What you need to know:
Pre-marital counselling was a combination of simple and complex lessons that would later help the Muchelas navigate marriage for a decade and still counting
On September 22, 2012, Aston Muchela, a corporate lawyer, was all set to walk down the aisle with the love of his life, Winnie. Their wedding coincided with his 30th birthday, a fact that was both exciting and nerve-wracking for him. Aston was not the only one enduring a cocktail of emotions. His bride, Winnie, was happy to be marrying her friend yet a tinge of worry refused to go away when she thought of some horror stories she had heard about marriage.
“Being an advocate, I had come across many stories of women being battered by their husbands. Another nightmare was the issue of cheating. I was so afraid of getting hurt and having my trust betrayed. Looking at the stories I had come across made me worry about the marriage succeeding.”
Although Aston and Winnie had a lot of support and counsel from friends and family, most of their fears simply refused to fade away.
“I was advised to consider signing up for pre-marital counselling. Winnie agreed to this and settled for the programme offered at our church.”
With great enthusiasm, Winnie and Aston began their counselling sessions hoping to have their fears allayed once and for all. A few sessions in, they realised their expectations barely scratched the surface.
“We covered major topics such as family finances, handling third parties, roles and expectation in marriage, sexual intimacy and honeymoon, parenting and children and health issues. I particularly found the topic on biblical foundations of marriages to be quite enlightening. We were given a spiritual angle of marriage. I discovered that marriage was beyond my decision to marry; there is a higher power that instituted and governs the unit,” says Aston.
For Winnie, the sessions were a game changer that has seen her triumph over marital challenges for the past 10 years.
“My biggest take-away was on how to treat each other regardless of our professional or financial status. I learnt the importance of recognising the husband as the head of the home. I must admit it was quite humbling since we are both lawyers...”
Lessons on cultural and traditional differences were also surprising to Winnie. Coming from the same tribe as her husband, she thought they would not deal with culture related issues but she learnt that traditions can also be formed at the family level and when two people get married, they have to work through their different approaches to life and form a neutral culture that works for their new family.
The pre-marital counselling was a combination of simple and complex lessons that would later help the Muchelas navigate marriage for a decade and still counting. They however, explain that marriage in itself is a bigger unit and pre-marital counselling is like an orientation that equips couples with a formula to deal with issues that come up. The lessons are theoretical and when it comes to them. The sessions were accompanied by an emphasis on prayer, even over the seemingly small issues.
She gives an example of how they disagreed on naming their first child. Culture demanded that the first son be named after the paternal grandfather. However, Winnie lost her dad shortly after the wedding and felt it would be a good idea to honour his memory by naming the child after him.
“We prayed about it. When my mother in-law came to visit, she informed us that after consulting Aston’s dad, they had agreed the child be named after my father. We had not discussed the issue with her and this came as a surprise,” shares Winnie.
According to the couple, counselling was the missing piece they needed to embark on their journey. Winnie says it gave them a formula for conflict resolution and without it, any marriage would be trial and error. She adds that there is need to emphasise the importance of pre-marital counselling and couples who have had experience should consider empowering those who are just getting started on the marriage journey.
“Things do not go wrong in marriage, things start wrong. Our idea of marriage is what we see on TV or with friends and relatives. Counselling helped me understand my personal marriage,” she says.
On why pre-marital counselling is important to couples, Reverend Edwin Njue, a pastor and a pre-marital counsellor, says people tend to have unrealistic expectations of marriage. They could also be excited or scared of the union.
Others imagine it is a walk in the park and it is important to address these misconceptions first before saying “I do”. Premarital counselling brings couples to the same page by helping them understand each other as well as the institution of marriage.
During the five years he has facilitated pre-marital counselling, Njue has learnt that people form misconceptions based on how they were nurtured or their personal beliefs. Money issues, for instance are the most contentious.
People have different ideas on how financial roles should be assigned in a marriage. With so many sources of information, from family to friends, traditional beliefs, books, social media and celebrity influencers, people are bound to form clashing views of such critical issues. Church-based counselling provides lessons based on scripture, which give couples some context and a strong foundation for their marriage.
Is it enough?
But when asked whether marriage can be taught in a classroom for 10 weeks, both minsters agree that pre-marital counselling can only cover the basics.
“I tend to think we cannot handle everything in pre-marital classes because people are diverse and their contexts are different. But we do not stop at pre-marital counselling, we have other programmes to help couples after they are married and they include frequent marriage seminars, we have also trained pastors who can handle case by case scenarios,” says Njue
Despite the high success rate, pre-marital counselling still presents a number of challenges. For starters, counsellors cannot establish whether couples are fully compatible.
If the couple attend pre-marital training during the honeymoon phase (the first two years of a relationship), it is likely everything will appear blissful but as time goes by reality strikes in and things change.
People can also be pretentious, especially if they are desperate to get married. For instance, Njue says “In church, we believe that couples should not have sex before marriage- but there is no way to tell whether they actually believe or practice the things we teach. Besides, we cannot police couples to ensure they follow the lessons.”
Pre-marital counsellors also have to deal with a changing society as Njue notes. What was acceptable 20 years ago may be perceived as outdated by younger couples.
Then there is the fear of the unknown which makes is difficult for some couples to face their challenges, despite the training.
Conclusively, pre-marital counselling is a great tool to improve the quality of marriages and families. It will, however, work if coupled with a change in the way we approach marriages. We have to be cognisant of the ever-increasing divorce rates.
While many things could lead to high divorce rates, Reverend Edwin Njue, a pastor and a pre-marital counsellor, notes, “There is a lot of casualness in our approach to marriage and we are destroying the idea of what a marriage is about. People get into cohabiting and casual come- we- stay relationships-sometimes at a very young age due to economic struggles. In the end there are regrets, hurt, feelings of betrayal and being used”.
He adds that “children need to be grounded and the right values instilled. You cannot do all manner of things in your youthful days and try to do things the ‘right way’ briefly when you decide to get married. Let us be proactive rather than reactive.”