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THE SACRED SEARCH Couple's Conversation Guide
By GARY THOMAS, STEVE WILKE, REBECCA WILKE
David C. CookCopyright © 2013 Gary Thomas, Steve Wilke, and Rebecca Wilke
All rights reserved.
Pre-Engagement Punch List
Falling in love with someone and finding out they want to spend the rest of their life with you is one of the most exhilarating of all human experiences. In fact, the emotions are hard to describe to someone who hasn't experienced this stage of love for themselves. We just can't believe anyone else has ever felt quite the way we do.
Ironically, this passionate wave of emotion is exactly what complicates the next important stages of relational development that eventually lead to a marital covenant. The overwhelming ecstasy of this season of courtship masks some critical matters that need to be addressed well before an actual engagement occurs and certainly long before the wedding is planned and takes place.
Unfortunately, most of the couples we talk to have rarely taken the time or made the preparatory effort to discuss the crucial topics essential for a successful marriage. Sadly, little or minimally effective counseling occurs once the date has been set and the honeymoon has been booked. Couples are focused on choosing the right dress and tux, picking out the most beautiful flowers, and choosing the decorations, all but ignoring the preparation necessary to get your heart, soul, mind, and body ready to enter marriage.
In our experience, the very topics that should be covered pre-engagement, or certainly pre-marriage, are the same subjects that routinely show up in marriage counseling offices somewhere down the road. That's why we feel so strongly about these conversations taking place early and often in your courtship. Premarital counseling must include the content and questions that we have provided here for you.
We'll be honest—throughout our writing of this guide, birthed in prayer and dialogue with each other, was this central aim: how do we keep more couples out of our offices because their marriage is making them miserable, and in their homes and communities where they can passionately love each other and pursue God's purpose for their lives?
At the outset, there are six items on our Pre-engagement Punch List we'd like you both to review. Just as a contractor would compile a punch list to ensure the success of a project, we're recommending that you take time to analyze these prerequisites prior to completing the sessions ahead of you:
1. Start pre-engagement conversations. If you haven't already begun having these kinds of conversations, it's vital that you start now. If nothing else, getting in the practice of talking in depth about significant relational topics will be excellent practice for the two of you to begin building relational intimacy.
2. Avoid unrealistic expectations. Each of you needs to be honest about the balance of reality versus fantasy. Depending upon who you are and where you have been (your personal stories and histories), each of you will have your own expectations about what love, romance, and marriage will look like. Adopting unrealistic expectations for each other is one of the biggest mistakes couples make—whether they are dating, engaged, or married.
3. Realize that pain and suffering are guaranteed and a significant part of our lives. Life this side of heaven is never going to be perfect, and pain is part of the human experience. Problems—including some really big ones—are guaranteed. This is why wedding vows often include the phrase "for better or worse." Yes, there will be plenty of seasons filled with sunshine and bliss, but there will also be bleaker days with sorrow and suffering. Marriage is about helping each other through life's entire journey.
4. Accept the flawed sinner. No matter whom you date and eventually marry, everyone is a flawed sinner—beginning with you. Accepting this fact about each other not only helps alleviate unrealistic expectations, but it should also prompt both of you to develop your spiritual walk with the Lord. Only with His divine assistance will we be able to work on our flaws and become the best we can be for Him and each other. Gary's book Sacred Marriage made its mark with this provocative question: "What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?" Few people think of marriage this way going in, but most married couples eventually find it to be all too true.
5. Be aware of baggage, burdens, and blessings. In addition to your flawed sin nature, each of you will bring an assortment of baggage, burdens, and blessings into your relationship. Embrace this reality now, but also take time in pre- engagement or pre-marriage conversations to understand the balance of baggage and burdens versus blessings. Each will have an impact on you both, as well as everyone you love and everyone who loves you. That's a huge responsibility, so buyer beware: if either of you is overwhelmed with the baggage, then take the necessary time to work through those issues before you exchange wedding vows. You are not morally obligated to accept anyone's baggage prior to marriage, but once the vows are given and the rings are exchanged, your spouse's baggage becomes your own—all of it!
