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Like most pastors, prior to weddings, I meet with a couple several times.
Early in my ministry, I used a premarital survey that assessed people’s values and feelings and then highlighted various areas, like money, communication, or sex, that might be problematic for a couple.
I recall one young woman who visited me a year after her marriage and said that although she had not believed me at the time, the money issue that I said would be a problem, because their beliefs about money were so different, was now so intense that she was considering ending the marriage.
Her visit highlighted one of the challenges of premarital work.
Courtship is a time when a couple is hurtling toward one another and the togetherness forces are so strong that suggesting issues that highlight their individuality and differences will probably not be heard.
I recall hearing Ed Friedman say something to the effect that it was better for a marriage if during the courtship couples had the opportunity to face a challenge or problem that they had to deal with and address.
I have continually adapted what I think about and do in premarital work.
I no longer do a premarital survey.
Now, I meet with couples three or four times.
I get to know them by asking them about themselves, how they met.
I draw their family genograms, and I ask questions about what they learned in their families of origin so they can learn about one another through values and loyalties in their respective families.
Finding out about the families also assists me in writing the wedding reflection, and crafting with couples the wedding liturgy, and it provides me with information about what some of the family dynamics may be at the wedding rehearsal and on the day of the wedding.
As a young pastor, I believed that the consultation or counseling that I did with couples in the premarital time would influence them in a substantial way, that they would take away some of the theological reflection I was offering them about relationships.
I am no longer attached to those beliefs.
I acknowledge that, for most, my role in their lives is minimal.
For many, the premarital work is just another hoop they need to jump through in order to walk down the aisle in a church.
I continue to offer theological reflection about marriage and relationships during the premarital sessions.
They learn more about their intended partner’s family, and they are asked some questions about their own family that they, most likely, never thought about before.
That is the background that I bring to the book It Takes More than Love: A Workbook for Singles and Couples.
I wondered if it would be of any benefit in my premarital work with couples.
The authors of the book, Aliza Israel and Avrum Nadigel, are a couple.
Aliza is a child and adolescent psychiatrist, and Avrum is a marriage and family therapist.
Avrum, especially, is honest that his beliefs, obtained from pop culture, about love created more problems than they solved.
The workbook is primarily for people who are single or just beginning a relationship.
The authors want to provide a way for individuals to find their best selves, and they begin by asking the readers to get curious and take a look at their beliefs, principles, and functioning.
The first activity in the workbook is the SIRI—Self-In-Relationship Inventory.
There is no statistical data behind this questionnaire, but the twenty-five questions that are scored do offer information about one’s maturity, emotional reactivity, the ability to hold a separate identity in an intimate relationship, the tendency to flee from intense emotional connection, and one’s patterns in relationship triangles.
The workbook offers some teaching about anxiety and then recommends a five-step process entitled SPACE, which entails observing and describing what is going on in the Situation, thinking about what one’s Principles are, considering Actions and alternatives, seeking strategies to remain Calm, and Evaluating and reflecting about one’s functioning.
Other workbook activities include drawing a family diagram, pondering on one’s beliefs about romance and what it means to find love, and working to put one’s best and honest self forward when dating online and in person.
The workbook’s premise is that when you are your best self and working on your own maturity (differentiation), you will have the best chance to find love.
I will take time to think about some of the activities and information in this workbook as I work with premarital couples.
I may ask couples to purchase the book and take the twenty-five questions in the SIRI and share their responses with me.
Other than weddings, I do not have a lot of interactions in ministry with young adults at this time.
If I were a college chaplain or a minister of young adults, I believe this book would offer some fodder for both individual counsel and education.
The Rev. Rebecca Maccini was formerly the pastor of the Congregational Church of Henniker, NH. In 27 years of pastoral ministry, she has been a pastor of young adults, co-pastor, bi-vocational pastor, and sole pastor. She has also attended workshops at the Center for Family Process, Georgetown Family Center, New England Seminar on Bowen Theory, and the Vermont Center for Family Process. She has presented several times about applications of Bowen Family Systems Theory in congregational settings at symposiums of the Vermont Center for Family Process. She serves on the faculty of the Boston Leadership in Ministry Workshop and has been a participant since it commenced in 1999.