Pastoral Marriage Preparation – Part 2

Pastors have the privilege of helping couples to build strong marriages based on time-tested principles. The three common reasons why most marriages fail are: communication breakdown, infidelity (not just sexual), and lack of adequate preparation. By pastors addressing the last of these three they can actually diminish the chances of the first two happening. This is why pastors should not simply help a couple to wed, they should help them to marry. That is, the bulk of their time spent with a couple preparing for marriage should not be spent on helping the couple to have a wedding.


The couple are given homework to take away with them from the second meeting. This includes developing a wish list of three things they would like from their partner. At the end of each session with a couple there is an opportunity to talk freely and invite them to ask questions. The session then finishes with each of us praying out loud.


In our third I have the couple share the results of their homework. We then discuss this. During the discussion I am modelling active listening without the couple being aware of it. This will be highlighted later on in our session. I then remind them, usually by use of a whiteboard, that there are five stages to intimacy through healthy communication. The first stage is the sharing of cliches. “How are you?” “Good thanks.” The second stage is facts. “How are you?” “I have a terrible back-ache.”

The third stage is critical. It is in the third stage of communication where all conflicts between a couple begin. The third stage of communication toward intimacy is opinions. It is at this stage that a couple can clash. Dr Gary Smalley describes this as the “wall of conflict“. When opinions clash, conflict happens and when a couple is in conflict they generally use what I call ‘a road map’ to navigate their way through it. There are basically two road maps with which they can use. The first road map is called: “Argue”. When I mention this couple initially, I also mention that I am going to teach them to argue. They nearly always laugh at me and say that they argue all the time! I then assure them that they have probably never argued in their life. The other possible road map is called: “Fight”. This is the most commonly used road map by couples.

The pastor can help a couple to understand that “the Fight road map” has one goal – to win. This is why conflict is inevitable at this stage unless the couple learns to argue. The Argue road map has a different goal.  Its goal is to understand. To argue well you must listen well. This is where we introduce “Active Listening”. Active listening involves listening and repeating back to the communicator what has been heard in order to gain clarity about what is being communicated. The pastor can introduce a maxim here: understand before being understood. After one partner feels they have been understood by giving their reasons for their opinions, and the other partner has demonstrated that they understand their partner’s opinion, they can now ask permission to share the reasons for their differing opinion. The other partner now also uses active listening to achieve understanding of what they are being told.

The couple is then given homework for our next session in four weeks which includes using these principles to resolve a current conflict they are having.

[More to come.]


About Dr Andrew Corbett

Pastor, Teacher, Theologian, Writer, Speaker, Coach.
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