Review: Preparing Couples for Love and Marriage

October 14th, 2013

There are pastors who don’t like doing weddings, and I can empathize. The wedding industrial complex has turned what might be (and once was) a simple and lovely public declaration of commitment and affection into a multiple-thousand-dollar sacrifice at the altar of material excess and gender stereotypes, an excuse for brides to be petty and grooms to be drunk. Even if the couple is wonderful and gracious, it feels like every rehearsal provides the possibility for an etiquette landmine: for a belligerent uncle or unruly cousin.

Still, for the most part, I take great joy in marrying couples: in working with them through some premarital conversations, in planning the service, in hearing their stories. In my years of working in churches with beautiful center aisles, I’ve met a lot of them. In our work, I’ve used Growing Love in Christian Marriage, Prepare/Enrich, and an inventory put together by a beloved colleague. Each is useful in its way; each has its limitations. But I loved Cameron Lee and James L. Furrow’s new book Preparing Couples for Love and Marriage (Abingdon Press, 2013) and couldn’t wait to use it with the next couple who comes looking to use my pretty sanctuary.

Preparing Couples is not abundantly entertaining, and when the authors share a story from one of their marriages, I had trouble keeping them apart as the book is written jointly, without separation of the narrative voices of each authors. But that’s scant critique of a book that proves so helpful. First and foremost, the authors model a gracious respect for the couples that come to them for marriage preparation as they walk readers through tier preparation tool, the Conversation Jumpstarter. They remind pastors that our job is not to solve all the problems we perceive a couple to have, nor to lecture them. Our job is to coach: to provide resources for healthy communication that newlyweds can practice these skills over and over, to resolve conflicts before they explode, or before they even fully develop.

Lee and Furrow suggest that theirs is not a specifically theological work, but I found much in it that spoke to my progressive Wesleyan heart… and to my roles as wife, mother, and daughter-in-law, particularly the underlying attention to “dealing with difference.” There were, in fact, explicit rejections of notions that healthy, Christian couples can read each other’s minds, or will inevitably face some conflict because “men are from Mars and women are from Venus” – unexamined notions that too often appear in books about Christian marriage.

The authors are straight-forward, smart, and gracious; this is an incomparable tool for helping couples to see beyond the excitement of the wedding day, toward the excitement of the marriage adventure.

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