Engaged? Should pre-marital counseling be among your New Year's resolutions?

by Vanessa Garcia Rodriguez |

HOUSTON, Texas (Christian Examiner) --While individuals focus on financial goals among the top resolutions people seek to improve in the New Year, January also marks the end of the nation's "engagement season" and the time for some individuals and their significant others to to set relationship goals as well.

Because 33 percent of engagements in the United states happen between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, some pastors suggest the first months of the new year are timely for newly engaged couples to seek premarital education.

A month or two after couples celebrate and begin to plan a wedding is a good time for them to read a book, go online or start talking to a pastor to prepare for their coming marriage, says Jim Burns, president of HomeWord and executive director of HomeWord Center for Youth and Family at Azusa Pacific University told Christian Examiner.

"As couples get prepared to get married part of the preparation is getting a dress and a venue," said Burns. "The other part of it is doing the work it takes to prepare yourself to becoming one with this other person."

Whether a couple met through an online dating service or friends, the benefit of that preparation can impact the longevity of a marriage.

"It's very well documented that if you get premarital counseling or premarital education there is a 31 percent better chance that you will stay married," Burns states in the book Getting Ready for Marriage, which is co-authored with long time teaching pastor and youth minister Doug Fields.

Those statistics have even influenced some state governments to encourage pre-marital counseling. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, some states offer reduced marriage license fees for couples who choose to complete premarital counseling or education. The state of Texas directs $3 from each marriage license fee toward premarital research and education efforts.

The advantage pre-marital counseling provides is in the process, Burns claims.

"It's not the magic in the premarital counseling, it's in the fact that the couples are willing to lay down in front of each other the issues of finance, in-laws, sexuality and communication," he said. "If they are willing to have those kinds of conversations then they are miles ahead when it comes to being willing to work on it after marriage."

Discussing red-flag matters like addiction, abuse and unfaithfulness are a few of the primary points to address before walking down the isle, he noted. For individuals who have been married before, tackling those concerns as well as learning from the past is critical.

"If couples don't work through basic issues in remarriage they are going to fall into same habits. It is important to learn from your past in order to make your next marriage work," said Burns.

Yet many couples fail to pursue the counseling. Whatever the reason is that a couple foregoes relationship counseling or education before marriage, the result is tougher conversations after marriage for those who don't, Burns noted.

While some engaged couples may dissolve their courtship as the result of what they learn through counseling, for those who perform the due diligence and still walk down the altar, research shows, it simply makes their marriage stronger.