Is premarital counselling necessary?

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By Jane Kenda

Whether or not to attend premarital counselling is what Roselyn and Dan have to decide between now and December 29, when their wedding is due. Having seen almost all her friends go through the sessions as part of marriage preparations, Roselyn had assumed it was a prerequisite for all couples intending to tie the knot. But her rude shock came when she asked Dan when and where he thought they should take theirs. Dan simply asked, “Is it a must?”

The couple is not alone. I asked a friend of mine, Isaac, who is planning to marry

Pastor Julius Akeng’a and his wife Benjaline Akeng’a, during the interview.

early next year whether they had enrolled for premarital classes. His answer jolted me to the reality that not many people valued premarital counselling as I thought. He trashed the idea, saying it was just a way of people forcing their opinions on others.

“We do not want to be robots like a couple I know. I do not want my wife to judge me by how many of the dos and don’ts given in the counselling sessions I observe or don’t. I want us to be real,” said Isaac with resolve.

Mrs Benjaline Akeng’a, the regional director of Family Transformation Ministries says: “My heart sinks every time I hear a couple going into marriage without counselling.”

She has done counselling for over 15 years and has dealt with conflict in marriages that did not undergo premarital counselling.

Simply put, she says, the importance of premarital counselling cannot be over-emphasised.

In the traditional African set up, parents prepared their children for marriage by bringing in aunts and uncles to tell them about what to expect in marriage. This practice has outlived its time and there is need to address present-day challenges. With today’s wife leaving for the office in the morning together with her husband and arriving late in the evening, the traditional roles are phasing out.

But Benjaline argues that a wife’s submission and a man’s love must be there if a marriage is to last. People marry for a myriad of reasons. A good number may argue that they are too in love to stay apart, some just bored of living alone and, therefore, want companionship while others may want a license to sex. Some women even marry not for themselves but to get fathers for their children.

Reasons for marriage

According to Pastor Julius Akeng’a, Benjaline’s husband, people marry for reasons ranging from genuine love to all sorts of weird misconceptions. Akeng’a, who is also in charge of family enrichment at Nairobi Pentecostal Church, Valley Road and co-works with his wife in Together Forever, a programme for engaged couples, says the first question he asks couples before he starts counselling is why they want to marry.

“It is shocking the reasons people give for wanting to marry. Some even say they realise it is time to ‘settle down’ and others due to peer, and parents’ pressure,” says Akeng’a.

He first disqualifies the idea of settling down in marriage, arguing that the amount of work and sacrifice it takes to build a strong and fulfilling marriage is nothing comparable to settling down.

Tabitha Gikanga a counsellor at Princeton Counselling Centre says marriage is an emotional thermometer for all other relationships. That if your marriage is warm, the church, workplace and other friendships will be warm. Tabitha who employs the integrated model of counselling, where she uses both psychological and Christian principles explains that both Christians and non-Christians marry for love and happiness and out of will not in obedience to any command.

The Akenga’s believe marriage is God-ordained and that counselling helps people realign themselves with God’s will.

When blindly in love, one may see a partner as an angel and incapable of hurting but as the reality of marriage dawns, the advice given during premarital counselling comes in handy.

Premarital counselling is ‘very important’ according so Mrs Emily Kiplimo who has been married for five years.

Invite experts

“Prior practical knowledge on the reality of financial management, openness and communication were helpful to us but what I have found most practical from our counselling is that intimacy does not come automatically in marriage,” Emily says, adding that couples have to deliberately create time for each other.

On reconcilling the cultural, social, educational, temperament and personality differences of the two, the Akeng’a’s provide a checklist of expectations and priorities, which they use to assess the couples and educate them on striking a balance.

In their counselling, which takes five group sessions and another five for each couple, the Akenga’s invite experts in various fields including a gynecologist. They also share their experience, given that they have been married for 23 years and counselled for over 10 years. With practical experience resulting from many years of interacting with different couples in diverse situations and from different ethnic, religious and social backgrounds, they are able to predict pitfalls in intended marriages and give advice.

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