6. Recognize that contempt is never acceptable. Yes, we're asking you to evaluate each other, but disrespect and contempt are unhealthy in any relationship, especially in the most intimate one between a husband and wife. Over time, these feelings will erode what was once lovely and beautiful. Marital conflict is unavoidable, so you both must learn to resolve conflict respectfully. Once we see contempt in couples, we know the prognosis is poor. A good counselor won't just look at what you say when you answer these questions, but also the way you say it, the way you look at each other, the way you treat each other, the way you speak of and to each other.
As you work through this punch list, think about yourself first and then your partner. Is there an area(s) of concern that you can identify already? If so, take time now to think it through more deeply. After you've done that, consider the following questions.
1. What attracted you to each other?
2. Share one or more unrealistic, ridiculous, silly expectation you have about your partner.
3. Make a list of three things you absolutely will never tolerate from your future mate.
4. Will you view "for better, for worse—in sickness and in health" as a reality for your future? What exceptions do you have to this perspective on marriage?
5. How well do you understand your potential mate's family and personal history? Have you discussed family relationships, previous marriages, and medical/psychological issues in extended family members? What questions and concerns do you still have?
6. How would you describe your potential mate's daily walk with God?
7. How would you describe their relationship strengths and weaknesses? Make a list of at least three strengths and three weaknesses that you can share with each other.
More than anything, this session has raised questions rather than provided any answers, but the process will give your mentor a chance to get to know where you are as a couple and will help you know what still needs to be explored in your relationship. Now, take a break, go have some fun times together, but get ready to get serious again in session 2 as we prepare you for a Doubt-Free Wedding Day.CHAPTER 2
The Doubt-Free Wedding Day
Every wedding day is different, and every individual faces it with fears, delusions, fantasies, doubts, excitement, joy, laughter, and even tears. Our hope for you is that you will have a fantastic and exciting wedding day, with the confidence that comes from knowing you have prepared for this special day as much as any couple could. The best way to achieve this is to do your premarital homework and work through any potential problems or doubts ahead of time. In doing this, you're going beyond simply making a wise decision; you're also setting the foundation from which you can tackle any future issues that will arise along the way.
For the most part, this session isn't a test with right or wrong answers. Be honest, open, and vulnerable as you answer each question. This will help the two of you understand each other and your growing identity as a couple. It will only be as effective, however, as your honesty and courage. If you deliberately shade the truth because you want to avoid hurting your future spouse or perhaps are afraid of raising uncomfortable issues, or if you hold back on your answers and the dialogue that follows, that lack of courage and honesty will send your relationship down an unhealthy path before your marriage even begins.
Many times in Scripture, before God did something really big, He prefaced His instructions with these words: "Don't be afraid."
That night the Lord appeared to [Isaac] and said, "I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid." (Gen. 26:24)
Then the Lord said to Joshua, "Do not be afraid." (Josh. 8:1)
But the Lord said to [Gideon], "Peace! Do not be afraid." (Judg. 6:23)
The angel of the Lord said to Elijah, "... Do not be afraid." (2 Kings 1:15)
But the Lord said to me [Jeremiah], "... Do not be afraid." (Jer. 1:7–8)
"And you, [Ezekiel], do not be afraid of them or their words. Do not be afraid, though briers and thorns are all around you and you live among scorpions." (Ezek. 2:6)
"Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them." (Dan. 10:12)
But Jesus immediately said to them: "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid." (Matt. 14:27)
The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid." (Matt. 28:5)
One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: "Do not be afraid." (Acts 18:9)
Then he placed his right hand on me [John] and said: "Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last." (Rev. 1:17)
Preparing for marriage and family is one of those really big decisions that takes courage. So with these verses in mind, ask God to assist you in completing this conversation guide with integrity, honesty, and courage. In this exercise, the biblical truth that we will reap what we sow is particularly true.
Don't worry. No couple is perfectly matched. Human clones don't exist, and if they did, they wouldn't get married. That's why in The Sacred Search there's a chapter entitled, "You're Looking for a Complement, Not a Clone." You can read more about this there. Here we want to help you find out where you disagree with each other, as well as any potential roadblocks to intimacy. And that's what you want, right? To really know each other and to be known? To grow together so that your future spouse becomes and remains your best friend? Here's your chance to start building such a relationship right now.
Reasons and Questions
1. Write down the three best reasons you're getting married to this particular person. Your list does not have to be in any particular order, but it should include the top three most significant reasons you want to marry your fiancé/fiancée. Feel free to list more, but write at least three.
