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Don’t say something to destroy a marriage before it begins

You Can't Do Marriage Without Jesus!

Historically, December 25 is when the highest number of marriage proposals are made in the U.S. So during this past holiday season, many couples started to plan their weddings. 

But guess what always comes after an engagement announcement: marriage advice — both solicited and unsolicited. Some of it is helpful and given with the best of intentions. However, other comments are not only hurtful but borderline offensive, and they certainly do nothing to encourage the engaged couple.

As a counselor and the author of several books on marriage, I’m intrigued by the disparaging comments couples receive when people learn about their engagement. I’ve asked several engaged individuals, including my daughter Murphy, what they’ve heard.

On the one hand, people are excited and congratulate them. And then these same people act as if they’re responsible for injecting a sense of reality into the couple’s starry-eyed, idealistic outlook. They say things like:

  • Bet it won’t last longer than a year.
  • You know that 50% of marriages end in divorce, right?
  •  Aren't you afraid of being stuck with the same person for the rest of your life?
  • How many days until your “funeral”?

These statements are verbatim quotes. It’s no wonder couples might quickly go from thinking "We’re so excited!" to "What have we done?"

So, what should we say instead? I encourage couples not to let anyone crush their excitement. I want them to be thrilled with their choice. We need to cheer their decision to marry and to buck the cultural trend that pulls for cohabitation over marriage.

First, encourage them to prepare for a lifetime.

Marriage is a lot of fun and a lot of work. Research conclusively shows that couples who succeed in marriage gain the knowledge and skills they need before settling into destructive patterns that often lead to divorce. In fact, a couple is 31% less likely to get divorced if they have premarital training before they marry. Another study suggests that couples who had premarital counseling reported being more satisfied in their marriages.

Let’s help couples plan for their marriage and not just for the wedding day. But keep your words uplifting and positive. Let them know that they don’t have to become a statistic. They can write their own story — if they’re willing to prepare and do some relational maintenance. 

Second, tell them marriage is a great adventure.

The famous 19th-century Lewis and Clark Expedition set out to map the uncharted territory across North America to the Pacific Ocean. The trip included situations that were sometimes awe-inspiring and miraculous, and other times difficult and life-threatening. But because Lewis and Clark worked together, they were successful on a journey that covered more than 7,500 miles over two-and-a-half years.

The Lewis and Clark expedition is a perfect analogy of successful marriage. Spouses should be journeying partners, supporting each other as they face life’s challenges. They’ll have countless moments filled with love, friendship, passion, laughter, safety, fun, unity, joy and security. But they’ll also face times when they feel disappointed, hurt, sad, angry, disconnected, upset, frustrated and lonely. A journey will always have highs and lows. Tell couples to embrace all of what’s true about marriage and see it as a great adventure.

We need to stop giving newly engaged couples confusing and discouraging advice. Instead, let’s send them this very clear message: “We believe in your dream for a lifelong, passionate marriage and we want to help you have it.”

Dr. Greg Smalley serves as the vice president of Marriage and Family Formation at Focus on the Family.  He has been married to his wife, Erin, since 1992.

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