Published March 27, 2008
Would you say that most marital problems are caused by sexual difficulties?
DR. DOBSON: No, the opposite is more accurate. Most sexual problems are caused by marital difficulties. Or stated another way, couples who have problems in bed often have bigger problems during the other 23 1/2 hours in the day.
QUESTION: What would your recommendation be to a young wife and mother whose husband is extremely violent and frequently abuses her and their children?
DR. DOBSON: She should get herself and her kids out of the home immediately. Abuse of spouses and children must not be tolerated. It’s against the law, and the law must be enforced. No one should have to live in an abusive environment today.
QUESTION: Do you recommend premarital counseling for engaged couples? If so, why? My fiancee and I have spent hours getting to know each other over the past year, so why should we bother with the time and expense of counseling?
DR. DOBSON: Premarital counseling is a must and can literally be a marriage-saver. Furthermore, these sessions can help young men and women overcome the cultural tendency to marry virtual strangers. Let me explain.
The typical couple spends much time talking, as you and your fiancee have done. Still, they don’t know each other as well as they think they do. That is because a dating relationship is designed to conceal information, not reveal it. Each partner puts his or her best foot forward, hiding embarrassing facts, habits, flaws, and temperaments.
Consequently, the bride and groom often enter into marriage with an array of private assumptions about life after the wedding. Then major conflict occurs a few weeks later when they discover they have radically different views on non-negotiable issues. The stage is set for arguments and hurt feelings that were never anticipated during the courtship period.
That’s why I strongly believe in the value of solid, biblical premarital counseling. Each engaged couple, even those who seem perfectly suited for each other, should participate in at least six meetings with someone who is trained to help them prepare for marriage. The primary purpose of these encounters is to identify the assumptions each partner holds and to work through the areas of potential conflict.
The following questions are typical of the issues that a competent counselor will help the couple address together.
• Where will you live after getting married?
• Will the bride work? For how long?
• Are children planned? How many? How soon? How far apart?
• Will the wife return to work after babies arrive? How quickly?
• How will the kids be disciplined? Fed? Trained?
• What church will you attend?
• Are there theological differences to be reckoned with?
• How will your roles be different?
• How will you respond to each set of in-laws?
• Where will you spend the holidays?
• How will financial decisions be made?
• Who will write the checks?
• How do you feel about credit?
• Will a car be bought with borrowed money? How soon? What kind?
• How far do you expect to go sexually before marriage?
• If the bride’s friends differ from the groom’s buddies, how will you relate to them?
• What are your greatest apprehensions about each other?
• What expectations do you have for each other?
This is only a partial list of questions to be discussed and considered. Then a battery of compatibility tests is administered to identify patterns of temperament and personality. Sometimes the findings are quite shocking. Indeed, some couples decide to postpone or call off the wedding after discovering areas of likely conflict. Others begin working through their differences and proceed toward marriage with increased confidence. In either case, men and women typically benefit from knowing each other better.
It has been said that the key to a healthy marriage is to keep your eyes wide open before you wed and half-closed thereafter. I agree. Premarital counseling is designed to help engaged couples accomplish that.
Marriage is a lifetime adventure that rewards those who persevere.
Dr. Dobson is founder and chairman of the board of the nonprofit organization Focus on the Family, P.O. Box 444, Colorado Springs, CO. 80903; or www.family.org. Questions and answers are excerpted from “The Complete Marriage and Family Home Reference Guide” and “Bringing Up Boys.”
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