2. The next question will be a bit more difficult, but it's just as important as the first one. If someone thought you were acting too hastily or that you were choosing poorly, what would they say makes your choice to get married a questionable one? This doesn't mean you agree with it, but try to be objective. What objections might someone raise (or what objections have others already raised) about why the two of you shouldn't get married right now, or why you should be concerned about marrying the person that you've chosen? Write down at least three.
Discuss these questions and answers with your marital conversation facilitator. Spend some time praying through these possible objections. Ask God to open you up to His conviction or confirmation. If any one answer causes you to be uneasy or uncomfortable, we encourage you to dig a little deeper with your mentor. Remember, we can help you locate the red flags, but we can't resolve them. That's something you have to take responsibility for.
For the questions that follow, don't skip those that scare you. In fact, we request that you spend most of your conversation on the areas that are most uncomfortable. We like to say that you need to get comfortable learning to scuba dive, not just snorkel, at this stage in your relationship. Snorkeling—staying on the surface—is fine for a couple who are simply dating. When you're talking marriage, you've got to get below the surface and find out what's going on in the depths of that person's heart and soul.
It will be a tremendous gift on your wedding day to know that you have prayed and thought through every potential objection. It's normal to feel a little overwhelmed and scared at the thought of committing your life to someone. Having prayed through it thoroughly and talked through it completely with your marriage mentor will help you overcome any significant wedding-day doubts and will lead you to a day of confident joy.
3. What current doubts do you have about the wisdom of getting married to your partner at this particular moment? Are there any questions you need to seek answers to before making such a major commitment?
4. Have you spoken to anyone about these doubts? Have you discussed them together? Will you do so now?
What Do You Mean?
If I tell you I'm going to exercise, you don't really know what I mean, do you? I could be planning on going for a run, playing volleyball or basketball, lifting weights, going to a spinning class, joining a soccer game, or working out on an elliptical machine. Exercise is a generic word with many specific meanings. A guy pumping iron and a woman running a half marathon are both exercising, but they're also doing two very different things—which means that if I tell you I enjoy exercising, you don't really know if you'd enjoy exercising with me, because there are so many different ways to exercise.
The same is true of the word marriage. When you think about what it means to get married, you have a picture in your mind of what a marriage relationship looks like, but that picture may be very different from what your potential spouse thinks marriage looks like. You're both talking about "being married," but one person may be imagining a very different kind of relationship. In this section, we're going to help the two of you get on the same page.
It will be most helpful for you if you've already read the chapter in The Sacred Search entitled "What's Your Style?" (chapter 9) before completing these questions.
5. Describe your parents' marriage in a few sentences. What did it look like when you were growing up? What were their strengths? Their weaknesses?
6. In what ways would you like your own marriage to resemble your parents' marriage?
7. In what ways would you like your own marriage to be different from your parents' marriage?
8. Which one of the marriage styles listed in chapter 9 of The Sacred Search most closely resembles the vision of marriage you've grown up with?
9. Which style of marriage would be most difficult for you to be part of?
10. Given your preferred style, write down three things that you think make your fiancé/fiancée a particularly wise choice for you.
11. This one will be more difficult to answer. Remember, there are no perfect spouses out there. Every couple will have something to work on for as long as their relationship lasts. Admitting some weaknesses won't doom your relationship; it simply points out what you need to work on. List two of the biggest fears you have for a marriage to the person you're currently engaged to.
12. Are there any other questions or concerns that you have about your partner and this marriage that haven't been shared up to this point?
Okay, we've contemplated a number of important issues you will face as a married couple. Good work. Now keep moving forward. Continue working through these conversational areas with counsel to determine if they rise above the level of "normal differences" to "dangerously incompatible." Writing and talking about these life-changing issues face-to-face with qualified counsel makes the truth become far more apparent. Either you will see the realities and challenges more clearly, or you might have your fears melt away. Relational and marital conflict is a normal and ongoing part of married life. If you run from these issues, you're not ready to be married. However, if you know that you've done your homework by prayerfully facing these issues in an honest and forthright manner, you can quiet your fears and focus on the joy and wonder of committing your heart to the love of your life.
Excerpted from THE SACRED SEARCH Couple's Conversation Guide by GARY THOMAS, STEVE WILKE, REBECCA WILKE. Copyright © 2013 Gary Thomas, Steve Wilke, and Rebecca Wilke. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
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