The Gift of Realistic Expectations
Written By RJ WALTERS
Wisdom from local experts who make the case for Premarital Counseling
Who is premarital counseling for? Anyone who comes from a family, has conversations with people they love, engages with money and/or plans on having sex, according to Pastor Tim Rice, who has been helping local couples prepare for marriage for nearly three decades.
“I wouldn’t say you’re gonna die without it, but you’re making one of the most emotionally significant commitments that you can possibly enter into. And…nobody gets married hoping I get divorced, right?” Rice said. “So with the failure rates being so high, the failure costs being so high, it seems like that it’s a smart idea to at least check on the front side.”
The failure rates he is referring to are that nearly half of all marriages end in divorce, including 41 percent of first marriages, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Rice has been married to his wife, Julie, for more than 37 years, and the Rice’s helped plant Trinity Presbyterian Church in 1997. Every couple he marries is required to go through what he calls “six conversations” with him prior to the wedding day, and he also counsels other couples, both Christians and non-Christians.
Kolby Nance is also passionate about helping couples set healthy expectations before they say “I Do,” and he is the founder of and co-owner of Porter’s Sound Counseling with Jenica Timmes.
Porter’s Sound therapists usually meet with engaged couples four to eight times and utilize a Biblical worldview to help couples work through vital conversations about value systems, family background, communication styles and more.
Kolby said he and his wife Meggie, also a licensed therapist, are confident that premarital counseling helps couples move from the Hallmark card or fairytale of engagement into a more realistic understanding of what the highs, lows, laughs and conflicts of everyday life will be like.
“If you are creating a relationship where these conversations are welcomed, where conflict is welcomed, where you’re setting a tone that we are committed to working through difficult things—I think good premarital counseling is gonna try to begin to give you an experience of that,” he said.
The Three Rules:
Rice, a Lakeland mainstay for nearly 40 years whose ministry career includes starting the youth ministry at First Presbyterian Church of Lakeland, is staunch on three rules that he has for all couples he converses with prior to marriage.
“Everything stays here.”
“It’s only as valuable as you are honest. If you don’t tell me the truth, I can’t help you.”
“Cease and desist in any sexual activity until the wedding so you can create a season of building trust.”
Trust. That word is at the heart of everything Rice teaches, and he points to God’s example to mankind as a foundational example.
“I would say I bet you are (interested in a trustworthy partner) because it’s what I can measure by what you don’t want to happen. You don’t wanna be lied to, you don’t wanna be abused, you don’t want your partner to cheat on you, you don’t want your partner to manipulate you and take you for all your money,” he said. “What God in Christ has delivered to us is the most amazing, the most trustworthy, the most steadfast, the most honest, the most generous, the most intimately faithful. If that’s what He has delivered to me, then doesn’t it make sense that…I would do that to my neighbor and my first neighbor being my spouse?
Nance said it is important to spend ample time in premarital counseling unpacking each partner’s family of origin. He notes it important to ask questions like:
“How did you learn close
relationships in your family?”
“Was there affection?”
“Was there openness?”
“How were emotions handled in your home?”
“All of that’s kind of this pre-programming, this loading if you will, that you’re going to carry into your marriage,” he said.
One topic most counselors—including Rice and the professionals at Porter’s Sound—spend a lot of time on in premarital counseling is conflict resolution.
Rice said effective conflict resolution is learning to love through the differences. He notes that not all conflicts—like where to go for dinner in the middle of week—are detrimental, but small quarrels can become larger fights and turn into regrettable actions. He said it is vitally important for people to be quick to forgive others because we are all offenders throughout our lives.
He points to an often-quoted parable in Scripture, from Matthew 18, where Jesus talks about a servant who was forgiven his debt of 10,000 talents, only to demand repayment from someone who owed him 100 denari.
“If you do the percentages…you get so many decimal points, you’re getting at two millionths of 1% worth of the forgiven debt,” Rice said. “So if Jesus says from the heart, ‘Forgive one another,’ how do I love well in conflict?”
Always have a curiosity that’s filled with compassion…versus confusion that leads to contempt."
Nance concurs with Rice’s perspective, and he likes to weave in evidence-based solutions from people like Dr. Sue Johnson and organizations like the Gottman Institute to share practical strategies.
When it comes to de-escalating conflict, Nance quotes something his wife often says: “Always have a curiosity that’s filled with compassion…versus confusion that leads to contempt.”
He said couples who tend to have success navigating conflicts are ones where both parties seek to understand instead of demand to be understood.
“If you can seek to understand the impact of whatever was going on…whether it was something you said or something you did, if you can seek to understand what the impact was—in the economy of love, it’s far more important.”
When discussing the ingredients of a healthy, life-long marriage, Rice said humility is the good ingredient and contempt is a frightening ingredient that can be destructive because one spouse exalts themselves above the other.
At Porter’s Sound, the organization centers around the dichotomy of dignity and depravity in all humans.
“[In marriage] we see how we bring hurt to someone, and then at the same time, we can see how powerfully we can actually play a redemptive role in somebody’s story,” Nance said.
Even as experts in the field of marriage counseling, Rice and Nance chuckle at the notion that they have it all figured out.
Rice said life is so busy at times that he and his wife have to make sure they schedule time together, and Nance said that he and his wife have disagreements that “look really ordinary,” but in their 13-plus years of marriage they have bonded over the fact they are each fiercely committed to the good of the other person.