective that is closer to home for them (culturally speaking) and one that can (in some cases) speak more specifically to what they’ll be moving into — simply because we aren’t too far away from the first years of marriage ourselves.
We focus on the everyday type of stuff, grounding each conversation in important principles. Conversation is the key word here. Our meetings are always conversations rather than lecture sessions, and Corrie and I have ended up learning as much through the process as others have learned from us.
We’re using everything we’re learning to inform our own marriage, and we thought we’d share some of our findings on this blog.
In this post, I want to talk about 3 repeated lessons we’ve seen rise to the surface. These lessons have been unexpected for both the couples and for us.
So what are these unexpected lessons? You thought I’d never ask…
1. Life Together Will Be Easier Than Expected (in some ways)
I think this lesson has been most surprising for me and Corrie because we’re so different and have had to work through so much together.
In a recent session with a young couple, we were going deep into how they should prepare for a specific type of conflict due to differences. The couple responded with gracious acknowledgement and then gently explained that they feel they might not have to deal with the issue like we have because they are more similar.
Because of our differences, Corrie and I have had to walk through a lot of really tough seasons and conversations, but on the other side of it all we’ve found that life together is pretty easy. And the reality is that some couples simply start there; life together is easy for them because they are already on the same page about a lot of things.
If that’s you, don’t feel like you have to create more conflict or “get more serious.” Sometimes it’s important to simply enjoy what you already have going for you. And in all cases, even if you are very different like we are, don’t worry so much about the tomorrow of your relationship. Each season will have trouble of its own, and you can deal with that trouble when you get there. For now, learn to enjoy the ways life is easy together.
It’s okay. You have permission.
2. A Different Way of Dealing with Conflict Is Legitimate
In another one of our conversations with a couple, we heard these words that stopped us in our tracks: “I just don’t think her way of dealing with conflict is legitimate.”
Now, before you place too much judgment on this guy, think about your own relationship. This same sentiment rings true for many of us, even if we don’t want to admit it.
The truth is that we all have particular ways we think conflict resolution should go down, and if the other person doesn’t think the same way, their way is probably not legitimate. We’ve found this sentiment to especially be common when one person wants to deal with conflict right away and the other wants to have some time to think before having a conversation.
In our book, we talk a lot about preferences vs. right & wrong issues. Corrie and I had to learn the hard way — in all kinds of areas — that the other person wasn’t wrong but just different.
I have yet to find a couple that is entirely on the same page when it comes to preference in dealing with conflict. So give each other some grace here. If the conflict is impacting one person more than the other, let their preference win. In doing this, you can honor each other.
3. There’s No Formula
If there’s anything we’ve learned from doing premarital counseling, it’s that there’s no single formula for figuring out how to have a great relationship.
Relationship and marriage are, like the rest of life, messy. We all like formulas, but we’ll be spinning our wheels if we keep trying to apply the “tried-and-true” or “this step, then that step” to every dynamic of our relationship.
Of course, key principles can inform the everyday of life together. We talk a lot about how having the right principles as a foundation lead to a happier marriage in our books. But books are necessarily a lot neater and more organized than human relationships, relationships that have to weave through new conversations and new seasons of life.
Life together is beautiful because it involves many shapes and colors. Life together is art, not science.
The way we approach counseling is not very formulaic, and I think some couples have a hard time with this. They want the bullet points and neatly organized box of ideas. I get it; I have an INTJ personality after all. But over time, something clicks for them. They see that the most important conversations we have are those that aren’t planned but those that are important for them right now.
As we have encouraged other couples to release the formula for something more beautiful, Corrie and I have also grown in appreciating the beautiful picture (an ongoing work of art) that is our marriage.