Lutherans in the Twin Cities

Readiness for Marriage offers pre-marital couples unique opportunity to learn from other couples

In the month’s before their wedding, couples are usually most focused on their “I do’s.” But after the final slice of cake has been cut and safely placed in the freezer to save for the first anniversary celebration, newlyweds will face the rest of their lives together — and proper preparation for that is far more important than the preparation for the wedding day.

To help couples successfully prepare for their new life together, a group of Lutheran pastors began the Readiness for Marriage program approximately 25 years ago. Readiness for Marriage, offered through the Lutheran Counseling Center located in Burnsville, Minnesota, which is affiliated with the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), is “designed to help couples make their marriage work … to the glory of God.”

The group of pastors who developed Readiness for Marriage felt that it was better to prepare couples for marriage in a group setting, rather than in one- on-one situations by a male pastor. Since its Lutheran origin, the program has expanded to reach couples across denominations, with the only requirement being that they are open to talk about Christ and the Christian gospel.

While couples are not required to be engaged to attend the session, most attend to complete pre-marital counseling, which is always strongly encouraged (and sometimes required) by the various affiliations within the Lutheran church. Each weekend-long session allows couples to work to better understand their relationships with each other, God, and the church. Through the workshop, pre-marital couples will focus on communication, conflict resolution, family of origin, spiritual issues, parenting, finances, sexuality and intimacy, and personality issues.

Unlike meeting one-on-one with a pastor, Readiness for Marriage allows couples to attend the sessions with other couples. The group format allows couples to gain from interaction with each other, look at their strengths as a couple, and consider how to handle problems, all while they hear from other couples and utilize professional counselors.

In addition to providing pre-marital counseling in a format that allows couples to learn from each other, the program also benefits parish pastors. Bruce Frederickson, one of the workshop leaders, has counseled more than 325 couples and sees the value for pastors, as well as couples. “As a parish pastor retiring from a church of 2,000 members, I know there is no way I could do it all,” he said.

The group-based sessions are led by Bruce and his wife Ann, or by Karol and John Dahlof. Both Bruce and Karol are trained in marriage and family therapy and are seminary graduates. One of the greatest advantages in having the sessions led by married couples is that it allows the pre-marital couples to hear from spouse teams. The leaders regularly integrate real issues from their own marriages as examples. “It really works because we are real people dealing with the everyday … nuts and bolts,” Ann said.

Prior to the Readiness for Marriage workshop, couples are required to take the Prepare Inventory, a customized online assessment that identifies a couple’s strength and growth areas. Combining learning from the assessment with the workshops allows couples to work together, a factor that Bruce notes is key in building a successful marriage.

In addition to their weekend training session, Bruce said they encourage couples to go back periodically through their marriage for a “tune-up.” They stress that there is no shame or weakness in talking to a counselor, and tell couples to give each other permission ahead of time to seek help and talk to a counselor when need be.

“[We talk to] couples [about the] need to learn to grow together and not apart,” Ann said. “ [We want couples to] take time to realize what you’re really preparing for is a life together, not just a celebration.”

The final Readiness for Marriage workshops in 2009 will be held August 29-30 at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church (LCMS) in Excelsior, Minnesota, and October 9-11 at Berea Lutheran Church (LCMS) in Richfield, Minnesota. Each session costs $75. Couples who attend will receive a $75 discount on their marriage license. The sessions all take place Friday evenings 6:30-9:30 p.m., continuing on Saturday and Sunday 1 p.m.-5 p.m.

For more information on the Lutheran Counseling Center and the Readiness for Marriage program, go to www.lutherancounseling.org.