Our experience has shown that roughly one in ten engaged couples may benefit from some type of premarital counseling. A more focused effort on specific problems including assertive communication (versus passive, passive-aggressive, or aggressive communication styles), significant struggles with vulnerable self-disclosure and authenticity, or challenges with effective problem solving may need more focused, professional treatment than clergy or marriage prep personnel have the time or training to adequately address. On the Prepare-Enrich these would be “Conflicted Couple Types” or couples with low levels of conflict resolution. Based on the insights gained through reviewing the required premarital inventory (e.g. Prepare-Enrich or FOCCUS) clergy and supporting marriage prep personnel often identify couples who have varying degrees of issues that should be resolved or discussed prior to marriage. Family of origin issues as well as personal and relational wounds can run deep, making the ongoing effort of mutual self-gift in marriage exceedingly difficult. Oftentimes these issues are covered in a few counseling sessions which provide an usually insufficient short term solution. What is really needed by these couples is an experience of long term support to ensure that these issues do not escalate and that they seek help as needed.
Specifically, a Witness to Love counselor is able to coach a mentor couple to be a secure anchor for the engaged couple. Our experience with over 500 couples has shown that the “chosen” mentor’s life experiences coupled with positive counseling techniques provide the best foundation for engaged couples who need premarital counseling. This mentor couple is chosen by the engaged couple as someone whose marriage they admire and that they are both comfortable discussing any problems that arise. An additional value develops as mentors learn to identify not only behavioral issues, but the cognitive elements that lead to this behavior. In turn the counselor continues to serve as a guide and coach for these mentors (and by extension the engaged and hopefully newly married) to be a secure anchor and maximize the benefit of the counseling sessions. Our goal would be to prevent occasions where couples only go through the motions of the required counseling sessions.
On the other hand, when the marriage preparation process includes a mentor to assist with getting through these challenges, a course of action can be developed providing both immediate positive reinforcement as well as basic strategies for long term conditioning.
This could possibly incorporate the mentors into the counseling process. Once key issues are identified and clarified in session, mentors can provide some of the necessary emotional and practical support to deepen self- and spousal-awareness subsequent to counseling. In therapy, the couple may uncover additional issues that need to be addressed or that indicate a need for further counseling. If, for example, there are three meetings with a counselor suggested by the couple’s church then we would advise the first meeting take place between only the counselor and engaged couple. Then during the second and third meeting the engaged couple would bring their mentor couple who will be coached in being a secure attachment and resource to the engaged couple over time.